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How To Be the Smartest Person in the Room

Three simple elements that could position you as the smartest person in the room.

MANHATTAN — “What you’re saying doesn’t make a lick of sense to me,” blurted Harry, and with a seriously annoyed expression on his face continued his rant with, “I’m not buying it, you’re telling me to listen, B__ S___!  I’m going to talk because I want everyone to know I’m the smartest person in the room.”  

OMG!! To Harry’s credit, he made this comment in line for the buffet lunch rather than in front of his 75 colleagues who, like Harry, were participating in a full-day workshop on mastering affluent client acquisition. This allowed me to take the liberty of body-slamming poor Harry in earshot of only a handful of his peers.

With a forced smile, I responded, “Harry, you’re much too smart to be that stupid.” This had the desired effect, as the advisors within earshot took over and amused themselves as they worked their way through the buffet line at Harry’s expense. It was obvious that they didn’t care much for Harry as they teased him unmercifully. You had to be there. 

Unfortunately for Harry, he’s never going to be the smartest person in the room as he doesn’t understand the counterintuitive nature of personal positioning in affluent social circles. I have to give Harry credit, because by inverting his approach it will position you as the smartest person in the room.

Let me walk you through three simple elements, that if you pay attention, can position you to be perceived—if not the smartest person in the room, then one of the most successful—which one can argue are almost one and the same.

Go for it—pay attention to these three elements and always be the smartest person in the room. Sorry Harry.

PPA = Smart and Successful

  1. Presence:  This might appear a bit new age at first glance, but when you consider the fact that we are all forms of energy and whatever energy is dominant at any given moment is communicated naturally. I know you’ve heard phrases along the lines of “she’s good energy” or “he’s bad karma”—well, these comments reflect a person’s presence. 

    Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, popularized this concept in her 2012 TED talk about her research on power posing. According to Cuddy, anyone can improve their presence by practicing a power pose, for instance standing up straight with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips. There are numerous poses, but the message here is that practicing a power pose for a couple of minutes prior to entering the room will have a significant impact on your personal presence.

  2. People Skills:  Smart people ask good questions, are proactive listeners and are always interested in learning something new. Whether it’s some historical tidbit, a new medical procedure, or a snippet of personal information, smart people listen, build a conversation around a topic, and remember what was discussed.     

    Here is where the 80/20 rule (80 percent of the time) comes into play. Questions that are asked with sincerity can stimulate conversations.  Smart people are very intentional in this regard and have the discipline to listen to the response. A simple comment regarding the response is all that’s needed to start a conversation, which then creates the opportunity to ask another question.  

    Because smart people are good listeners, they can learn a lot about the person they’re conversing with. On the other hand, poor Harry, in his overly verbose attempt to be the “smartest person in the room” will expose himself quickly as a self-centered blowhard—especially to a potential affluent prospect.
  3. Appearance:  If personal presence is non-verbal communication through body language and energy, appearance is the packaging. This is a slight variation of the typical dress-for-success rules. For instance, our research tells us that a suit and tie isn’t always required for an in-office review meeting, business casual is just as acceptable, though it better be a high quality business casual. Ladies wearing pant suits, men wearing a sport coat with an open collar dress shirt—the boundaries of dressing for success have been expanded.

    The bottom line when it comes to appearance is to take pride in it. Paying attention to your appearance is a positive indicator that complements both your personal presence and people skills, such as wearing clothes that are appropriate for the occasion and tailored to fit properly. Common sense plays a big role in paying attention to one’s appearance; think in terms of quality clothing, keeping it clean and pressed, shoes shined, and good personal hygiene. After all, you’re the product.

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