10 Ways to Sound Smarter

Sarah Eaton speaker presenter keynote education literacyYou may wear the proper clothes and drive a snazzy car, but what about your “verbal image”?

The words you use in business or an academic setting convey a message about you. Being articulate is often associated with being competent, being able to do the job, being able to rise to new challenges. Here are 10 tips to sound smarter, more professional and to boost your “verbal image”.

  1. Ditch the fillers. You don’t like fillers in your food, do you? There are certain words or sounds that can turn a perfectly good sentence into a verbal hot dog. Words such as “like” and phrases such as “ya know”, add nothing to the quality of your verbal spread. Eliminate them and you’ll automatically sound more eloquent and intelligent.
  2. Eliminate the “um”s and “ah”s. When you do, you’ll add quality to your speech by making you sound more confident and assured.
  3. Use transition words with care. Overusing words such as “well…” and “so…” can be annoying for the listener. Listen for these words in your speech. If you need to transition from one idea to another, add a few other key words to your vocabulary. “Therefore”, “in essence…” and “my point is…” are excellent additions that can often be used in place of tired words such as “well” and “some” that add little value to what you are saying.
  4. Pause. People are afraid of dead air. If it goes on for too long, or is accompanied by a look of panic, then silence is not your friend. But deliberate, well placed pauses show you are in control as a speaker. It also gives your listener time to process what you just said. Learn the subtle art of the gentle pause to command more attention.
  5. Be precise. Instead of saying “blah, blah, blah” or “whatever!”, instead say “et cetera” or choose a word that means what you’re actually trying to say. Instead of “stuff”, say “materials” or “substance”. Precision indicates that you have chosen your words with care; always a smart choice.
  6. Make the dictionary your friend. Knowing what words to say when can mean the difference between sounding educated and sounding like an idiot. Someone recently told me of a case where the person speaking confused the words “masticate” and “macerate”. It made the sentence hilarious. Sadly, the speaker didn’t sound like so much of an expert after that.
  7. Choose words of Latin or Greek origin. Words that come from Latin or Greek are more academic. Once the dictionary is your friend, learn the origins of words. Choose words that come from either of these two classical languages and you’ll sound more educated.
  8. Choose your words carefully. You may know that a word has a Latin or Greek origin, doesn’t mean you should use it. “Masticate” and “macerate” both have origins in an ancient language. Using big words improperly doesn’t make you sound smart. Know what words mean and in what context to use them.
  9. Power your sentences with verbs – used properly. “Me Tarzan, you Jane” lacks verbs and has become the quintessential phrase indicating a lack of formal education. Using verbs alone that should be paired with another verb is equally telling. “I drunk the tea” should be either “I drank the tea” or “I had drunk the tea.” Knowing the difference between these tenses – and when to use them, is the mark of an educated speaker.
  10. Eliminate the slang. “Ain’t”, “s’up” and “bro” may be fine for the street, but they have no place in the business or academic environment. There’s a difference between being relaxed and casual and sounding like you’re from the ‘hood.

The trick is to polish your verbal image without looking like you’re trying too hard. The reason TV characters like “Fraser” are so funny is that their speech is exaggeratedly intellectual. Subtle changes can sharpen your verbal image without making you sound like a pompous know-it-all. When in doubt, less is often more.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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