What Was Your Name Again?
“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
—Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Meeting planner or not, building relationships is crucial to everyone’s career success. And what’s the first thing to know in any new relationship? The other person’s name, of course. So why do so many of us have trouble putting names to faces? Do some people’s brains come wired with the skill? Not at all. They care. They know it’s important. The secret is out: Everyone, from your boss to your assistant, needs to work at it.
The first and most important step: recognizing the strategic advantage of using people’s names when you’re talking to them. Research using MRIs shows the sound of one’s own name lights up several special places in the brain. At the very least, your acquaintance feels flattered by the attention—and you’re not embarrassed to forget the name. At best, you’ve laid the first gold brick in the foundation of a priceless relationship.
Here’s a common strategy for remembering names, which you can fine tune to suit yourself.
Seize the moment as soon as you meet someone new. Lock eyes and offer your hand. If you missed the name, ask for it. Then use it immediately. “Hello, Jason, “or “It’s nice to meet you, Allison.”
Ask a question.
If necessary, ask if you’re pronouncing the name correctly. The other person will appreciate that you care enough to get it right. If appropriate, ask for a business card so you can see the spelling—that’s another chance to etch the name deeper into your mind.
Now, resist the urge to launch right into your side of the conversation. Ask a question instead, and make mental notes about what your new acquaintance is saying while repeating the name silently to yourself.
Create a link or picture in your head.
If the name is the same as someone’s you know, picture them standing together. Even better, if you have two Matts in mind, picture them both wiping their feet vigorously on a welcome mat. Alice might be leaping into the looking glass. Bobbie from Brooklyn might be bobbing on a buoy under the Brooklyn Bridge. When it comes to encoding memory, the more color and movement you can give the image and the sillier the better. Alliteration works well for some. Rhyming, too. Carrot-top Karen? Carin’ Karen? Dan from Detroit with the dimple?
End the conversation by repeating the name.
“It’s so great to meet you, Homer.” “Hope to see you at the session later, Marge.” Then silently repeat the name to yourself.
Keep a record.
As soon as practical, write down the name along with a few relevant attributes. If the person gave you a business card, you might jot a note or two on the card. Finally, back home, go over your notes before filing for future reference.
It takes commitment and effort to remember names. But it’s a skill anyone can master, and it gets easier with practice. At your next annual conference, greeting Cecil the COO or Helen the head hunter by name makes both of you feel good. And, career-wise, you never know how worthwhile remembering that name may be.