Despite being a salesperson for majority of my professional career, I have struggled with remembering names, Here is a short list of techniques that I have tried throughout my career:
Repeating – Where you repeat the the name of the person shortly after hearing it. “Nice to meet you, Bob. Tell me, Bob, what is it you do for a living?”
Associating – One version of this is to picture the face of a famous person with the same first name. For example, I could picture Bob Marley when I hear Bob’s name. Another version is to use rhyming words to associate with a name. For example, if I meet someone named Denise, a rhyming word is police, so I may picture her in a police officer uniform.
Concentrating – No real trick here. You just need to listen intently when someone tells you their name, and concentrate on remembering it. Like most things that sound very easy, it isn’t. It takes a lot of practice.
Committing-To-It - At a FranklinCovey seminar a few years ago, I was impressed by how well the instructor recalled every student’s name after hearing them only once. When asked how he remembered names so well, he said “I remember names because I want to.” Again, it sounds easy, but…..While I have experienced some success with each of these techniques, I have never had complete success with any of them. The root of my problem is related to the Commit-To-It theory. I committed to remembering names ahead of time, but then I forget to do it when I am actually in the situation. I rarely remembered to remember a name until after the person had said it, and then it was too late! Uncomfortable situation, here we come!
I was just about ready to give up trying to remember names completely when I fell upon something that has truly helped me. I knew that a conscious decision to not try to remember names would result in many uncomfortable situations, so I decided to prepare for those uncomfortable situations in advance. Rather than focus on remembering names, I decided to focus on what to do after I had forgotten a name. The first step was getting comfortable with the apology.
I'm sorry, I have forgotten your name – That’s really all there is to it. At first I thought that people would be offended if I admitted forgetting their names, but once I started freely admitting it, I experienced that people appreciated the honesty. It had no adverse effect on the conversation or the relationship. Often times the other person was grateful for the candor, as they too had forgotten my name, and after I broke the ice, they were able to ask my name comfortably.Of course, the apology really only works once. When you forget a name twice, you need to get a little creative.
The Code Word – A co-worker of mine introduced me to this one. This technique requires a partner, usually a spouse or someone that is often with you at networking events. The idea is to pick a code word that you can weave into conversation to alert your partner that you have forgotten the name of someone you are talking to. If your partner remembers the person’s name, they can begin the next sentence with the person’s name. The key is to pick a code word that is unique enough that it is not part of everyday conversation, but common enough to be weaved into just about every conversation. I suggest food items, like “Brussels sprouts.” It is usually easy to turn a conversation to dining or food if you need to (e.g. “the last time we were in Denver we ate at a restaurant with the best Brussels sprouts.”).
The Introduction – This technique also involves another person, but no preparation is required. While speaking to someone who’s name you have forgotten, invite an acquaintance who’s name you remember to join the conversation. As they enter the conversation, ask the person who’s name you forget if they have met (friend’s name) before. The natural response is almost always for that person to introduce themselves, and BINGO you get their name.The truly ironic thing about my decision to focus on how I handle situations in which I have forgotten a name, is that it has actually helped me remember more names. Anticipating the uncomfortable situation has been a great trigger to get me to concentrate on remembering the name in the first place. If you have tried all of the standard techniques to remember names to no avail, remember that sometimes you must forget before you can remember.