Have you ever been introduced to a bunch of different people in a room and left not remembering anyone’s name? If you’ve ever wished that name recall came instantly and automatically for you, then I’ve got good news for you. Names tend to be pretty abstract on the surface. For many people, it’s easier to recognize faces than to remember names, which is why the secret to mastering name recall is to apply a strategy whereby a feature of that person tells you his or her name. Follow these three tips and you’ll never draw a blank again when you run into someone you’ve met before:
1. Listen Up!
So many of us fail to establish original awareness of a name when we first hear it. So it’s not that we forget names; it’s that we never hear them clearly at the start and end up with only gobbledygook to remember. I think it’s human nature not to want to ask someone to repeat his or her name. We don’t want to look stupid. To that I say, get over it! If you don’t catch a name clearly when you’re introduced to someone, ask again. And if it’s not an easy or common name, ask the person to spell it. That’s not rude, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything, the person will be flattered that you’re interested enough to want to remember their name. Even if you don’t think that you’ll ever see this person again in your life, get the name right the first time so that you won’t be caught off guard when you do meet again after all.
2. Create an Association to the Sound of the Name.
Create a similar-sounding word or sentence using the sounds of the name. For instance, Karasek could sound like “carrot on a stick.” My name, Byster, could sound like “by the stairs.” In each case, you’d picture the individual embodying the phrase. So you’d picture Mr. Karasek holding a carrot on a stick, and you’d picture me standing by a staircase. As with any association you make when you want to remember something, it’s important to create the link in the moment—the very instant you’re first hearing the name (and perhaps shaking hands). And like most anything else, it will become easier and easier to apply this tactic as you practice it. Soon enough, you’ll be able to turn names like Kraszynski (pronounced “kra-zin-ski”) into phrases such as “crazy zin on skis” (“zin” for a bottle of zinfandel), or make the zin a “sin”; Djokovic (pronounced “joke-a-vich”) becomes “joke and fetch,” and Gutierrez becomes “gut in tiara.” If you’re familiar with more advanced vocabulary or the romance languages in particular, you might have noticed that the second part of Gutierrez contains sounds that are close to the word tierra, which means earth or land. So alternatively, you could associate this name with “gut in the earth.” As you can see, absurdity is allowed here, and the phrase you create needn’t contain every sound or syllable in the name. You just need to have enough sounds to give you the gist of it—then you can figure it out. Your memory will fill in the blanks.
3. Link a Physical Feature to Their Name.
The third strategy is to identify a feature or characteristic about the person and link it to their name. The mere act of seeking an outstanding feature will force you to be aware of the person in a conscious manner, creating original awareness. Such a unique feature can be any number of things—crooked teeth, ears that stick out, a high forehead, a puggish nose, a mole on the cheek, acne, freckles. First impressions count! That is to say, first impressions tend to be lasting ones, so try to make your association the moment you meet. Use the first thing that comes to mind. The feature you choose doesn’t necessarily have to be something permanent. Let’s say you meet someone named Barry who happens to be wearing a blue shirt. Say to yourself, “Blueberry.” This word will trigger your memory the next time you see him and need to recall his name. Or let’s say you meet a Tamara who has a toothy grin. It’s not a name you’ve heard before, and it’s not easy to pronounce; you’re not sure if it’s closer to the word “tomorrow” or “tomato.” Assuming that it sounds more like “tomorrow,” with the second a sounding like the a in “car,” you could come up with “going to the dentist tomorrow” or something similar. The point is to single out a specific feature to which you can link a word or phrase and instantly associate that person with it. Even if it’s challenging to find a link that’s good and strong enough to permanently interlock a name and face in your memory, just trying will improve your memory. Face it: You’re doing what so few people do when they meet someone—and that’s paying attention!
Finally, I should add here that you do not need to know everyone’s name and face. Focus on just the ones you need or want to recall and forget the others. Practice these strategies in situations where you’re not feeling the pressure to remember.
Want more tips and best practices to improve your memory and mental performance? Order your copy of my book, The Power of Forgetting, at your favorite retailer today or at MikeByster.com.