When it comes to meetings, all of us could benefit by appearing a little smarter. Whether you're a salesperson in a meeting with a potential client or an executive in a room full of partners and underlings, meetings hold the potential to make a lasting positive impression, or just the opposite. The smarter you look, in your words and in your appearance, the more likely you are to be heard, respected, and valued, even when the meeting comes to an end.
Fortunately, you don't have to be a superstar to look a little smarter in your next meeting. You can apply a handful of useful strategies and come out looking far better than you would have otherwise.
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but you'd be surprised how many people show up to meetings with nothing prepared. You don't have to outline an entire presentation (unless, of course, that's your job for the meeting), but you do have to understand the true purpose of the meeting and come prepared with a handful of possible talking points, suggestions, or statistics related to the topic. Understand the subject as much as possible before you even step foot in the room--if even one of your pre-researched facts enters into the conversation, you'll appear smarter and better prepared.
This is one of the easiest tips to follow. You don't have to say much, and you don't have to command the meeting, but you do have to speak up and speak honestly. So many people show up to meetings and just sit there and listen. This isn't necessarily bad, but it won't make you look smart. You want to show your team that you're an active participant in the dialogue, and that you have ideas of your own. Of course, talking too much during a meeting can make you appear less intelligent, so be careful, but don't be afraid to voice your opinion.
Play Devil's Advocate
Playing devil's advocate is a way of exposing the flaws and deeper features of any idea, without having to take a contrarian position. Directly arguing against someone can make you appear confrontational and might make you seem foolish or out of turn if your points are weak. If your points are weak as a devil's advocate, however, you'll get all the credit for trying to find faults in the problem with none of the blame if it doesn't go well. Announce in advance that your position is one of curiosity, not of dissent, before expressing your concerns over any opinion. You'll seem like a more critical thinker and a more invested member of the meeting.
This has less to do with your verbal participation in the meeting and more to do with your body language. Sitting still may not seem like a significant action, but compared to the alternative, it will make you appear far smarter. Many modern workers now break out their cell phones or tablets in meetings, possibly attempting to multitask but more often looking for a break from the attention of the meeting. Doing so can harm your reputation, even if the action is generally accepted. Similarly, using those comfy office chairs to spin around, bounce, or rock back and forth will make you look like a restless toddler. Instead, sit still and pay attention.
As another body language based tip, lean forward throughout the majority of the meeting. This will show that you're paying close attention to whoever's speaking, and will force you to keep your back straight. Slouching can be as big of a visual problem as the excessive chair acrobatics I mentioned in my previous point. Keeping your hands folded, or at least on the table, will add to your "interested" positioning and help keep you from any nervous jiggling or movement.
Taking notes in meetings, even brief ones, shows your commitment to the topic at hand. Not only are you willing to spend extra time and effort in the meeting to pay attention, you're also suggesting that you'll be reviewing the materials later (even if you never do). Taking notes also gives you a basic framework of the meeting itself, so an hour into the meeting you can recall a point from the first ten minutes and look like you have an eidetic memory. You can also use this space to make note of any new ideas or thoughts you'll want to bring up later.
Ask Good Questions
Finally, be sure to ask good questions of the other people in the room. Don't make up questions for the sake of making them up, but do ask for more details and for elaboration on points you feel were glossed over. This gives you a bit of "participatory credit" while showing that you're paying critical attention. It also takes some of the pressure off you for a moment, putting you in a position of authority as the recipient of your question is forced to answer it in detail.
Looking smarter doesn't take much effort or much practice. Before you know it, these confidence-inspiring strategies will become your new norm, and you'll head into every meeting feeling as smart as you look. The more respect and attention you command, the more your ideas will be heard, and the better chance you'll have at advancing your career--no matter what your long-term goals are.