Geniuses can afford to be eccentric but the merely smart need to look like they are.
8 min read
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Chances are you’re a bright and resourceful person (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this), but you want to be sure that your brilliance is shining through.
The truth is, the things we do and say show us in a certain light. Our quirky habits and the way we present and conduct ourselves can make us appear either highly intelligent and astute, or sluggish, lackadaisical and dumb. Even little things, such as how we sit at our desk, the way we talk and our general appearance, can give others a negative impression of our mental aptitude.
It may not seem fair, but all these little things add up.
If you want to ensure that you’re coming off as the capable and knowledgeable person you are, here are 18 things you can start doing immediately to make sure you appear more intelligent.
1. Amp up your people skills.
Having good people skills and being good at controlling and expressing your emotions will help you come off as a natural leader others will trust and respect. Having empathy for others and developing good interpersonal relationships will make you likeable, and you’ll come across as more competent. In other words, people with emotional intelligence are often seen as charismatic and bright go-getters.
2. Make a good first impression.
The fastest and easiest way to come off as intelligent is to make sure you knock ’em dead with your first impression. Be on time and greet the other person with a warm handshake and a winning smile. Present yourself as open, confident, courteous and attentive to those around you. If you make a good first impression, people will automatically assume you’re bright, talented and savvy.
3. Ask thought-provoking questions.
Asking smart, thoughtful questions allows you to display your knowledge without looking arrogant, and also makes you appear inquisitive and interested in what others have to say. Avoid shallow, face-value comments and ask thought-provoking questions that dig a little deeper, or that seek another viewpoint. You’ll automatically cast yourself as astute and shrewd.
4. Be skilled at making small talk.
The more adept you are at making small talk and finding ways to interest and engage others, the more others will appreciate you for your conversation skills and assume you’re brilliant.
Engaging in meaningful and interesting small talk captures the attention of those around you while you stand out as thoughtful and quick-witted. Arm yourself with relevant topics and ask questions that draw people in.
5. Keep something to read handy.
Instead of keeping your eye locked on your cell phone at all times, keep a book, newspaper or magazine handy to show off your reading material. It’s a great way to display your appreciation for reading and learning.
It’s also a good conversation starter, especially if others have read the same book or are interested in the article you’re browsing. If people consistently see you reading “smart” publications, they’ll naturally assume you’re cultured, sophisticated and knowledgeable.
6. Dress for success.
How you dress affects how people see you. If you look polished, classy and tasteful, people will naturally see you as intelligent and capable. Being well dressed and impeccably groomed demonstrates to others that you have self-respect and a sense of self-worth.
7. Use hand gestures to emphasize key points.
Using hand gestures can increase the value and perceived importance of what you’re saying by drawing people in and making others pay attention and listen to you. Your gestures should be purposeful, but not so big that they’re overpowering.
Your gestures should emphasize your key points, but make sure you aren’t using them to overcompensate when you’re having trouble finding the right word. Hand gestures paired with the right words will make you seem clever and quick-witted.
8. Wear glasses.
It’s a stereotype but people who wear glasses are assumed to be more educated and smarter than the rest. The nerdier the frames, the higher your assumed IQ. According to one study, there is a relationship between nearsightedness and higher levels of education. So, if you wear contacts, consider switching to a trendy pair of glasses for job interviews or to wear around the workplace.
9. Use your middle initial.
That one little letter standing between your first and last names enhances your social status and people’s perception of your intellect. Perhaps it’s because using your middle initial puts you in line with the likes of John F. Kennedy or Franklin D. Roosevelt, but using your middle initial seems to foretell someone’s historic importance. Using your initial boosts your perceived intellectual capacity and academic performance, but probably won’t help you appear more athletic.
10. Become a person of culture.
People admire those who seem to be “in the know” about everything from pop culture to world history to music. Being cultured shows you’re educated, tolerant and respectful. Those who come off as cultured are assumed to be knowledgeable on a variety of topics. Extra points if you speak another language and are well traveled.
11. Choose your words carefully.
Using big words for the sake of making yourself sound smart will likely backfire, especially if you use words incorrectly. Mispronouncing words will make you appear dim-witted and uneducated. Instead, focus on using clear, simple language, but feel free to drop in some 25-cent words when appropriate.
According to the American Heritage Dictionaries, the best words to use to make yourself sound smart include avant-garde, capricious, fiasco, panacea and ubiquitous.
12. Appreciate the fine arts.
Many people assume that if you appreciate fine art you have an upper-class education. And there are theories that looking at art and listening to classical music can make you smarter and increase your test scores.
But even just visiting museums or spending time at the opera, ballet or other classical art performances can make you appear smarter. Many people have climbed the social ladder and made themselves seem accomplished and civilized by adopting these cultural habits.
13. Watch your posture.
Sitting slouched in a chair, hunched over your keyboard or walking with a stooped back makes you look lazy and sluggish. It can even affect your self-confidence. By contrast, having good posture, and making sure you sit or stand with your shoulders back and chin up will make you look bright, focused and confident — and more attractive to boot.
14. Use polite language.
Letting lose a string of expletives in the workplace when you’re feeling stressed or angry is a surefire way to make yourself look more boorish than brilliant.
Cursing in front of employers and senior management can cost you promotions and lead to negative impressions about you. Use polite language, especially in the workplace or a formal setting. In general, being gracious and having good manners will make you look polished and refined.
15. Make eye contact.
The eyes are said to be the “window to the soul.” When we make eye contact with others, we appear authoritative, believable and confident.
By making eye contact, you’re both showing respect and earning respect. Those around you will feel like you’re acknowledging them, but it also makes you appear quick to perceive and understand what’s going on around you.
16. Speak with confidence.
Speaking quickly and expressively, with varying tone and emotion, is often associated with being both knowledgeable and smart. Being hesitant or unsure of what to say or stumbling over your words will diminish your intelligence in the eyes of others.
If speaking quickly doesn’t come naturally, make sure you keep a confident, evenly paced voice when speaking. Try to avoid stumbling over your words or using filler words such as “like,” “totally” or “you know.”
17. Have a million-dollar smile.
A bright confident smile is associated with being both wealthy and intelligent. Clean, straight white teeth are key to a winning smile and will make you look healthy, young and energetic.
Some people improve their pearly whites with cosmetic dentistry. If that investment is beyond your means, there are plenty of over-the-counter whitening products that can put a sparkle back into your smile.
18. Keep pace with the crowd.
It sounds silly but keeping up with everyone else when you’re walking in a group makes you seem smarter. Those who fall behind can be seen as lazy and those who sprint way ahead can be viewed as abnormal or odd.
This is due to something called timescale bias and the inferences we make between self-propelled movement and mental states. So when walking with a group, regulate your speed and adhere to the walking patterns of those around you.