Remembering namesArticle added by Michael Goldberg on July 3, 2013
Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg

Jackson, NJ

Joined: August 21, 2010

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To be clear, the title of this article refers to remembering people’s names when you meet them. Hopefully, you remember yours.

Anyway, we all do it! You’re standing there speaking with someone at a cocktail party, networking meeting, conference, convention, whatever, and you realize you have no idea what that person’s name is. You've been chatting it up with them the whole time and yet you have no idea who this is, or how you might introduce them if you need to. And you’re hoping, praying, it doesn't somehow come up.

The reality is that when you exchanged names during the course of your initial introductions, you probably weren't listening. So, you didn't actually forget the name, you simply never processed it. Why? You were on to the next thing — as in carrying on your conversation. Important stuff, I know.

By the way, what’s in a name? Everything! People love it when you remember their names, even if they've forgotten yours. Then they feel bad. Better them than you!

Here are some techniques to help keep you from forgetting someone’s name and ways to recover when you do.

Truly listen

When someone introduces themselves to you, repeat their name back to them. “Hello, Lenny! My name is Michael. So, what type of work do you do, Lenny?” (I always remember the name Lenny for some reason.) By repeating the name back to them, you have a better chance of remembering the name and engaging in a richer conversation. People love to hear their own name. Don’t you?

Spell check

I will almost always ask for a clarification in spelling, no matter what the name is. Even if the name is Joe. Hey, you never know. I use it as a way of making the conversation more interesting, gaining clarification, and as a memory hook. “Is that John with or without an H?” If it’s a popular name like John or Ryan (or John Ryan), I’ll clarify the spelling and associate the name with someone I know well that has the same name. Names like John, Ryan, Paul, Jimmy, Tommy, Joe, Brian, and, of course, Michael make it easy for me to make this type of an association. If it’s an unusual name like Avish (pronounced a-veesh), I will ask for the spelling and origin of the name. What does the name mean? I imagine people with unusual names deal with this sort of thing all the time. As long as you’re genuinely looking to learn and remember, people appreciate it.

Ask for a business card

If I think the person I’m speaking with will be someone I’ll be meeting with again, I’ll ask if it makes sense for us to exchange cards. Once I have their business card in hand, I have a visual of their name and other related information. I will often keep the card framed in my hand for the duration of our conversation out of respect and in the event I need to take a peek to jar my memory. Often, once I have the card, I’m peppering the name throughout our conversation.
Mnemonic associations

A mnemonic device is a tool used for a memory aid. My favorites are nicknames using the spelling of someone’s name. Linh with an H! Brian with an I. Tom with one T. (Yes, the Tom reference usually gets a laugh.) Something that’s kind of witty, catchy and will help me remember the names for the time being. Using this technique works great when I’m presenting to a group of agents, as it creates energy (audiences love it when you remember and use their names) and gives me material to use later — “a question from Brian with an I!” (It’s all for my entertainment really. But it works!)

Use it or lose it

I mentioned it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Try using the name of the person you’re speaking with in your conversation. “That’s really great to hear, Oscar!” People really do like hearing their own names and will feel a sense of intimacy when someone they meet for the first time is using it.

If, despite all of this, you still forget the name of the person you've been standing there talking to all of this time, simply say, “I’m an idiot. I've been standing here this whole time and have forgotten your name. Again, you are?” Or, “I’m sorry, your name is again?”

As long as it’s important enough for you to at least try to remember someone’s name, people appreciate it. It’s the thought that counts! It’s always better to be honest and straightforward. Again, we've all done this. And you have nothing to lose by asking.

If I see someone across the room that I've met in the past and I want to speak with them again, I will assume they don’t remember my name (because I often don’t remember theirs). As I approach, I’ll say, “Hello! We met at last month’s meeting. My name is Michael.” And they will reply with their name and we’ll both be on track.

All of these tricks of the trade are great at the moment, but may not help you retain and recall the name for the longer term. That’s when you want to review notes, business cards, databases, and websites to refresh your memory to prepare for upcoming meetings when you’ll be seeing those you may have already met. As you develop deeper and more important relationships, the names will stick. Especially Lenny’s!
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