Forgetting someone’s name is bad. Remembering someone’s name who doesn’t remember yours, on the other hand, is impressive. In the advisory business, your contacts–whether clients, colleagues, friends, acquaintances–are your livelihood. Forgetting (or remembering) a name could be the difference between a new client and a disappointment. What can we do to make sure that we never forget a name?
In an excerpt from his book, Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer tells the story of his unlikely path to the finals of the USA Memory Championships. One of the coolest parts about this story, and about mental athletes, is that they all have average memories–it’s a matter of discipline that makes a memory world-class–so it’s safe to say that we can improve ours. Here’s what Foer learned from 11th best memoriser in the world, and co-founder of the very cool project, Memrise, Ed Cooke:
…Our memories weren’t built for the modern world, he said. Our ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers; they needed to remember where to find food and resources and the route home. That’s why, the theory goes, we’re largely good at remembering visual imagery and terrible at remembering other kinds of information, such as lists of words or numbers. The point of memory techniques is to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t good at holding on to and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for…
The problem with names is this: faces are unique images, therefore they’re relatively easy to remember. Names, however, are certainly not unique and are essentially nothing more than a string of letters. Intrinsically, a name has no image attached to it. This is why you can recognize a face in an instant, and spend minutes racking your brain for a name. Cooke also tells Foer that the crazier the image, the more memorable, and that animate images are better than static ones. It all makes sense–the more distinct the image, the more memorable it will be. So how do we use this information to remember names?
Never Forget A Name Again
Here’s what you should do the next time you’re introduced to someone:
- Study the person, their gestures, mannerisms, and especially their face. Look for distinguishing features.
- Get the person’s first and last name (to prevent confusion).
- Repeat their name back to them when you get it, so you know what their name sounds like. Try to use it a few times in conversation without over-doing it.
- Listen to what the person is saying, again listening for something unique to that person–their job, hobby, recent vacation, etc.–and remember it.
- Construct a distinct image of this person, using any unique, weird, or funny information about them. Whichever bits of information that will create a memorable image that will help you find that person’s name are the one’s that you should make note of. Now, all you have to do is remember the zany way in which you imagined this person, and then use that image to get back to their name!
For example, my name is DJ Switz. I’m an easy example, my name is distinct and evocative enough on its own to apply these techniques. One might imagine me, wearing only a Swiss flag with big headphones on. DJ = DJ (as in Disc Jockey) hence the headphones, and Switz = Switzerland, the country where the Swiss (phonetically similar to Switz) live! See how it works?