5 workouts for your memory to remember people's names

Dec 09, 2015 by Brendan Jack

We meet so many people and sometimes we forget their names - it happens to the best. It can be quite embarrassing or throw us off balance. But it’s not surprising, in this day and age of fast comms and digital distractions. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own name.

Wordage

When you don’t remember a name everyone becomes ‘man’. “Hey man, how you doing?” Or for all genders, “Hi, how are you doing?”

To remember names when meeting someone, it helps to make eye contact and repeat the person’s name. “Hi Joe, it’s nice to meet you…”

If they have a unique name (perhaps something like Balthazar) ask them what the name means to create an association.

A great way to remember an important connection is to link a word or idea to the person. Example, if you meet Marcy and she works in retail, make a mental connection between Marcy and the Macy’s store. There are many ways to make mental connections, unique to your own way of thinking.

You can also find an opportunity to ask the person how you spell their name, just to be sure. Even if it’s John, you can reply, “So not Jon or Jonn? I know a few weird spellings.”

Technology is your friend

With social media, it’s much easier to search a name. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon has helped us many times. Perhaps you only remember the company they work for… searching for it on LinkedIn, for example, can sometimes help your mental Rolodex. Scanning your mobile phone contacts can also work wonders.

If you managed to get away with not remembering a name but figure it out later, then send an email or text with that person’s name. “Hey Joe, it was so good to see you again…”

Bonus tip: Tell them you got a new phone and that you’re updating your phone contact details and take theirs again.

Fun and Games

At conferences, scan nametags but don’t make it obvious. “I think you got something on your shirt there…”

But what if you’re in a boardroom full of nameless people? Pull out a Post-it Note and suggest everyone make an impromptu nametag – create some lighthearted rapport.

When photographic memory means you forget everything in a flash, it can help to be honest – only if you can pull it off without hurting feelings. Admit to being bad with names, tell them you can remember who played the lead character in Footloose from 1984 (Kevin Bacon), but not who you had a meeting with that morning.

If dealing with interns or newbies, turn meetings into a game. Suggest a pop quiz at the end of meeting, making sure all names are covered.

Alternatively, use an icebreaker to view their business cards, such as the Business Card Prediction. Or try the Pen with many Colours. Prep this icebreaker with: “Write down your name… see, it writes in black, but I can get it to write any colour…”

The wingman

A buddy can always help in a crowd. If they go, “Hey, I’m Tom” and Joe introduces himself, you’re safe. It’s a good idea to brief your wingman or wingwoman to introduce themselves if you don’t immediately introduce them – they’ll read your cue to step in and solve the name game.

Interaction

Get the nameless person involved, ask questions, buy time - their name may come back to you.

You can always go with: “It was so good seeing you, please mail me later with your thoughts on that idea we discussed.” When you get the mail, the penny will drop.

You sometimes remember the person but not the name. Reminisce over past stories; they may mention other people and you’ll have solved the case like a detective.

Summing up

“What’s in a name?” is what Shakespeare wrote. A lot! Especially if this person is an important customer or a productive co-worker. Using someone’s name creates a rapport and intimacy with that person. Names are important – we need to try and remember them.

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