Remembering Names

We often overlook how important it is to remember someone else’s name. It’s easy to give a casual apology and chalk it up to a bad memory, but the fact of the matter is, we can do better if we are dedicated to doing so. Knowing others’ names shows respect and is the kind of skill that is always useful, whether the situation be personal or professional. Consider the following tips to help improve your memory’s capacity for people’s names.

Do your homework. Instead of racking your brain in the moment, try taking on some of the work beforehand. For instance, let’s say you made some useful contacts at a previous annual conference or event that you’re preparing to attend again, and it is likely that you will see some of the same people. Think about those interactions and take a look at the business cards you collected or any notes you may have made. Recalling details about people beyond physical characteristics (e.g. their interests, family, etc.) really takes things a step further and is sure to leave a wonderful impression.

  • Another situation in which this is helpful is meetings where the attendance list is sent out ahead of time. Even if you’ve never met these folks, you can do your research to learn a bit about them. I’ve found flashcards to be incredibly useful under these circumstances.

Take hints. Listen carefully and try to gather information from your conversation that will help you to remember how you know the person, or details about them that might narrow name possibilities. It’s definitely important to stay engaged in the conversation and avoid letting your preoccupation with trying to remember their name distract you.

Be proactive. There are strategies even those with the most awful of memories can employ if they are dedicated to remembering others’ names. For example, one could carry a small notepad with them and rehearse the persons name in their head until they have a moment to sneak away and write the name down, along with any other identifiers they can recall. Additionally, those with access to smart phone technology can even make notes right there on their phone.

Nuemonics. They don’t work for everyone, but if you’re a creative person and you find it helpful, make name associations for all the new people you meet. Maybe you pick a category, like animals, and associate every new name with an animal that starts with the same first letter (e.g. Horse Heather or Jaguar John).

Connect. Following-up and increasing the number of interactions you have with someone you’ve just met will most certainly increase the likelihood that you’ll easily remember them. This could mean connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook or countless other social networking tools.

No shame in asking. If all else fails, and you’ve given it your best, but you still can’t remember, don’t be afraid to be honest and just ask the person (or a mutual acquaintance) for their name. It’s also good practice to make a habit of greeting folks with, “nice to see you,” instead of, “nice to meet you,” just to be safe!

Remembering others’ names is an impressive skill and will make people feel special and important. It is easier for some to recall names than others, but if it’s not your strength, you can vow to be more intentional about “working that muscle” and cultivating an environment of respect. Good luck! Hopefully folks will take notice how you excel with names and be inspired to do the same.

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