Coming across as intelligent is not as important as being intelligent, but it is important.
You’ve got the education. You’ve logged in the years of experience. You are smart and knowledgeable and have much to offer.
But if no one knows this, then it doesn’t do your career a ton of good, does it?
Don’t get me wrong. Substance is definitely more important than style. But this doesn’t mean style isn’t important. The way people think of you — your image, your reputation — is a crucial key to your success.
Fortunately, we can influence the way people think of us. It’s not even that difficult.
First, a word about appearances: You may not want to wear eyeglasses you don’t need (even though numerous studies have shown that people really do think folks with glasses are smarter than those without). But dressing more formally isn’t misleading, and it does project an image of greater competence.
Your comportment is equally important. Looking people in the eye when you speak conveys the sense that you know what you are talking about. Speaking quickly and with greater expressiveness (i.e., not in a monotone) also boosts credibility.
While you’re at it, think about your overall communication style. A 2012 Princeton study showed that, contrary to common wisdom, using “big words” does not lead people to conclude you are intelligent. However, expressing yourself simply and clearly does. It stands to reason — in order to explain something well you need to really understand it. The use of charts and graphs is another great communication tool that is effective and shows off your brainpower at the same time. Oh, and do pay attention to spelling and punctuation in emails. People really do judge you on the basis of such things.
Finally, how you interact in groups is also very important. Never be afraid to ask questions — people not only love to impart information, they tend to conclude that anyone who seeks their knowledge must be smart. Strive to back up your ideas with facts and figures, citing sources where possible. Being the last to speak in a meeting, even if you’re just repeating other people’s ideas (being sure to give credit where credit is due), is also a great way to make a positive impression.
Tweaking your “style” costs little and can do wonders for both your reputation and career.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.