Remembering Names

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Writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie once said that “a person’s name to him or her is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” When we address people by name, we are telling them that we respect them, consider them as important, recognize their individuality, and warmly relate with them. If you want to be able to cultivate many functional friendships and working partnerships, you need the ability of remembering names.

Creating a Powerful Introduction

Three steps to introducing yourself effectively:

  1. Project warmth and confidence. Many people size you up even before you say a word, which is why it’s important to mind your body language. When you introduce yourself, stand up straight, relax, and establish eye contact. 
  2. State your first name and your last name. Depending on the situation, you may also state your affiliation and or your position in the company. Example: “Hello. I’m Jacqueline Smith. I’m the Quality Control Officer.”
  3. When the other person has given their name, repeat it in acknowledgment. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Andrews.” or “It’s nice to meet you, Joseph.” Repeating their name is an acknowledgment that you heard their introduction. 

Using Mnemonics

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One technique that has been known to work in helping improve recall is the use of mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices are ways of conceptualizing ideas that aim to organize arbitrary things into meaningful data. Things that seem random are harder to remember; mnemonic devices help organize ideas in our minds. 

Here are examples of mnemonic devices you can use in name recall:

  • Clustering by Categories: Grouping the items that you need to remember into categories can help you remember them better. For example, to memorize a list of contacts, group them by company or by profession.
  • Visualizing Interactive Images: Some people memorize better when they create a scene in their heads where all the items that they have to remember are interacting with each other in some active way. For example, if you have to remember to Mark, Joseph and Martha, imagine a Biblical Joseph being served tea by Martha Stewart while he’s playing target shooting (the bulls-eye can remind you of the synonym “mark”)
  • Acronyms: This is a method where you devise a word or expression in which each of its letters stand for a name. An example is SALE for Sally, Andrew, Louise and Ester
  • Acrostics: This mnemonic device follows the same logic as acronyms except that one forms a sentence rather than a single word to help one remember new words. For example one might remember ‘all babies cry loudly’ for Allan, Betty, Chris and Lisa.

Uh-Oh…I’ve Forgotten Your Name

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Most of us have been there before: a situation when someone says “hi” to us, but we have absolutely no idea who is talking to us. At best we’d just feel awkward and embarrassed; at worse, we might end up offending the other person. To better manage situations like this, it is recommended that you:

  • Understand why you forget names. Often, forgetting names is not about memory problems — it’s about attitude problems. Perhaps you don’t think remembering names is important. Maybe you don’t trust your ability to manage a list of names in your head. Or it’s possible that you get easily nervous in social situations, you tend to mentally blank out.  Identify what holds you back from remembering people’s name. Exert a deliberate effort to improve your rate of name recall. It is only when you have an open attitude that name recall becomes easy.
  • Ask a third party. One way you can avoid showing your memory lapse is to seek a third person’s help subtly.  If you see a face in a crowd that looks familiar, but whose name you can’t recall, ask a friend: “Hey, do you know the woman at the back?” A little research prior to walking up to a person can help you prevent a potentially embarrassing situation. 
  • Ask for a card. Asking for a calling card can be a way to subtly get the other person’s name. For example, you can say: “Hey, I don’t think I have your card yet, here’s mine.”
  • Introduce other people to them. If you have people you know around you, why don’t you initiate an introduction? For instance you can say “Hey, have you met my friend Mark? Mark is a PR in this company.” Politeness would typically compel the person to introduce himself or herself to Mark, and you can catch their name at that point.
  • Be honest. And if you really can’t recall who the person is, and the other person appears amiable enough, then perhaps you can come clean. You can say: “I’m sorry; I know that we’ve met, but I seem to have forgotten your name.” You may also add some details that you do remember, to ease the effect of your memory loss. “We met at the company dinner, right, last September? You were with your lovely children.” Hopefully, the other person can empathize with your distress and re-introduce themselves.

Case Study

Raul was very good at introducing himself. He always projected a feeling of warmth and confidence in his body language and introduced himself with his whole name and position. It seemed that no one had ever forgotten Raul’s name. There was one problem: Raul had trouble remembering anyone’s name. This lead to potentially embarrassing situations but he’d learned some strategies that helped. 

When Joseph struck up a conversation with him, Raul couldn’t remember Joseph’s name. Raul continued the conversation regardless. Near the end of the conversation, Raul said, “John, I don’t think I have your card.” When they exchanged business cards, Raul remembered Joseph’s name and thanked him, avoiding any embarrassment over a forgotten name.