“I’m great at remembering faces, but I can never remember people’s names”. How often have you heard that said by somebody, or have you said something similar yourself? As well as being a professional magician, I competed in the world memory championships several years ago (yes, these things really exist and yes, I’m a bit of a geek). Whenever I perform memory demonstrations as part of my stage act, at least one person will ask me afterwards “Can you teach me how to remember people’s names?”
Learning how to remember people’s names is powerful. There’s good research that shows our brains trigger a strong response when we hear our own name (sometimes referred to as the Cocktail Party Effect). Science aside, my own experience is that people respond better to you and are pleasantly surprised and flattered when you’ve remembered their name.
Here are 5 tips that you can start using right away to remember people’s names more often with minimal effort on your part.
1. How to remember people’s names: Pay attention
Sounds obvious right? Often when we’re introduced to new people there are many other things going on, which prevent us from listening properly when we’re told somebody’s name for the first time. Perhaps you’re at a party, in a crowded bar, or at a business networking event. There’s background noise and other distractions. You’re concerned with how you look and what kind of impression you’re making. In these situations we often don’t pay that much attention when we’re first introduced to somebody new.
If you make a conscious effort to listen carefully to the someone’s name when you’re introduced them, you’ll immediately find your “memory” for names will improve. Repeat the name back to make sure that you’ve understood. If you don’t hear it properly the first time, ask again and make sure you get it second time round!
2. Show interest in unusual names
If the person’s name is unusual, ask them how it’s pronounced or spelt. Showing interest in a person’s name shows them that you’re listening, and will help to further cement their name in your mind.
3. Use the name in conversation
You don’t have to become one of those annoying “sales guys” who refers to people by their name at the end of every sentence, but using the person’s name sparingly in a conversation will aid recall. Maybe just once or twice in a conversation, and as you say good bye. Also, if you have the opportunity to introduce your new acquaintance to somebody else, do so, using their name of course.
4. Use association
We’re much better at remembering images than words. So, if you can associate the person’s name with a visual mental image you’re much more likely to remember it. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to associate the person with somebody you already know or somebody famous who has the same name. Look for physical attributes or mannerisms that remind you of that familiar person and create a link in your mind.
If that’s not possible, perhaps there’s something about their name that you can turn into a mental image. “Mark” might remind you of a permanent marker, “Bill” of a duck’s bill, “Mike” of a microphone. These may sound a little ridiculous, but that’s actually a good thing. We’re much more likely to remember a funny or unusual mental image than a bland or ordinary one.
5. Write it down
If you’re likely to cross paths with the person you’ve met again, and it would be useful for you to remember their name, after you’ve left them create a new contact with the person’s name in your phone and maybe jot down a few notes about them to aid your memory.
If you follow these 5 tips, you’ll see a significant improvement in how many people’s names you remember. And if you do forget, don’t be afraid to ask again. There’s a chance they’ve forgotten yours too and they may be glad that you’ve asked them. But when you do, make an extra special effort to follow the steps above to remember it the second time!
As you’ve made it this far, here’s a clip of me performing a demonstration of memory and mental skills. Enjoy!
photo by bibliojojo