Part 2: Are you a Know It All and Don’t Know It?


Part 2: The “Mom” Rule

Before I get to the final tip, here’s a brief recap from last week’s Part 1: Don’t be a Donkey, be a Ninja:

  • Tip 1: Become a listening ninja. Don’t talk the whole meeting.  Take breaths, ask questions, and keep it conversational.  Silence is not the enemy.
  • Tip 2: Don’t make assumptions. Try your best to refrain from using industry jargon without context. Think twice before you name drop. You never know if the effect is going to be positive or negative.

Tip 3: Get 3rd Party Feedback

This last tip is a simple way to prevent coming off as a “know it all.” Get feedback from someone outside of your work group and when appropriate outside your organization. A great story, presentation, or topic should make sense to anyone at a fundamental level. If someone doesn’t understand it, it’s on you. Go back to the drawing board and make it clear. If not, you’ll be talking at a level most people don’t understand. They likely will zone out. Your point won’t make it across and any change or action you hoped for, won’t occur.

During my years in state government, I worked on a large-scale technology project. Because it was the first of its kind on a state level, this project garnered a lot of attention from agencies, nonprofits, universities, news media, and citizens. Some of the attention was great, but some of it was skeptical. Making sure every material was understandable, to the point, and drove home the value was absolutely critical.

When I would have presentations or pitches to give a group, I often would pitch to my mom or have her look over my latest infographic or presentation stack. This was not because I run to my mom on everything (although my mom is one of my best friends). This was because my mom had no history in government or technology industries. She was a fresh mind. I knew if I created talking points that could energize her then I had winning material. I should point out my mom is very honest and has no problem telling me when something is awful.

This is where my “mom” rule originated.  Sometimes we get caught up when we get passionate. We forget to take time and see if we are breaking it down in a way that others can get equally excited about. We don’t need to come across as the know it all on the topic. We need to come across as authentic, straight forward, and most importantly understandable.

To follow the “mom” rule, I ask questions and get feedback. Based on the material (presentation, verbal pitch, etc.) the questions may be different.

  • What’s the first thing you notice?
  • Are there words or concepts you are not familiar with?
  • What is interesting to you?
  • Is there something that’s missing?

Make sure to use words that are common. We get it. You have a great vocabulary, but you don’t need to show us how smart you are by putting 3+ syllable words in every sentence followed by a list of acronyms that someone needs a key to decipher. That theory you think everyone knows, they don’t.  This screams, “I know it all, and I want to make sure you know how smart I am.”

There’s times I get passionate and don’t take a second to really think about the reader, viewer, or listener. Times, I come off as a know it all. I use the “mom” rule to keep myself in check.

I also have my teams use this rule. Are you able to explain this to your mom, your grandpa, your (insert outside person)? Would they understand? If not, we are not doing the idea, topic, or story justice. I do this enough that my team knows it’s my standard.

Next time you are putting together a pitch, making a presentation, or creating a document. Stop and think, “would my mom understand this?”

For more on this topic, see “Ways to Outfox a Know-It-All” by Paula Spencer Scott for some wise words on out maneuvering the know it all’s in your meetings.

This blog represents opinions that are solely my own and do not reflect opinions or views of my employer.

Sara Marshall is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). You can find her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Edward Owen

You are so right. All too often there is more effort in impressing than in informing.

Keep up the good work.