Much has been written of late (including by me) on the importance of emotional intelligence. But don’t forget the role that plain old intelligence plays in your success too, especially in making first impressions.
Of course, use all your naturally-supplied IQ, but it doesn’t hurt to use some tricks to boost your perceived IQ as well. I’ll skip all the admittedly proven, but superficial, methods like wearing glasses (especially nerdy ones), using a middle initial in your name, dressing one level above your title, and having nice teeth.
I’ll instead focus on what science shows will make you look smarter, while supporting your authentic self (and bringing other benefits too).
1. Remember names and use them.
In conducting research for Make It Matter, I asked 1,000 employees what happens when a leader remembers or uses their name. The most common answer, besides “I feel respected,” was “I see that leader as more intelligent.” When leaders recall names (especially in big organizations), it’s seen as impressive.
Here’s good news though; remembering names isn’t a memory problem, it’s an attention problem — one you can solve. I’ve had success with being mindful and concentrating when hearing someone’s name. I also create a visual association. For example: I meet Bob, I picture him merrily bobbing up and down in the water. (Bob doesn’t have to know that). Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, says the more bizarre the connection, the better for recall.
2. Look bright-eyed and flash a genuine smile.
A 2016 study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that having a case of “sleepy eyes” and sporting a slight frown makes you appear less intelligent. Being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed connotes energy, passion, and interest too.
Relatedly, research from University of Bristol psychologist Susanne Quadflieg showed that people who display authentic smiles, with wrinkles around the eyes, are rated more intelligent than those with fake smiles (which we humans are good at spotting). The research also cited a “halo-effect”: genuine smiles connote warmth and likability, which causes other, unrelated attributes (like intelligence) to be rated higher.
3. Use enormously clear communication versus enormous words.
Meaning, don’t use big words to look smart. Just focus on being crystal clear in your communications.
Daniel Oppenheimer, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Readers Digest: “People think: If I can show I have a good vocabulary, I’ll sound smarter. But people associate intelligence with clarity of expression. Smarter people do use longer words in their writing, but their aim is to write clearly.”
From personal experience I know clear communication is critical for successful leadership, as is the next point.
4. Be confident.
University of Alabama psychology professor Stanley Brodsky studied jurors and made a direct connection between confidence projected by witnesses/lawyers and perceived credibility and intelligence.
Self-confidence starts by comparing yourself only to who you were yesterday (not irrelevant others) and by minding your inner-monologue and avoiding the self-beatdowns you administer. Believe that you’re enough, and you’ll be more than.
5. Be expressive.
Leonard Mlodinow, author of Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, says that speaking expressively, with changes in pitch and volume to emphasize points, boosts perception of credibility and intelligence. As part of that expressiveness, Mlodinow says to pick up the pace of your speech, as it makes you sound smarter and more convincing.
I use this technique in my keynote addresses, opting for a fast-paced, excited tone (which is also authentic) to add an extra layer of credibility to the talk.
6. Ask questions and ask for advice.
Just spouting off all your knowledge with emphatic statements is actually not the best way to show your IQ. A better approach is to ask insightful questions. I’ve always found that the smartest leaders I worked for were the ones that asked me good questions, not those that constantly told me what they knew.
Even better, ask for advice. Harvard research shows those who ask for advice are seen as more, not less, competent.
7. Get your posture and peepers in the right place.
Psychologist Nora Murphy from Loyola Marymount University told the Wall Street Journal about an experiment where she videotaped test subjects that were instructed to try to look smart. Those sitting/standing up straight were rated more intelligent.
Psychologist Stanley Brodsky from Loyola University found that students who consciously maintained eye-contact were rated higher on intelligence. This makes sense especially when thinking of the opposite, someone who isn’t looking me in the eye. I can’t help but think they’re insincere and aren’t bright enough to realize it.
There’s nothing wrong with engaging in a few tricks to amp up your perceived intelligence. Just be smart about it.