“Oh, I’m terrible with names.”
How many times have you heard that? Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself.
As self-fulfilling prophesies go, this may be one of the easiest. If you tell yourself and others that you’re not good at remembering names, you probably won’t be.
I, on the other hand, am great at names. I’m not bragging here. I really am.
Recently, I was the featured speaker at the Enterprise Start-up Awards in Limerick. I was introduced to dozens of people in rapid succession. I met contestants, academics, and some very high-profile people, including one with a famous family name of perhaps the most influential entrepreneur in Ireland, but all people matter, so all names are important.
I remembered them all. Especially, Jerry, the technician, to whom I was introduced during the set-up, long before the event began. Later, during the program when my mic wasn’t working properly, I looked up to the control booth and asked for him by name, “Jerry, is there another microphone?” Smiling, Jerry zipped down with a new mic in hand. I, then, introduced him to the audience and asked everyone to give him and the other stage hands a well-deserved round of applause. An opportunity to recognize the efforts of someone, made stronger due to the fact that I remembered his name.
I don’t deploy “memory palaces” or other fancy mental gymnastics to partner a person’s name with a rhyme or anything. Think “Fancy – Nancy” or “Burt in the Red Shirt.” No way. I am not that clever or quickly creative.
But, simply, here is what I do. I find it really works.
1. Slow down and really focus on the person’s name. Chances are, when you’re introduced to someone, you may have other things on your mind. Turn that off for a moment. Make the moment matter. Genuinely look at the person’s face and let the name sink in.
2. Repeat the name over and over in your head while you’re looking at them. I’m not talking a mindless repetitive mantra here, say it to yourself in a thoughtful way. Find meaning in the name. Is it a name of someone you’ve met before, perhaps a relative or a dear friend? Jerry happens to not only be the name of the technician, it’s also the name of my step-dad for whom I have enormous love and admiration. That helped the memory stick.
3. Say the name back to the person. Don’t let yourself off easy, with a simple, “Nice to meet you.” Add “Nice to meet you, fill-in-the-person’s-name-here.” Obviously, you don’t want to over-use the person’s name as an obvious measure to remember, but here is a great opportunity.
4. If it’s an unfamiliar name, take time to try to learn it properly; don’t simply nod and gloss over the introduction. In today’s global marketplace, this is especially important. Here in Ireland, I am learning that names written in Irish, “Caoimhe” for instance, are said differently than I may first (“Quiva” is how that name is pronounced.) I also do a lot of work in Africa and am learning a range of great new names there as well. My business partner’s wife’s name is Olaseyi. It is pronounced “Oh-lah-SHAY-ee” and it also has a lovely lowering in pitch on the final syllable.
The point here is not to create a fuss, but to demonstrate your sincere interest in expanding your horizons – embracing the new – and getting it right. This can build rapport along with improving your memory of the name.
5. Take a moment to ask a question to the new person. Try to learn something about them. Repeat their story along with their name. Now you have something to remember along with the name. Rather than overloading your memory, this gives the name something to stick to which makes it easier for you to recall the name when you need it.
After the awards ceremony, the head of the Limerick Institute of Technology Foundation, Kieran MacSweeney, wrote to me:
It was an absolute pleasure meeting you yesterday. The inspiration of your talk was only surpassed by the warmth of the sincere friendship you extended to everyone.
Thanks, Kieran, I credit that, in part, to taking time to remember names. It’s a good place to start.
So, don’t tell yourself or others that you’re just no good at remembering names. It’s a blow-off comment that won’t really get you off the hot seat. Take a breath and discipline yourself. Try.
Like anything worthwhile, it will take practice.
Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.