Have you ever been in one of those situations where you run into someone you know but can’t remember the person’s name? It can be an awkward situation for both you and the other person. Years ago, I came across an astonishingly easy way to remember names that is very helpful. There are just a few vital steps in the process. However, if you follow every step, you can avoid those awkward moments of forgetfulness.
First, Let’s Cover Why Remembering a Person’s Name is Important
When we remember someone, we’re telling him, “You’re important.” Therefore, when we forget a person, we may leave the opposite impression.
Do you want great service at a restaurant? Call the waitress by name when you place your order. Most servers will come by your table, tell you their names, and take your drink order. For most of us, we are so self-focused that we are often thinking of our drink versus what she just said. Since most people forget her name right away, you set yourself apart as a customer when you remember. She will like you more. As a result, she will serve you better. (Plus, waitressing is a tough job, and you have just shown her a little appreciation in the process.)
Want to be the center of influence at a party? Introduce people that you just met to other people at the party. When you meet a person, ask questions. Get to know them. Find out what they do. Then, as a new person enters the group, introduce your new friend by name to the new addition. For most people, business card exchanges and social functions where you don’t know anyone are awkward. When you make this little gesture, you are also easing the tension that each of those two people feels. They both will like you more. Incidentally, you will become a center of influence as well.
If you are (or want to be) a leader in business, this skill can also set you apart from the competition. The people who work for you want to feel appreciated. When you call them by name and compliment their work, they will feel this appreciation. Customers want to feel appreciated too. Let’s say you are at a customer’s office and the big boss who you only met once, three years ago, pops in. If you can remember that person by name, you create a positive impression. She, most likely, has forgotten your name, but now she is more likely to remember you next time.
There Is Hope! How to Remember Names (the Easy Way.)
One of the first things we teach in High Impact Leaders is a simple technique about how to remember names. The technique is so simple that most people in a 20-person class will be able to recall the first and last names of every single person in the classroom within the first hour of class.
To memorize a name and match the name with a face, follow this acronym. You want to make the name stick in your memory. So use LMER glue to do it. Step #1 is to LOOK at the person and LISTEN to his or her name. Step #2 is to REPEAT the name once or twice, right away.
Wait… What? The next letter in the acronym isn’t “R.” Correct. For now, let’s skip the M and E. (This is an additional memory technique that I am using to draw attention to something important.) Step #3 is to put ME in the middle. (Yup, this is me using that technique.) The “M” reminds us to make a MIND PICTURE of the person’s name. Finally, the “E” tells us to exaggerate the picture.
Step #1 – Look and Listen
Look at the person. Get a strong mental image of the person. What characteristics make the person unique? Is the person large, small, tall, thin, lots of hair, no hair? Listen clearly to the name. Ask the person to repeat his/her name if you do not hear the name clearly.
Most people forget the other person’s name right away because they didn’t really hear it in the first place. Our focus is on other things, so we just aren’t paying attention. Instead, as the person says his or her name, focus entirely on that person. Just as an FYI, if you only need to remember the name a short time, this step is often all you need to do. I mentioned earlier that you get better service if you remember the waitress’ name. Most often, you just need to pay attention to her when she tells you her name.
Step #2 – Repeat the Name
Repeat the name once to the person when you are introduced. For instance, something like, “Nice to meet you [Name].” Then repeat the name once or twice more in your head. Continue to look at the person as you repeat the name to yourself. The average person is going to forget the name within the first few seconds, so quick repetition helps. If you are exchanging business cards or everyone is wearing nametags, you can probably stop here. Steps one and two will work in most cases.
However, if you really want to remember names long term, the next steps will move the name into permanent memory.
Step #3 – Mind Picture
The brain remembers images, not words or letters. Even when we try really hard to remember a name, we often try to spell the name in our head. Nametags will actually hurt us because of this. We see the letters on the nametag, and we try to remember the letters. Instead, try to remember an image that helps you remember the name. In many cases, you really just need to remember the first name of the person. When this is the case, creating an image for the name is pretty easy. For instance, if the person’s name is Mike, I picture him holding a microphone. If her name is Wendy, I picture her walking into a brisk wind that is blowing her hear, coat, and scarf. For John, I just… well you get the picture.
Difficult names may need to be broken down into syllables to create memorable pictures. For example, Stephanie might need to be broken down a little to form a good picture. You might picture her holding a STAFF and breaking the staff over (O-ver) her KNEE. It creates an image for Staff-o-knee. All you really need to do is get close.
If you need to remember the full name, it takes a little more time. However, with a little practice, the name remembering technique gets easier and easier. The full name should create ONE picture. For instance, my name is Doug Staneart. To remember my name, just picture me hold ing a shovel because I DUG a hole. The dirt from the shovel has fallen around my waist, so I am STANDing in dIRT. The images create “dug stand-dirt”. Again, all you really need to do is get close.
I mentioned earlier that the ME in the middle would be important. Don’t forget to put the actual person in the mind-picture. Otherwise, you will remember the name, but you won’t remember who the name belonged to.
Step #4 – Exaggerate the Picture
For some reason, the human brain remembers things that are odd or different better than normal pictures. (If you ever picture a guy named John sitting on the John, you will NEVER forget his name.) The more danger you put in the picture, the easier it is to remember. If you add humor into the picture, you remember it better. Fear, anger, and sorrow also work. By putting emotion into the picture, your brain holds onto the picture longer.
I’ll give you an example of how emotion helps you remember. You could picture Mary in a wedding gown. That is likely to work. However, if you picture Mary in a wedding gown crying in her apartment all alone because her fiance left her at the altar, you will never forget her name. (Keep in mind that Mary didn’t get left at the altar. There is no need to actually feel sorry for her. It is just a good name remembering technique.)
For Jackson, picture him Jacking up a car. Then out of the blue car falls off the jack crushing his Son. (Again no children were hurt in this memory demonstration.) For some reason, the human brain focuses on traumatic images. Since we know this, we can use it to our advantage when trying to remember names.
A Few Things about How to Remember Names that are Important
When people try to use this technique, they typically give up way too soon. The technique seems hard in the beginning. Since the memory technique takes a little effort to get started, most people never even try. These last couple of tips can take a little of the pressure off.
No Need to Create a Mind Picture on the Spot in Most Cases
You don’t really need to go through all four steps while you are meeting 30 people at a party. As you network in a room, you will only meet one to four people at a time. Go through steps one and two while with each new person. Then, as you move on and before you start networking with new people, do steps three and four.
When I first started The Leaders Institute ®, I used to go to a lot of business card exchanges, etc. I’d spend time getting to know two or three new people, and I collect business cards from them. When I was away from the group, I’d make notes on the business cards. I’d try to identify something recognizable about the person’s appearance. Then, I’d make a note about it. I’d also make notes about their business and who they sold to. Finally, I’d spend a couple of minutes creating a mind-picture for the person’s name.
If I found someone else in the room who was a good customer for anyone I had already spoken to, I’d introduce them. After doing this for a year or so, every time I walked into one of these rooms, flocks of people were coming toward me. They realized that I helped them network more efficiently. As a result, I became the center of influence in each of these rooms.
You can do this as well.
Avoid Using Famous People to Remeber Names
People sometimes take a shortcut on the name remembering technique. They just associate the person that they just met with a famous person with the same first name. For instance, they may picture the new person with Tom Cruise if the person’s name is Tom. This can work temporarily. However, it doesn’t lock the name into your memory as well. They will see the person in a few months and say, “Who was that person he was with in my picture?”
Instead, if you picture the person banging a Tom-Tom drum, the picture comes more easily. The exception to this suggestion is historical or fictitious famous names. For instance, if the person’s name is Amelia, then picturing her crashing in a small plane might work. Or, if the person’s last name is Handcock, then picturing him signing a huge signature is great. These exceptions work because as time passes, famous people are remembered for just a few, specific things. However, people who are still working are often known for many things.
The More You Practice, the Better You Get at Remembering Names
As you develop this name remembering skill and use it more, you will develop a name-picture catalog. You will come up with a good name-picture, and then, you will use it every time you meet someone with that name. After using this technique for 20+ years, it is really quite easy for me now. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you as well.