How to Appear Smart in a Meeting
When I came across a blog about ten tricks for appearing smart in a meeting, I thought it might offer some useful ideas. The first clue that I was wrong is that the title of the post is about tricks for appearing smart—gimmicks, in other words. The second clue was the list of tricks: things like drawing a Venn diagram or asking, “Will it scale?”
Either of these might impress people the first time you do it, but by the second or third time, people will see you as annoying rather than smart. And how often can you ask a presenter to go back a slide (see #8) without everyone wondering why you weren’t paying attention?
If you want to convey the impression that you’re smart in a meeting, you’d better make sure to convey that impression outside the meeting as well, because that’s the image of you that people will carry.
So pay attention to your behavior. Help coworkers. Listen—really listen. Ask questions. If you’re wrong about something you said or did, acknowledge it; one of the surest ways to be seen as smart is to acknowledge when you’re not so smart.
Then there’s what you shouldn’t do if you want to appear smart. Even if you do know more than others, don’t foist everything you know on them; no one likes a know-it-all. Don’t reject feedback; be open to it even if you don’t agree with it. Don’t behave in an arrogant or smarter-than-thou manner. In general, guard against overtly striving to appear smart, because the very act of doing so will make you seem less smart.
Beyond these things, if you want others to see you as smart in meetings, simply do all the things you ought to do anyway to ensure an effective meeting: Prepare for the meeting. Arrive on time. Ask relevant questions. Contribute constructively. Express concerns if you have them. Stay on schedule if you’re running the meeting, and ask to return to the schedule if you’re falling behind. Use, or recommend the use of, a “parking lot” for topics that stray beyond the meeting agenda.
Still, if you’re determined to use Venn diagrams to come across as smart, the best ones to use in a meeting may be the funny ones that spoof the very notion of a Venn diagram. Speaking of which, displaying a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, so that’s something to keep in mind—both in and outside of meetings.