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Science says people judge your intelligence based on 3 key criteria

There’s this strange compliment that people like to say: “You’re smarter than you look.”

On one hand, the speaker is complimenting you by saying that you are smart, but on the other hand, you are being told that you look dumb.

And there’s nothing worse than knowing that the way you present yourself to the world is making you look less intelligent than you actually are.

Not only can this be a disadvantage in social situations, but it can also play a factor in not getting picked for a job or promotion.

If this is something that regularly happens, you need to look at yourself and fix the issue. If not done quickly, an interviewer who perceives you as “not very smart” might deny you the job of your dreams.

It’s All in the Voice

So how do you go about making yourself come off more intelligent? It turns out, it actually has very little to do with how you look, and more to do with how you sound. Confused?

In a study from the University of Chicago, students were filmed on camera explaining why they should be hired for a certain position.

Recruiters and employers were then brought in to vet the students and were divided into three groups: those who watched the video, those who listened to the audio, and those who read a transcript.

Long story short, the researchers found that overall, the looks of the students were insignificant in determining how intelligent they were perceived. The main factor ended up being their voice.

The reason? This was pinned down to human evolution: researchers believed that our voices have carefully evolved to showcase competence and intelligence.

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Here are the three major aspects of voices that sound smartest:


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1) Faster Speech

Of course, there’s a limit to how fast you can speak without it sounding like gibberish.

But for those who have mastered the art of quick yet comprehensible speech, listeners perceive them as being more confident than slower speakers; specifically, they were seen as being more competent and benevolent.

This ideal rate falls somewhere between 140 to 160 words per minute, which is the same speed that narrators speak in audiobooks.

If you are looking to improve your speed, there are a few drills you can practice:

  • Master tongue twisters: Tongue twisters are an easy way to gain master control of your mouth and tongue. One classic tongue twister you can use to ease yourself before a big presentation or report is the classic Peter Piper.
  • Read out loud in varying speeds: We are taught to read silently in our heads, but reading out loud could do wonders for your speech capabilities. By starting at normal speed, and then twisting it up with slower and quicker speeds, you end up practicing the muscles in your mouth, gaining better control of them. For an extra challenge, try reading the text backwards—this eventually eliminates the natural pause you have when thinking about the next word.
  • Add arbitrary words when reading a text: Words like “And” or “the”, for example. While reading out loud, adding prepositions will teach your mind to read without thinking too much about the meaning of what you are reading.

2) Avoid Filler Words

Filler words are those that come naturally when you are pausing to think of what you really want to say.

Words like “you know”, “so”, “like”, “um”, “ah”, and others. While only the very best can avoid the use of filler words completely, those who rely on them too much can be perceived as being less competent and confident.

So how do you stop this? Lisa Marshall, communications expert and author of “Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation”, said that an easy way to get around this habit is by recording yourself during a conversation and listening to the conversation for five minutes a day for at least two weeks.

In the act of doing this, you will eventually become aware of your habits, thus helping you in squeezing them out. Marshall suggests that verbal pauses of silences are better than fillers, as they actually improve the speaker’s credibility.

3) Lower Vocal Inflection and Pitch

Finally, it helps to use a deeper voice and lower tone. While deeper and lower voices come off as mature and confident, higher voices are associated to childishness and nervousness.

It is also important for you to keep your sentence inflection consistent to the end of your sentences. Some people have a tendency to perform “uptalk”, which is when the end of their sentence rises in pitch; this is perceived as a childish or less intelligent habit.

But don’t overdo it on the downward inflection, or “downtalk”. This only makes people think of you as confrontational or rude.


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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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