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4 Things We Think Make Us Look Smart, but Don’t

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on Dec. 30, 2019

"Ummm.... Yes. Thank you. You certainly are enthusiastic, but I have NO idea what your point is."

My heart sank. That was from the VP of HR.

I developed a game changing approach that reversed attrition of new managers. It worked across the board, including with high risk groups such as women and minority populations. I was asking for approval for a company wide rollout.

The implications were significant.

But I failed to connect with my audience.

My plan was to dazzle the VP. I loaded my presentation with facts, figures and examples, and pitched with passion. I had passion, yes, but no focus.

And no approval.

My boss, Ann, rescued the presentation, and the VP approved the rollout. The program was a great success, and we taught workshops around the US until it became a corporate HR program. It even expanded to other parts of the globe.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.

It doesn't matter how smart you are.

If the message is muddled, the idea is dead.

After this incident I started paying attention to all the things we do that sabotage our message.


There are lots of things we think make us look and sound smarter.

Most of them don't.

Here are 4 common things we think make us look smart. Judge for yourself.

  1. Use jargon.

    Jargon or highly technical language muddles your message. If your audience doesn't understand the concept, your idea will stall.

    The right time to use technical terms is when your audience is already engaged and shares your background on the topic.

    Otherwise - simpler is clearer. And smarter.


    An archetypal positioning will help humanize the process of being in business in general, and value proposition in particular, by enabling greater humanity within all stakeholder relationships*.


    Do you want to make a connection with your audience? Connect to their aspirations and dreams. Emotion sells. Logic doesn't.

    (*NOTE: This quote is pulled out of context as an example for an audience that doesn't understand archetypal positioning. In context, the insight is excellent. See the full article by David Chung on LinkedIn.

  2. Focus on titles and accomplishments.

    Take a look at most people's resumes or bios. They're loaded with "accomplished, seasoned, and best selling" executives.

    Do you want to stand out?

    Instead of telling your audience how great you are, tell them how you can help them.

    Say your title and accomplishments

    I am an award winning, nationally recognized, experienced, small business consultant.

    Tell your audience how they benefit from your experience

    I help new entrepreneurs market, manage and grow their business.

  3. Correct your audience.

    Just because you're smart, doesn't mean you have to correct everyone. Telling your audience they’re wrong doesn’t make you look smart.

    It makes them defensive.

    Don't tell your audience what they're doing wrong. Empathize with their problems and offer a solution.

    Talk down

    If you’re still using forced ranking to evaluate your employees - you’re doing it wrong.

    Empathize and engage

    Looking for a simpler way to improve employee engagement? Are you worried that forced ranking is doing more harm than good? I have a different, proven method that may be right for you.

  4. Over explain.

    Most writers and speakers are too wordy.

    And ramble.

    We overload even the simplest of sentence with descriptors to make concepts "sound" smarter. Over explaining leads to overwhelming.

    Look at the example below - same message in 58 words - and then in 25.


    There are some bloggers who seem to have a natural gift when it comes to writing. They manage to get their ideas across clearly and economically, which means that readers can easily follow what they write. Not only is there a lot of respect for what they have to say, but also the way that they say it.


    Some bloggers seem to be naturally gifted writers. Readers devour their clear, economical prose. People respect what they say – and love how they say it.

    (NOTE: This example comes from 7 Simple Edits That Make Your Writing 100% More Powerful by Amy Dunn Moscoso, the content siren.)

The more you try to impress, the LESS engaging you become.

Focus first on engaging your audience. The more engaged they are, the more they'll understand your message.

THEN you can progressively become more detailed and technical.

AND impressive.

Now THAT's smart.

Ready to inspire, excite, connect and compel? Take a look at these Evoke posts:

who are you How to say who you are and what you do in 20 words or less

Complicated ideas How to make complicated ideas easy for anyone to understand

Check out the The Career Toolbox page for more practical tips and tools.

Follow Evoke.pro on LinkedIn.

Sign up for Evoke's newsletter

Interested in improving your communications? I help people who have something to say, but struggle to say it. Contact me at reo@evoke.pro to get more information.

Ask about my workshop, "How to say who you are and what you do in 20 words or less."

Photo/Week #1 "New" by Camera Eye Photography, on Flickr

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