Remember Names and Work the Room Successfully

One hundred years ago, homeowners would gather with guests in the parlor of the home. Men would perform parlor tricks to pass the time and entertain those in attendance. Today, the most impressive parlor trick may be remembering people's names.

If I teach you the secret of how to remember names, sometimes you will never forget mine. I'm willing to try if you are.

A person's name is his or her favorite word. Most people consider it to be a remarkable compliment when someone reminds something so personal about them.

Memory "tricks" are a lost – albeit – impressive art form. It is especially impressive when the other person can not remember yours.

Remembering a person's name seems like a reliably easy thing to do. Memorizing a name is certainly easier than memorizing lines in a play. Recalling a person's name is generally easier than memorizing a ten-digit phone number.

Yet, we often have trouble memorizing names. Usually this is because we are not focused or because we are distracted when we first hear the name. If you walk into a room, for example, you may be introduced to someone before you become acclimated. Perhaps more than one person is talking to you during the introduction.

Being self-conscious is a persistent form of distraction. Perhaps you are a self-conscious sort who is preoccupied with how your hair looks or whether your zipper is down. (Your hair looks fine and your zipper is up – by the way.)

Finally, the handshake that often accompanies the introduction can be distracting. We're all well aware that a handshake can be too hard, too soft and too wet. A cold hand can be a shocker, too.

You have little control over such distractions, but you have the ability to facilitate "The Perfect Handshake," which will allow you to focus on remembering the other person's name.

You can become better at remembering names with a few tips and a little practice. Along the way, you will also improve your listening skills and discover some memorization strategies that will be useful in other areas of your life. The first step understands understanding the difference between listening and listening.

Hearing is Different Than Listening–

Simply hearing a person's name may be enough for you to remember it. It's more likely, however, that you'll have to listen.

What's the difference between listening and listening?

You can easily differentiate the remarkable difference between hearing and listening during a routine shower. No doubt, you instantly hear the water streaming out of the nozzle and cascading to the tile or tub. But while you wash, pay attention to how the water sounds as it falls around you. Try to identify seven or eight different types of sounds such as the water splashing off your shoulders or the droplets plunking against the plastic shower curtain liner. This simple exercise will teach you how to recognize nuances. Now you are really listening!

Here's another way to practice listening. When driving, listen to songs with a fresh ear. Listen to the musical arrangement instead of the lyrics. Try to identify the different instruments in the arrangement. Try listening to just one of the instruments, such as the bass guitar.

When you truly learn to listen, you should then be able to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

The Perfect Handshake–

I once asked a young man where he learned to shake hands. He said, "From watching television." A handshake often occurs during introductions when names are announced. If a handshake is sloppy or awkward, it can distract a person from what is said, making it much harder to remember names.

I meet a lot of people who do not know how to shake hands. Some people, for example, have an aggressive, bone-crushing handshake. Other people have a passive, dead-fish handshake. I'm teaching everyone to develop "The Perfect Handshake."

The best handshakes begin with web-to-web contact. The web is the fleshy area between the thumb and the forefinger. Try to establish web-to-web contact with people you meet. Web-to-web contact assures an assertive grip that conveys integrity and trust.

Try to initiate all your introductions rather than waiting to be introduced. There are benefits to reaching out first. The person who reaches out first establishes power and influence in almost any situation. If you feel comfortable and in control you are more likely to focus on remembering names.

How to Remember Names–

One way to remember names (or anything else for that matter) is to use a mnemonic system. A mnemonic (the "m" is silent) is a memory aid that uses associations such as a sequence or an alliteration. There are many types of mnemonic systems, including visual, assembly, first-letter and arbitrary.

Visual mnemonics involve visual cues or triggers. For example, Greg is wearing green, so you might remember him as Green Greg. This visual method, of course, can fail you if Greg is wearing brown the next time you see him.

First-letter mnemonics provide easy formulas for remembering names. Albert Anderson's first and last name begins with the letter "A," so you might remember him as AA. If Al always has a drink in his hand, AA might be especially memorable.

Assembly mnemonics are more complicated than first-letter systems. Students use assembly mnemonics to prepare for exams. Most people find it easier to recall the names of the planets Mars, Venus, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune by remembering the phrase My Very Educated Mother Just Served Nachos.

Even if you are not a musician, you can easily remember the lines of a treble clef music staff, which are E, G, B, D and F, if you memorize the phrase Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Do you know the names of the seven continents? You will if you use assembly mnemonics. Eat An Aspirin After A Nighttime Snack is a simple way to remember Europe, Antarctica, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America and South America.

Arbitrary mnemonics are an unlicensed, but effective tool for memorizing names. Sometimes it can be easier to retain information when the memory formula is random or just plain ridiculous. Most people remember how to set their clocks for Daylight Saving Time by the mnemonic "Spring ahead, fall back."

Do you remember the following ditty?

Thirty days hath September
April, June and November
All the rest have thirty-one
Save February
Which has 28 in fine
Till Leap Year gives it 29

It's a terrible poem and we've never stopped trying to adjust and improve it. The Web site lists an amazing 47 versions! The above rhythms and rhymes are abysmal, but something about it works to help us remember how many days are in each month. Even with so many variations, this arbitrary mnemonic is helpful.

My Special Secret for Remembering Names–

The ability to remember names is a very useful networking technique. I once earned a speaking engagement by impressing Roxanne Gibbs, editor of The Nation, a prominent Barbados newspaper. I remembered her name a half-hour after meeting her and 30 other people in a buffet line.

I use "cluster imprinting" to learn names. The goal of cluster imprinting is to imprint your brain with the person's name eight to ten times within three minutes of meeting them. Listen to "Catherine" say her name. If you do not hear the name, immediately ask Catherine to repeat herself. Make the request right away so you do not feel embarrassed by asking for clarification later on.

Then, repeat her name by saying, "Catherine, it's nice to meet you." You've now heard her name twice.

Immediately begin to use her name. You might say "Catherine, is that Catherine with a 'C' or Katherine with a 'K'?" She could answer, "Catherine with a 'C.'" Now your brain has been imprinted with the name six times and you have visualized it at least once. If someone approaches you and Catherine, offer to introduce the new person. "Catherine, do you know David? David, this is Catherine." At this point, you've been imprinted with Catherine's name eight times.

When it's time to excuse yourself you might say, "It's been nice meeting you, Catherine," which makes the tenth time your brain has registered her name. You are not likely to forget "Catherine."

Try to recall the new name at several intervals during the next 24 hours, stretching the time span for each attempt.

5 Cool Ideas for Working a Room–

When it comes to meeting people, there's only one thing more impressive than the ability to remember a name and that is the ability to remember a bunch of names.

Making social contacts at cocktail parties and business receptions is a skill that requires conversational dexterity, consistent discipline and a desire for detail. Again, the key is to have a networking system that allows you to focus on really connecting with people. Taking a cue from my 5 Cool Ideas book series, here are 5 Cool Ideas for working a room.

1. Work the parking lot for fun and profit.

When working a room, there's no need to warm up. Start making connections as you walk through the parking lot. After all, anyone who parks where you do may be attending the same function, right? Well, these nice strangers are attending the event so they can meet people like you.

Work the lot, the foyer and the coatroom line. Use verbiage like, "Are you excited about this event?" and "Have you met anyone interesting so far?" to break the ice with your new friend. Work the foyer on the way out, too.

2. Use every opportunity to shake hands.

People are your greatest resource, so initiate conversation. Commit to meeting as many people as possible in the first 15 minutes of the event. Hold out your hand and introduce yourself to everyone who walks toward you.

Avoid the temptation to hunker with someone at the bar or in the corner of the room. You can always return to the most interesting people later. Do not sit down at these events until everyone else does. Try to sit in the center of the room. Find a seat near the head table or an anisle or other high traffic area.

Do not drink alcohol if you are serious about remembering names and staying mentally alert.

3. Networking is about them, not you.

Make it a point to focus the conversation on the other person. Plan several conversation topics in advance and you will not be at a loss for subject matter. Keep the topics positive and upbeat. Avoid negative comments about people and do not talk about unpleasant or off-color topics. Ask open-ended questions that encourage others to talk about themselves and their interests. Be generous and thoughtful about introducing people to each other.

Always compliment people as you introduce them. If you can not remember full names, use first names. If you struggle to remember a particular name, please softly ask the person her name and then give it to the third party.

4. Have several elevator springs available.

An "elevator speech" is the first 15 words of an interaction. Its name is derived from the type of short to-the-point messages that are replaced on elevators.

One version of your speech could have been related to your job. Another version could be centered on your family. When it's time for you to answer questions about yourself, choose an appropriate elevator speech to make a strong impression. Be brief, upbeat and original when you talk about yourself.

Make it easy for people to remember your name by being memorable. Deliver your elevator speech in pithy, provocative sound bytes. For instance, instead of saying, "I'm a teacher," smile and say, "I mentor heroes." Instead of saying, "I work at a day care center," stand up straight and say, "I create memories."

5. Follow up with an "urge to action."

As you work the room, collect business cards and literature from everyone you meet. In a quiet moment, write a quick note on each card to remind yourself of what you can do for the person or what they might do for you. Note the person's nickname and what you talked about so that you can follow up with them within 48 hours.

The more detailed your notes, the more impressed the person will be when they receive your follow-up communication.


Impressing people with your memory is fun. More important, however, is the ability to help people feel good about themselves. Remembering a person's favorite word looks like the least we can do.