I’ve always been pretty good at memorization. It must have started back in Sunday School with all those memory verses. When I was in the high school drama club I was usually able to have my lines and those of my fellow actors down by the second or third rehearsal. Even today, most of the really important numbers in my life I’ve committed to memory.
So why has it been so difficult to remember names? The conclusion I came to was that it was no more difficult to remember names than it was to remember any of the other things in my life. I mean we’ve been told for years what a marvelous super computer our brains are, yet remembering names seems to be a shortcoming in such a large segment of the population as to approach epic proportions.
I knew there had to be a solution to this issue and so I began an intensive search. I found some things that were for me revolutionary in my quest to remember names. I tested these theories at a youth camp where I was speaking. Out of approximately 160 students I was able to memorize 95% of the names and be tested with random selections. Let me share with you what I discovered.
First we must abandon the myth that we cannot remember names. Everyone reading this has the ability to remember names on a grand and long term scale. I’ll prove it to you. Do you have parents? What are their names? You may have step or foster parents, what are their names? If you have siblings, do you remember their names? Are they married? Remember the spouses? How about the kids? How about your kids? Being a parent I realize this one may take a little work, but you can do it. If I showed you a picture of your first grade class, you could probably name the majority of the kids there.
So what makes the difference? What elements are necessary for this tremendous recall success you’ve already experienced? There are three essential elements that you are already applying to the names you know.
The first is time. It took time to remember those names. Most people do not have the benefit of a “copy and paste” memory so we have to take the “time” necessary to remember the names. There is no shortcut to this element.
The second element is “frequency”. You either heard or spoke the names you know a multitude of times. It does not matter whether you heard them or spoke them in a positive or negative setting, the reality is you heard them often. This can be awkward in a social or business setting, especially if you start repeating someone’s name like an automaton. “Well, Sue Anderson, it’s great to meet you, Sue Anderson. Is this your first time to our meeting, Sue Anderson? Where do you work, Sue Anderson?”
Humans are the most creative and innovative beings on the Earth, business people are the most creative humans, and entrepreneurs are the most creative business people. Try to find some creative, friendly, discreet ways of using a persons name, or at least hearing it. One thing you might try is to introduce them to someone else. If it’s a colleague at your event, they will also use the name a time or two and you will leverage your frequency. You’ll also make your guest feel at ease and make yourself look good.
The third, and most important element is “value”. Those names you already know are important to you. You remember them because you want to and in some cases your survival was dependent on it. If you can master this third principal, the other two will become automatic.
The main reason we don’t remember other peoples names is because we don’t really care. We are more interested in the impression we are making on them, than we are in them or their name. Does my breath smell bad, is my hair combed, is my tie crooked, and any of a number of “self”-conscious thoughts. Stop thinking about yourself for thirty seconds, and let the world revolve around someone else. You’ve done all you can do to make your first impression, so just trust your preparation and focus on them.
Every time I forget this element I fail to remember a name. Conversely, every time I use it I am successful. It has become my personal crusade to do away with name tags at business events. As business people, sales people, and entrepreneurs this is a task that we should excel in. Try these steps at your next public gathering or social event.