Want to make people at work think you’re super smart? This is one of the things I do to help me seem like I have an amazing memory, when in fact my memory is only slightly above average. You’ll need two things: one skill and one tool.
The skill is one you can pick up pretty easily and you don’t even need to be that good at it. It’s something you may have heard of called typing. Get good at typing. You don’t have to have perfect accuracy and you don’t have to have an above average typing speed. The faster you can
get, the better – but the accuracy level can be solved really easily with autocorrect and spellcheck.
I type around 90 words per minute according to TypingTest.com. It also says my accuracy when typing Aesop’s fables is around 98%. This is decent and I was trying to really do my best when I took the test. It’s unlikely I type quite that fast normally. Go take the test and see where you are.
Now you know your typing speed. I don’t know of a way to easily determine your speaking speed, but the average person speaks at about 110-150 words per minute in casual conversation. Television hosts, podcasters, professional debaters and others speak much faster though.
I bet you can see where we’re going with this.
The tool is Evernote. I started using Evernote when I started my current job 3 years ago after determining that VooDooPad didn’t do everything I needed it to. I have notes in EverNote from my very first day of work and I often check those old notes even years later. I catalog everything and try to keep little bits and pieces of information out of my head and in my Evernote. The human brain is really inefficient at storing bits of factual data without context. I try to put as much context around my Evernote info as possible, creating a little mind map or handbook for myself to reference later.
When I’m in meetings or on conference calls, I open the associated note, usually titled by the name of the client I’m working with. Then I put in a date stamp using the shortcut Shift+Command+D.
Next, I check the meeting invite information to see the attendees and list those in my note, along with an indicator of who attended and who didn’t. I try to catch titles and any bits of personal info they throw out on the call to help me separate people and their voices. Generally if I don’t catch a full title, I can quickly look them up on LinkedIn and add it from there. Sometimes I even drag their profile pictures into the note.
My preferences for note taking deserve their own blog post, so I won’t go into how to do that here. Simply populate your note file with the accompanying data you think you’ll need to remember right at the beginning of the meeting.
Now that you’ve got all the metadata about the call in your note, it’s time to put those typing skills to work and transcribe the conversation. Does that sound intense? Maybe it is, but it is one of the best ways I’ve found to get the most accurate information down in my notes. I usually try to write it up as if it’s a play, with the name of the speaker, followed by what they said.
It takes some practice, obviously, especially when you’re leading the call and have to talk at the same time. Usually you can paraphrase your own words if you’re leading the call and then take copious, word-for-word notes of the responses from the other party and their team. I’ve found this incredibly valuable. I’ll ask questions and while the others are thinking, quickly jot down what I said. Then I start typing word for word what the responses are.
A lot of note-taking tips say to gather the end results, the consensus points, etc. I do that, but I like to capture the discussion and brainstorming that got to that conclusion. When I confirm with a client that they indicated the need for a penetration test instead of an assessment, for example, I could simply write “Client wants penetration test.” But the discussion around that and what leads us there provides valuable information about the drivers for the engagement and what goals they’re trying to achieve. Maybe they just prefer it because of compliance requirements, but maybe there’s deeper information to be found there, and I’ll want to refer back to it later. This is how I can really deliver value to my security professional services clients. This is the context you’re trying to get down to refer to later.
Referring to notes later for personal use is obviously hugely important. But that isn’t our trick for seeming smart to others. The trick is to be able to refer to exactly what someone said verbatim. When you’re able to quote someone back to themselves, or quote exactly what they said to your colleagues or superiors, you have a lot of leverage that other people don’t. And you look pretty damn smart. I don’t generally tell people I do this, but I seem to be one of the few focusing on capturing this kind of information for reference later and it has worked out very well for me on several occasions. Try it out for your next 5-10 meetings and see what kind of results you get.