How to Remember Names
Our brains were designed to remember pictures best. Albert Einstein said, “If I cannot see it, I cannot understand it. ” Which explains Why everyone says they remember faces better than they remember names. A face is a picture. A name is nothing more than a sequence of sounds attached to a face. This happens all the time, you walk up to someone and your thinking, I remember his face, it’s his name I forgot. This never happens, I remember his name, it’s his face I forgot. People love to hear their name in business and in life.
Microsoft reported that humans now have an attention span shorter than a goldfish. A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Due to technology we now have an attention span of 8 seconds.
What does that have to do with remembering a person’s name. We have a very short window to make a connection with another person if we want to be successful.
An example might be meeting someone at a networking event. You meet Bill and discuss a great project you could be involved with. You bump into Bill at another event and say “hiya pal”. Problem number one. Bill knows that you don’t know his name. Problem number two, You know that Bill knows that you know don’t know his name.
A wall goes up and the connection has been broken. You have to start all over again or the damage has been done.
The main key to remembering names is to convert the symbol—the name—into a picture, and then to link the picture to the face. But before you learn that technique, there are a few fundamental rules to remembering names that have nothing to do with mnemonics.
Rule #1: To Forget; a name, think of yourself when you’re introduced.
This is an easy rule to remember, because we all do it by nature. There’s nothing more important than making a good first impression, so concentrate on yourself when you’re introduced to someone. Pay close attention to your own name when you say it, and be sure to think about how you’re coming across, how good you look, how impressed the other person is to meet you. That Way, when the say their name, you’ll never even really hear it, much less remember it. Being preoccupied is an almost sure-fire Way to forget a name, unless the person happens to have the same name as you. Then, of course, you’ll remember it forever.
One student had a trick he used that We don’t recommend, but it gets points for cleverness: Whenever he was introduced to another man he would say, “Hey, that’s my brother’s name!” When he met a woman he would say, “Hey, that‘s my sister’s name!” Then, when he met someone for a second time, he would ask, “Do you remember my brothers (or sisters) name?” The other person would laugh and say, “Sure, it’s—,” giving him their name. It worked until one man said, “Sure, I remember your brother’s name . . . do you?”
Rule #2: To forget a name, decide what you’re going to say next while the other person is giving you his or her name.
This one Works especially well. If you want to forget a name, thinking of what you’re going to say next is even better than thinking about how you look, because it requires more mental effort. As the Woman in front of you is saying, “Hi, I‘m Sarah,” you can be honing your next sentence to its wittiest edge. She will be amazed and honored just to be standing in the presence of such a brilliant conversationalist. If you are in the business of name forgetting, nothing beats concentrating on what you’re about to say.
Rule #3: To remember a name, listen to it carefully.
This will likely take enormous effort at first, simply because we are not taught how to pay attention when someone else is talking. The next time you’re introduced to someone, listen carefully to their name. Their name is that sweet symbolic handle that they use to identify themselves; it says, “I am somebody, not just another face in the crowd.” There is nothing you can do or say that will be as impressive as remembering a name, so pay attention.
Rule #4: To remember a name, repeat it aloud mentally, then aloud.
John Szwarchowski introduces himself. If you’ve been paying attention and listening, you should be able to repeat the name in your mind once or twice. Then use his name aloud. “John Szwarchowski? Did I get that right?” Comment on the name in an appropriate way, if possible: “I used to know a Mike Szwarchowski in high school. Do you have relatives in Ohio?” If the name is unusual, such as Liljana Stewart, it’s always appropriate to ask, “Is Liljana a family name?” Encourage the person to explain the name, perhaps a little family history. Everyone’s favorite subject is themselves, and it takes almost no encouragement to get them to proudly explain their name and heritage.
Rule #5: To remember a name, use it.
If you’re meeting someone at a party, a business meeting, a dinner, or in any other situation where you will be in close proximity for more than a few minutes, call the other person by name several times. You can overdo this, of course. “Hi, John. It’s nice to meet you, John. Say, John, your name reminds me of my Uncle John. His name was john too. So your name is John, John?” But without going overboard you can impress a person by simply using their name when you address them. Suppose you meet Debbie at a party. Throughout the night, whenever you are talking to her, you can occasionally use her name. “So, Debbie, did you see that new movie, starring that actor Whose name I can’t think of right now?” Debbie will be complimented that you are using her name, and you will be reinforcing what scientists call a “neural pattern,” which is how information is stored.
Rule #6: To remember a name, convert it to a picture.
As you’ve learned, visualization is the key to memory. John Schwarchowski, for example, is an uncommon name. After repeating it aloud (“John Shworechow—ski”?) to be sure you have it right, convert it to a picture. john is easy: a john, in modern vernacular—and not to put too fine a point on it—is a toilet. It might be more polite to visualize John the Baptist, but which image has more impact and is more mentally visual? As for Schwarchowski, you can break it down into “swore,” “chow” and
“ski,” the three words closest to the sounds of his last name. Picture John sitting on the commode (you don’t have to share your visualizations aloud), swearing as he chows down on a pair of skis. Now that’s Visual!
Rule #7: To remember a name, link your picture to a physical feature.
Lets say John has a large nose. You can picture the toilet perched on John’s nose. John is swearing and chowing on his skis. With an image like that, it will be hard to forget John’s name, even if you try. If Cathy Spears has large blue eyes, you can picture cats jumping out of her eyes at you, and you throwing spears at the cats. When you’re looking for a physical feature, use something permanent; a moustache can be shaved, hair can be cut or dyed, glasses can be taken off, even a double chin can be lost or gained. Eyes, ears, noses, lips, scars, and other permanent features work best. If a person is decidedly nondescript, use Whichever feature strikes you first, even if it isn’t especially noticeable. Original awareness will help you recall your link even if the feature isn’t remarkable.
You may be afraid that you’ll forget a name, or make a poor link, and that does sometimes happen. One student used the technique to try to remember a man named Ed. He pictured Mr. Ed, the talking horse, saying, “Hello, Wilbur,” in his distinctive horse voice. The next time the student met the man he said, “Wilbur, how are you?”
So some care must be taken in creating your images, and follow all of the rules, not just the last two, when you want to remember a name. And don’t worry; if you still forget one name out of 50, you’re remembering about 48 names more than most people. Every memory expert you’ve ever seen has probably shown off his or her amazing ability to memorize names. These experts will meet an entire audience, sometimes of more than 100 people, and remember every name. Their secret is nothing more than the rules above, practiced every day. We have yet to meet a student who couldn’t apply these techniques and remember at least 50 to 100 people at one single meeting or party.
Taking it a step further, what if you could remember not only the name, but four or five facts that are important to that person.
Tom Burnside walks up to you. Imagine you’ve only met once before. How powerful would it be to not only say, Hi Tom. But to say, Hi Tom, hows your wife Ann? How’s your daughter Peggy’s high school basketball coming along? Have you played golf lately with this beautiful weather?
So how do you remember four or five things about someone? Take the last name, Burnside. What object comes to mind? I pictured a stove that I BURNED my SIDE on. Then starting from the top of the object, THE STOVE, I picture a raggedy ANN turning on the stove. (Wife’s name).
I visualize PEGS playing basketball across the burners on the stove. (daughter Peggy playing basketball).
I visualize a golfer in the oven. (Tom likes golf).
Why is remembering people’s names so important to our success? The fact is, people can be unpleasant, irritating, negative … but have you ever noticed that it’s pretty hard to do business without them? It is critically important in life to understand and appeal to “The Human Side of People.” In fact, as a keynote speaker, I speak regularly about dealing effectively with people by understanding their “human side.”