7 Stunning Secrets to Remembering Names For Forgetful Fools

remembering namesFull confession: I suck at remembering names of people I meet. Always have and probably always would have until I learned these seven little tricks from my ex-wife, the school teacher. She not only has to learn 25 new student names every year, but also multiple sets of parents and step-parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and more. She taught me that one of the best business skills you can have is the ability to meet someone for the first time and remember their name 20 minutes later.

There is virtually nothing you can do better to show a new business contact that they matter to you, than by remembering their name. Experts agree that using a person’s first name in conversation is key to creating a strong bond between you and them. However, if you’re like many people, you struggle with remembering names. Not only is it embarrassing to you, it’s rude to the other person. Basically, you’re telling them that they aren’t worth remembering.

Here are seven steps you can take for remembering names no matter if you’ve met them in a one-on-one situation (like a job interview) or in a large group, like at a conference:

1. Meet … then repeat

argument, negotiate, negotiator, remembering namesWhen you get someone’s name, don’t just nod and continue the conversation. Try to plug the name into what you’re saying.  For example, if the woman in front of you says her name is Mary, say, “Hi, Mary, nice to meet you.” Or ask a question with her name at the end, “How long have you been working in sales, Mary?” Also, if you didn’t catch the name the first time, don’t be embarrassed about asking for it again.

Use the name throughout the conversation, but sparingly, and not in an overly repetitive way. Saying it too much will creep Mary out and make you sound like a cheesy snake oil salesman. When you’re saying goodbye, make sure to use the name one last time while looking them in the face, and make an effort to commit it to memory.

2. Spell it out

If you meet someone with an unusual name, ask them to spell it out. This technique is especially helpful if you have a visual memory, as it creates a mental picture of the person’s name.

It’s also a perfect opportunity to ask for a business card … and if their name is truly unusual, they most assuredly will have a supply on them. If they give you one, make sure to glance at it while you’re talking to them. This creates greater alignment between the person and the visual name.

Finally, after meeting someone, the first moment that you get, put them into your contacts with a few pieces of information that will help you remember them. This may include their appearance, children’s names, or interests.

3. Associate

Many experts suggest that you invoke a verbal game or image when you first hear a name. This could be an alliterative pattern involving something you know about the person, their interests or job. For instance, if you’re attending a national conference with attendees from all over, come up with something catchy like “Ken from Kansas City”. Or, you meet Frank who is in Marketing, so “Frank’s Farmer’s Market(ing)” might work for you.

The world-famous Dale Carnegie training course, advises to “Picture images that sound like a person’s name and combine it with other things you know about them. If you meet someone named Laura from Brazil, imagine her with a laurel wreath on her head swimming in the Amazon River.”

4. Make connections

Another way association can be helpful is to make a connection between the person you’re talking to, and someone else you know with the same name, i.e. Dave, like my brother.

remembering namesI once attended a SkillPath seminar on a totally unrelated topic to this, but the trainer who spoke to us blew us away. After meeting the 20 attendees in our group, she proceeded to go around the room and repeat each of our names perfectly. She told us that her trick is when she meets someone new, she thinks of a famous person who shares their first name and looks somewhat like them, i.e. Dan (me), resembles actor John Goodman, who played Dan Conner on the old “Roseanne” television show.  Personally, I would have rather she told me that she associated me with Ryan Reynolds and I would have gladly answered to the name Ryan all day, but you go with what you got.

I fully admit that association is the hardest method for me to use. My brain just doesn’t work that efficiently when I’m meeting a lot of new people all at once. However, if I’m out with someone and we run into a friend of hers, association is much easier for me.

5. Focus on the person in front of you

remembering names, forgetting namesMemory experts say that our biggest problem is  we’re not focused on learning names in the first place. There’s too much else going on, and it’s vying for our attention. If you make a conscious decision that you are going to remember names because you care about the people you meet, you will immediately become much better at doing it.

A related problem for remembering names is your brain is not silent when meeting a new person. You have questions running through your mind, such as “How do I know this person? What’s this person’s name? What am I going to talk about?” Your brain is working on the conversation and so you’re not actively listening to the person. So concentrate on their name and … be silent!

6. Attach a facial feature to the name

Pick out a facial feature that may be easy to remember. Look at the person’s face and search for the most distinguishing feature. Doesn’t matter if it is a small nose, large ears, unusual hairdo, deep dimples, or even a scar. (Lightning scars on foreheads are especially easy to remember!) Often, the first outstanding feature you notice is the easiest to recall later.

Connecting a name to a visual trait helps anchor the name in your memory.

Ever go to a friend’s house and take your jacket off and leave it in a chair in the front room? Later, when you leave, you walk directly to the chair to get the coat. Why? The chair held the coat in your mind. Remembering names is easier if you can store them by attaching it to a facial feature.

7. Go over the names at the end of the day

Later that night, mentally go through the people you met and reinforce their names into your mind. If you haven’t already, jot down notes about each person and add them to your contact list. Or, put them in your phone if you have their business card.

Like anything, it will take some practice to get good at remembering names. However, once you do, your reputation will soar because everyone likes to have their name remembered and so few people are good at doing it.


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