As soon as we hear someone speak, our brain goes into detective mode – piecing together socially-relevant information, such as intelligence, education and wealth. So does that mean we can sound smarter than we actually are? Absolutely.
When it comes to appearing smarter, speaking is superior to writing because the latter lacks the ‘paralinguistic cues’ that tell us about things like intelligence, emotion, thoughtfulness, tone. In that sense, it’s not so much about what you say as how you say it.
A 2012 study by Quantified Impressions into how voices influence perception of others found:
– 23% of participants said the speakers’ voice quality influenced their opinion.
– 11% said it was the content of the message.
– Other factors were: Passion, Presence and Knowledge.
How to Start Sounding Smarter
1. Work on your posture: Erudition is about more than just the words coming out of your mouth – standing or sitting straight, but with a relaxed spine, presents a self-assured outward image and puts you in a comfortable, confident mental and physical state for speaking.
2. Avoid mindless language: “Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary in 1980, and it holds true for speech. Speaking in cliches, buzzwords or using ‘intelligent’ words without a correct sense of their meaning conveys a lack of original thought and puts your listeners to sleep.
3. Speak loudly, not forcefully: Projecting your voice takes practice, but speaking loudly and confidently so that people at the far reaches can hear is a great asset in seeming more intelligent. Conversely, never shout – it puts your listeners on edge and will wreak havoc on your voice.
4. Pay close attention to your voice: Think about voices that engage you – the vocal frequencies and the speaker’s ability, ease and familiarity with the subtleties of their own voice. By listening very carefully to your voice you will refine it into an electrifying force.
5. Avoid ‘vocal fry’ or other vocal irritants: Annoying vocal habits negatively affect how speakers are perceived. Two recent offenders are “uptalk” – a rising intonation that pronounces statements as if they were questions – and “vocal fry” – ending words in a raspy growl. Both convey insecurity, negativity and dimness.
6. Don’t be afraid of silence: As Harold Pinter observed, “one way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness”, and it’s this sense of embarrassment that leads many to avoid silence. Conversely, pausing emphasises and adds thoughtfulness to your speech.
7. Don’t weigh in unless you have something to add: If you only have basic knowledge of a topic, e.g. physics, then wading into a discussion on the intricacies of cold fusion will make you sound ignorant. In those situations, try an steer the conversation towards familiar ground where you can speak easily and knowledgeably.
While the majority of us can’t change our voices outright, we can subtly change our habits in order to reach a greater level of eloquence, transforming you into an intelligent, engaging speaker in the eyes of your peers.