Stop trying to be impressive

A good rule of thumb is that you are never more impressive when you are trying to be impressive!

Trying too hard to be impressive is one of the worst things you can do when you are trying to build credibility, get support, or get things done.

Think Useful vs. Impressive

At one point I learned to stop being afraid of not being good enough, and to just give up on ever trying to be impressive on purpose. Instead I focused on trying to be genuinely useful.

(Image courtesy of Bullshit Bingo
Download and print out cards to play along in meetings here

Helping a friend

When I prepare for a presentation, an interview, a meeting, or a communication of any kind, I get myself in the mindset of “What would I be saying and doing if I were trying to help a friend”?

Instead of thinking strategically of positioning and selling and marketing, I think, what would I say if this executive, client, hiring manager or prospect sitting across the table from me was actually my best friend?

More comfortable, more useful

First and foremost I would be much more comfortable and less nervous. I would be thinking, 1. How are you? I’m actually interested. What’s important to you, really? How can I help? And if what I have to say is not genuinely interesting or helpful to them, then I wouldn’t drag them through whatever I’m talking about.

This doesn’t mean you can not have the intention to persuade or to sell, it just means you’ll actually do a better job persuading and selling because you will come across as genuinely trying to be helpful!

Also, when people focus to much on trying to be impressive I notice that they can get nervous and defensive, and the pitch of their voice goes up, and their whole demeanor is screaming, “I’m really not confident but I’m trying to impress you!”

Drop the Business Speak

Another hazard of trying too hard to be impressive is focusing on sounding smart instead of focusing on really communicating.

I tend see these big-word, business-speak, smart-sounding people coming across as arrogant and contrived — which, by the way is also not impressive.


It always amazes me how some people actively resist this, insisting that sounding smart will impress people who will think they are more business-like, experienced, or smarter. There is sometimes even a kind of arrogance. “Well I understand this perfectly, so they should too”.

You can find these people easily.  You have been in meetings with them (long ones) and have got emails from them (long ones). These people use words with lots of syllables, long sentences, provide way too much background, drop a lot of names, and create lots of abstractions.

They confuse sounding impressive with action.

And you are left wondering what happened or what is expected to happen next.

Clarity drives action.

Sounding smart only drives more talking.

Never confuse being clear for not being smart.

Invest in tuning your communications to be as straightforward as possible, and set an expectation with your team, that obtuse and verbose emails and presentations will not be accepted.

To Read:

This article by Bob Sutton is an oldie but a goodie.
The Smart Talk Trap (1999)
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