There are many labels pinned on us at work, but one of the best is to be called “knowledgeable.” If you sound knowledgeable, you’ll be taken seriously at meetings and elsewhere.But what exactly does it take to sound knowledgeable? Surprisingly, it’s not what many people think.
Those who try to sound like experts often believe they must spew out all they know. So they pack too much information into their comments, or provide dense, fact-rich slides in their PowerPoint presentations. They are the very people whose views are ignored.
Knowledge is very different from information: Knowledge is insight, not just an accumulation of facts. You can show your mastery in this area in the following ways.
1. Do your homework
The starting point is knowing what you’re talking about. If you comment at a meeting, be sure you’re on sound footing. Make certain your facts are correct, your sources are accurate, and your insights are grounded in the most current information.
Also prepare for impromptu conversations. If you’re headed for a job interview, do your homework. Imagine the questions that might be thrown at you. Be ready for chance encounters in the corridors, elevators, or around the coffee machine. Figure out what you’ll say if you see your new boss. Read up on her background, and prepare your talking points.
2. Boil it down to one message
A good way to turn off your listeners is with an information dump. If you want to sound knowledgeable, formulate a single ideas from the material you’ve gathered, and deliver it clearly.
Adam Grant, in a recent New York Times op-ed, explains that those who know the most are often the worst teachers. Their level of understanding is far removed from their listeners, and they can’t be bothered to explain how they reached their conclusions. He points to Albert Einstein who had trouble attracting students and had difficulty explaining concepts with any simplicity.
No matter how much you know on a topic, the secret to audience engagement is to boil it down to a single, compelling idea. Say, “Here’s what I believe . . . ” Or “My point is this . . . ” Be sure to state this idea in one short, sharply focused sentence that will center your audience on a single meaningful thought.
3. Provide a clear structure
Once you state your idea, make the depth of your knowledge clear by offering proof points that support your one idea.
These points can be organized in a variety of ways, including Reasons, Ways, Steps in a Process, or a Challenge/Response.
Give your listeners clear signposts as you proceed through your structure. Use tags like “the first reason,” the second reason,” or “The challenge we faced . . .” and “Our response was a collaborative one.”
By highlighting your structure, you’ll sound knowledgeable because people will understand what you’re saying. Without that structure you’ll leave your audience in a dense fog of content.
4. Simplify your language
Ironically, the simpler your words and sentences, the more profound you’ll sound. Suppose a colleague reporting on a project says: “The satisfaction of all parameters implicates the completion of the project mandate by Q4.” Hearing that, you have every right to be puzzled. A truly knowledgeable colleague would simply say: “We expect to complete this project by year end.”
True wisdom lies in clarity, so choose simple words and short sentences. As Winston Churchill said, “Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
5. Choose your moments
Finally, pick the right moments to speak up and share your views.
Someone who is always speaking up to show how smart he (or she) is will sound pompous rather than knowledgeable. One CEO I interviewed for my last book impressed me because he said, “If there are better minds in the room concerning a particular subject, I’m delighted to shut up and learn from those individuals.”
Picking your spots means showing respect for the wisdom others bring. Then you can enter the conversation and build upon what others have said. That’s a good example of leadership–and knowledge in action.
Today, with so much data available to all of us, there’s a premium on being truly knowledgeable. To earn that mark of distinction, check your facts, distill your information into a key message, provide a clear structure and easily accessible language–and deliver your insights at the appropriate moment. Those skills will make you come across as knowledgeable every time you speak.