How to be the Smartest Person in the Room
“If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Confucius said that about leadership. As a leader, you should always strive to increase the talent around your table, and not let your pride inhibit you from hiring more talented people than yourself.
However, when you do find yourself around that table, you better believe that you want others to know the value you bring to the meeting.
To be the smartest person in the room you obviously have to be gifted with intellect. You also need to be the most knowledgeable, be well-spoken, have a positive energy, be prepared and ready to listen.
You Need to be the Most Knowledgeable
If your goal is to be the smartest person in the room, it stands to reason that you need to be the subject-matter expert.
For example, let’s say four friends are driving and their car has a flat tire. Only one of the guys knows how to fix the flat. Who becomes the smartest person in that situation?
Be committed to knowing your craft. Always be reading and learning.
I start my work day with 30 minutes of self-development that directly pertains to my field. Sometimes I watch YouTube instructional videos. Sometimes I take the companies online training. Other times I read books on our industry.
I work about 250 days a year (5 days a week times 50 work weeks a year). This means I dedicate about 125 hours a year to my personal development.
I have committed many years to this practice. Think of the advantage I have over my peers as a result. Over 10 years I will have committed over 31 work weeks to my development. That is a 250 day advantage I have over my peers.
Make this practice a daily habit, and you will see profound results that will compound many times over the years.
You Need to be Well-Spoken
There is a direct correlation about how well you speak and how smart others will think you are.
If you can’t put together a clear thought, others will assume you aren’t smart. If you can’t engage in a constructive conversation, others will assume you aren’t smart. If you can’t disagree without losing your temper, others will assume you aren’t smart. If you stutter and stammer over your words, I hate to be so blunt, but others will assume you aren’t smart.
To be well-spoken, you need to prepare what you want to say. Jot down notes on the topics you plan to discuss that will help you share your idea. This will ensure you won’t forget any of your points when it is your turn to talk. This will also make your presentation cleaner, and as a result will have an impact on those listening to you.
That said, realize that you should plan to only contribute in moderation. Fight the urge to dominate the conversation. Allow others to speak and voice their views. However, when it is your turn to talk, be sure you have something worth-while to say.
On the flip side, do not withhold ideas. Too often people want to make sure that they get credit for having a good thought, and don’t share good ideas at the appropriate time. It will always back fire on you if you act in a way to try to get recognition.
Part of being well-spoken is being able to engage in a debate in a constructive manner. Disagreement is healthy, but realize everyone is watching how you disagree. Do you come from a position of emotion, or are you always a gentleman armed with facts and logic?
Below is a great video about debate that should be a must-watch:
Your ability to speak and communicate is especially important if you are presenting. Never, ever speak in front of a group unprepared if you can help it. There are millions of pieces of advice on this topic, but one I always try to follow is eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.
You can see this with President Trump. He is criticized as a communicator because he adds so many unnecessary phrases and hyperboles in his speeches. That is definitely part of his brand, but you and I aren’t Donald Trump. Cleaner is better for us.
You Need to Have Positive Energy
If you want to be seen as the smartest person in the room, you have to exude a positive energy. Attitude is everything in life. If you are sour or unlikeable, then being the smartest person at the table won’t matter because no one will want to be around you.
The first step for exuding positive energy is your mood. You have to be committed to removing negativity from your workday. We all have baggage, and we all have things that we can be miserable about. Leave it at home. At work, be upbeat and be positive. I preach to my girls to always be a ray of sunshine. Take pride in being positive.
Next, your appearance is important. I was on one team as a young man where it was clear to me who was the smartest person on the team. However, this individual always looked like a disheveled mess. He refused to iron his pants, and generally looked like hell. As a result, no one on the team gave him the respect he deserved because he didn’t look the part.
Another instance where the smartest person wasn’t recognized was because of his physical appearance. This guy was brilliant, but seriously overweight. I am fairly certain this effected his confidence, something noticeable to the rest of the team. However, subconsciously it is challenging to give someone the respect they deserve if they can’t take care of themselves.
Finally, always strive to be likable. Pay attention to your colleagues, and take a genuine interest in them. Makes small talk, and remember the details in their lives. Go to lunch with the team. Be genuinely happy for their successes. Be frustrated with them over their challenges. Always be willing to lend a hand. You can go a long way in life if you simply are likable.
Always be Prepared
This is probably the answer to every question, and is probably the secret to life. Everything is a test. Every meeting is a test. Every interaction is a test. Every assignment is a test. The smartest guy in the room knows that, and he is always preparing.
Direct preparation is a given. The smartest guy will always show up with notes, a plan and having done his homework. It goes much deeper than that though.
The smartest guy is well-read. He reads books on management and leadership. He reads books on finance.
He is always knowledgeable about current events. He reads and watches the news. He is also able to interpret how current events will impact his life and the business of the company he represents.
He is an expert on his company. He reads the shareholder reports. He watches the company’s YouTube videos. He reads the press articles. He pays attention to personnel changes at all levels, but especially at the leadership level. More importantly, he develops relationships with people and makes it a priority to develop his network.
The same goes for his industry. Not only is he an expert on his business, but he is an expert on his competitors. He knows their people and products, along with their vision.
A final step on preparation, and this is critical, is to try to never ask a question in a meeting where you don’t already know the answer. That means you need to have as many conversations as possible before the meeting to understand the issues at hand. Should there be an issue of contention, this is the time to persuade others of your opinion. It is much easier to win people over in a private setting than a public one.
You Need to be a Good Listener
Listening is a very valuable skill. In a meeting setting, sitting back and listening gives you the ability to learn what everyone else is thinking before you have to share your thoughts. This is a very valuable advantage that you must realize.
Being an active listener is extremely important. What this means is always being naturally curious, and asking good questions. This will enable you to understand the issues and everyone’s position better. In addition, it shows you have the confidence to ask the questions that others in the room probably have, but are too afraid to ask.
A key and overlooked part of listening is to value the opinion of others. You don’t have to agree, but you should try your best to understand their perspective. Being able to see the issue of the day from the lens of others will enable you to make the most well-rounded opinion of the matter. In addition, others will naturally gravitate to you because you genuinely cared about their opinion.
You should always strive to be the smartest person in the room. You should also strive to be in rooms where you aren’t the smartest person.
This mindset means you are getting the most out of your ability, but you are also continually challenging yourself to grow and learn from others.
Never forget that every person you meet knows something that you don’t. Strive to learn from then while you focus on developing your own knowledge base. This formula will serve you will in your professional career.