How to blag your way through meetings

Q&A: Author Sarah Cooper explains how to get out of presentations, use fidgeting to your advantage and sabotage your office nemesis.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 06 Oct 2016

Q: How do I look smarter than I am in meetings?

A: Read my book! But seriously, repeating back what others have said is the best way to appear smarter. It’s a good way to seem like you’re cognisant of what’s going on and you care about driving consensus.

Q: Are there any words or phrases I should never use?

A: Avoid saying things like ‘I feel that...’ Feelings aren’t trustworthy in a business environment. Your co-workers want you to present thoughts and ideas based on data and facts. You can only get away with something this if you have the guts to say something like ‘my gut tells me...’ which is a CEO power move.

Q: The meeting I’m in is a colossal waste of my time. How can I get away with doing something more productive while still looking like I’m taking part?

A: Nodding while pretending to take notes is a great way to look like you’re taking part, but instead of writing notes, you could be writing a product requirements document, or a resignation letter.

Q: So, I looked away for 30 seconds to check whether my Pokémon egg had hatched, and now I haven’t got a clue what's going on. How can I rejoin the conversation without looking like an idiot?

A: You can question ‘the process’ at pretty much any point in a meeting and seem smart. Whether it’s the process being used in the meeting, or the process someone is using to get a project done, questioning the process makes you look like a high level thinker.

Q: What do I do if someone asks me a question and I have no idea what the answer is?

A: Say, ‘I have no idea.’ You may think this makes you look bad but it actually makes the asker feel like it was a ridiculous question to begin with. You can always follow it up with, ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’

Q: Let’s flip it – I want to make my office nemesis look terrible, what question should I ask?

A: Saying something like, ‘Isn’t that a non-starter?’ is a good way to shoot down an idea because pretty much everything is a non-starter. At least, I think so, I really don’t know what that means.

Q: It’s my turn to make a presentation. Naturally, I want to nail it, but I’m not exactly a gifted orator. Any tips?

A: Say you want to make the presentation as interactive as possible, and tell everyone to feel free to stop you at any time. Then when people do stop you, let the presentation devolve into a wildly unrelated discussion. This way you get out of presenting at all.

Q: I’m a fidgeter - what should I do with my body language?

A: Fidgeting is great for making other people in the meeting feel uncomfortable, so use it to your advantage. Tap your fingers on the table, or tap your toes on the floor. This makes you seem like you really have some place to be, so people know to get on with it quickly.

Q: My colleague’s nervous for some reason. What’s the best way to put someone at ease?

A: Tell him how nervous you are, it will make him feel less nervous by comparison.

Sarah Cooper is a blogger, vlogger and comedian. Her book 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How To Get By Without Even Trying, is published by Square Peg. It is available from October 6.

Image credit: Nguyen Hung Vu/Flickr


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