As marketers, we often find ourselves sitting in rooms with people whom we need to "wow." Whether you're a service provider peddling your wares to an agency, an agency trying to land a brand's business, or even a brand-side marketer pitching your big idea to the higher-ups, you've seen the unspoken sentiment on the face across the conference table: "Impress me."
Some marketers are better at impressing people than others. You might actually be the smartest person in the room, and you might actually know what you're talking about. But sometimes you're just not -- you've simply learned how to talk a good game.
If the above paragraph sounds overly critical, it shouldn't. The concept of "fake it until you make it" has a real place in the marketing world. Often marketers are tasked with figuring out solutions on the fly and learning new platforms and skills as they go. Just because you don't have every answer in a given meeting doesn't mean you're not the right person for the job. But you do need to be able to project a degree of competence and confidence even when you're feeling less than certain.
In this article, I'll describe some of the tricks marketers employ when trying to impress people despite being outside their comfort zone -- ones that avoid outright lying, which I never advocate. Feel free to pull them out yourself the next time you're floundering. Or, keep these in mind the next time you're trying to discern the true level of knowledge of the person sitting across from you.
This one obviously isn't unique to marketing, but it begs inclusion here first and foremost. I'm often surprised at how many people forget how powerfully their body language and other non-verbal communications influence people's opinions of them. It sounds overly simple, but by merely leaning forward, not crossing your arms, nodding, and making eye contact, you can convey competence and confidence -- even if you're freaking out or completely lost on the inside.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the above, but it can be harder to implement. People who are feeling lost or overwhelmed lose their senses of humor, and it quickly manifests in another person's opinion of you. If you're desperately mentally scraping for ideas or something to say, you might miss a subtle joke that your potential client floats out there. You don't laugh, and that person loses confidence in you. He thinks you didn't "get it," and therefore thinks you're a bit dimmer than you are. So for Pete's sake, listen and laugh when appropriate. Better: Have a few easy jokes in your own meeting repertoire. Nothing conveys confidence like a well-delivered quip.
Some people need to take notes. Some do not. But even if you're one of those people whose memories tend to suffice, keep a notebook on hand for every meeting. Taking notes while someone is speaking is another one of those age-old tricks that make people feel important, while also casting yourself in a professional, prepared, and competent light. Bonus: This isn't just a "trick" to seem smarter than you are. Taking notes will actually enhance your recall of a meeting, even if you never look at the notes again.
Look something up
Odds are, you're going to have a device with you in your meeting, be it a laptop, phone, or tablet. Unless you're using one of these to take notes, I would usually recommend keeping them put away for the duration of an important meeting, lest you seem disinterested in the person across the table. Keeping your device put away also affords you the opportunity to more grandly pull it out in an instance of, "Oh, have you seen that excellent execution that Brand X did with Agency Y?" Taking a moment to pause so you can grab your device to look up an example or statistic that is pertinent to the conversation will help you appear resourceful and connected.
Use a lifeline
Smart people surround themselves with other smart people. You don't have to know the answer to every question that comes up in a meeting. But it's great if you know the person who will have the answer. Refer to these people by name. "I bet my lead developer, Jeff, will have some ideas there." If it's a vital tidbit of information, take the time to call Jeff. Or pause to obviously make a note or send an email to Jeff, with the promise that you'll get back to your contact with that information. People you do business with like to know you're backed by a solid team of knowledgeable individuals.
Memorize some stats
Nothing impresses like a relevant statistic. So take the time to commit some numbers to memory, whether they're conversion rates from a previous campaign or the most recent financials of a competitor brand. Of course, having relevant statistics memorized isn't just a parlor trick to look smarter. It's actually useful information to have. But being able to casually toss out even just a few numbers will lead the person across the table to assume there's plenty more where that came from.
Much like having a few statistics in your pocket, take the time to commit a few clever or insightful industry quotes to memory. I know it seems silly, but being able to start an observation with, "Wasn't it Steve Jobs (or whoever you find impressive) who once said..." will lend some instant credibility to you as someone who pays attention and is well-read when it comes to industry matters. You might literally only have one quote in your arsenal, but no one else has to know that.
Keep referring to past clients
Refer to your past experiences as often as you can. Especially if you're trying to woo new client business, it helps to remind people that you've done this before. And that someone else paid you to do it. Even if you don't have a client testimonial in hand, the fact that you're willing to float other client names out there lends some credibility to your ideas -- even if that past client work isn't a direct comparison to what you'll be doing for a new client.
Keep asking questions
Again, as with body language, we're getting into Communication 101 here. But seriously: The less you know, the more you should be asking. Some people shy away from asking too many questions because they don't want to appear ignorant. But there's a way to ask questions that makes the other person feel smart without making you appear dumb. A simple trick is leading off with, "So, in your experience..." or "Tell me more about..." Spend a lot of time repeating what that person has said in a different way. It helps improve your understanding of a topic while also conveying an air of confidence.
Admit your ignorance
Bear with me here. I know this article is about how to appear smarter even when you're not feeling very smart. But when it comes right down to it, intelligent people are usually willing to admit where their knowledge gaps lie. So if pressed on a question that you can't answer, don't lie. Don't make something up. Admit that you'll need to be investigating that topic further (and make a note of it), and then redirect the conversation to an area where you're more comfortable.
Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing strategist and owner of Foodie Content Studios.
"Nerdy old style salesman" image via Shutterstock.