The next best thing to being an intelligent person is having people think you’re intelligent. Of course there are things you can do to become brainier; going to college springs to mind. But let’s face it, these methods take a long time, and they’re no help for you trying to impress that girl or guy at that party you’re at right now. Don’t drop out of school, but these speaking hacks will help you come across as being smarter than the average bear. Just please don’t be that guy who uses them all in one night.
- Memorize a fact and drop it into a conversation
Since all you’re trying to do is sound smarter, before you head to a cocktail party memorize a little-known fact, like Princes Charles and William will never travel on the same plane so that in the event of a crash, at least one will survive to protect the throne.
- Shyness is pride
Even if you’re brilliant, you won’t sound that way if you present your case weakly. Don’t worry about what people are thinking about you and focus on making your point forcefully.
- Steer the conversation
Instead of trying to fake your way through a conversation on a topic you’re clueless about, subtly direct it into an area more up your alley and go to town.
- Nail down “who” and “whom”
It’s always funny when someone clearly trying to sound more intelligent misuses “whom.” Here’s the way to tell: just answer the question. Who did it? He did. Whom should I thank? Thank him.
- Memorize pi
Have this one ready to go when someone says the word “pie.” Learn it to a max of 50 places; it’s long enough that no one will upstage you.
- Fake a British accent
- Cut out crutch words
It’s tough to sound smart when you say “like” and “um” every few seconds. Train yourself not to resort to these crutch words.
- Don’t commit
If you never speak, you won’t sound dumb but you sure won’t sound any smarter. Instead, hedge. Say “I’m waiting for more conclusive evidence” when pressed for your opinion.
- Beat around the bush
When you’re talking business, hedging is also known as using jargon. With a crowd of people who aren’t in your industry, use all those acronyms and industry-speak that a colleague would get but will mystify the uninitiated.
- Criticize intangibles
This was designed for a work environment but it applies anywhere. An easy way to sound superior is to dog other people on unquantifiable traits like motivational skills or how much they’re a team player.
- Fabricate statistics
No one is really going to check that crazy figure you made up to back up your interesting story. If they do, just say you mixed up the magazine you got it from. Was it GQ? Or maybe it was Men’s Journal?
- Don’t mention your source
Even if it’s completely true, you won’t sound very smart saying you got that fact you just shared from watching “Family Guy.” You don’t have to lie, just say you “heard that somewhere.”
- Use sound bites
You don’t have to read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover every day to sound smart. Scan a few headlines from different sections before heading out the door and pretend you’re totally up-to-speed.
- Speak to two people
Everyone agrees that if you can speak to two people well, you can do the same with 200 people. The trick here to boost your confidence and sound smarter is to find two agreeable faces in that audience of 200 and speak only to them.
- Learn a couple foreign language phrases
The key to this hack is memorizing a few phrases in a foreign tongue. Go as obscure as possible to lower your odds of coming across an actual speaker of that language who’ll try to engage you in conversation.
- Read Amazon book reviews
Who’s got the time to read a whole book? Use Amazon’s user-generated book reviews for inside information that makes it sound like you read what you haven’t.
- Ask questions
With a little bit of information you can pose questions to someone else and then call them out if their answer is wrong, instantly making you look like a god among mortals.
- Tell people you only read The Economist
This will a) impress people who always mean to read The Economist but end up reading People … and b) imply that you’ve tried every other possible news magazine and they all fell short of your high standards.
- You say it best …
…when you say nothing at all. Tacking on a phrase like “It is what it is” to the end of a conversation just makes you sound less intelligent.
- Get in the last word
On the other hand, there is something to be said for getting the final say. Simply repackage what others have said and put it out there with a tone that says, “and now the subject is put to bed.”
Alex Trebek has been sounding smarter than contestants for years, but as Sean Connery revealed, the guy reads from a card! Use your smartphone to surreptitiously pull up a pertinent fact to contribute to a conversation.
- Name drop
Let a famous thinker or writer give your argument weight and make you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Our personal favorite: Noam Chomsky.
- Say “I prefer their early stuff”
Someone discussing a band you aren’t familiar with? Use this line to appear more discerning, but use with caution: the line between cool and tool here is very thin.
Gesturing while speaking actually might make you smarter by helping you have better recall. Even if it doesn’t, people’s attention will be divided between your words and watching your hands and they might miss you saying something incorrect.
- Talk the loudest
Probably because it conveys confidence, if you talk the loudest, the people around you will assume you are an authority on the subject.
- Speak slowly
Is Jeff Goldblum smart? Just by watching his movies we have no way to prove or disprove that he is. But he comes off like some kind of cool scientist in interviews just by taking his time to say things.
- Master the mic
If you are giving a miked-up presentation, you’ll look like an idiot if you’re holding it too close to your face or a speaker. Take a few minutes to practice the right way to use it.
- Remember a few quotes
Winston Churchill said, “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. The quotations, when engraved upon the memory, give you good thoughts.” See what we did there?
- His or her
It’s PC to say “their” when referring to one person, but it’s not really correct. It sounds smarter to say, “The owner of this sandwich should know his or her lunch is about to be eaten.”
- Don’t overshoot
Know your limits. If you aren’t 100% sure you’ve got a grasp of that $10 word, go with something you know.
- Master the metaphor
Sometimes when you have nothing relevant to contribute, your best option is to say something right out of left field, leave, and let your audience assume what you said must be brilliant because it couldn’t possibly be that moronic. Try, “A single Russian hair outweighs half a Pole.”
- Answer questions with questions
Teachers do this to encourage students to find their own answers. You can do this when you have no clue what the answer is.
- Make up words
Most people have limited vocabularies. You’ll have to assess your audience to see if you can get away with this, but if you sprinkle in a legitimate-sounding word of your own design, people will simply assume you know a word they don’t.