The sweetest sound

embarrasmentAre you good at remembering names? If you answered no, you’re not alone. Whenever I teach networking or my First and Lasting Impressions training I ask the participants if they are skilled at remembering names. Usually only a handful of people will raise their hand. Yet, people admit that forgetting names is one of the most embarrassing things for them.

When people remember our name, especially people we don’t know well, we are always impressed and feel important. I have mentioned this quote by Dale Carnegie before, but it bears repeating.

Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

It is indeed.

As you may know, we have a new dog. We have been taking agility classes with Augie. Agility is a sport where handlers direct dogs to navigate obstacles such as jumps, tunnels and bridges while being judged on time and accuracy.

The classes are a lot of fun for both me and Augie. However, after six classes the teacher does not know our names. There are only five people in the class, so it’s not like it’s a big class with a lot of names to remember. Not only does she not remember the human’s names she doesn’t remember the dog’s names – a big faux pas in the dog world. Very occasionally, after hearing us call our dogs she will then use the dog’s name to speak to us, “Augie’s owner, can you…”

This creates problems for her because it’s hard to direct people when you can’t use their name, and it also makes me and, I imagine, others in the class feel unimportant. Like we’re just another class for her and she doesn’t really care about us and our dogs.

Conversely, when I belonged to the YMCA, there was an employee who staffed the front desk who remembered every member’s name. Do you know how many members the YMCA has? I don’t either, but I know it’s hundreds. David would always greet each member by name with a cheery hello. It just made you smile and feel special. And because of that I try very hard to remember names.

Most people are not born with the gift of remembering names. You have to work at it. I used to excuse myself from remembering names by stating I just wasn’t good at it. However, eventually my embarrassment at forgetting yet another name compelled me to start working on recalling names. I’m happy to say, I’m much better, not perfect, but much better. That said, if you see me staring at your blankly, please don’t be hurt. Just go ahead and remind me of your name if I don’t ask you to do so.

Here are some tips for remembering names that work for me.

Decide to work at it. You have to want to remember someone’s name in order to make the effort. Tell yourself right now “I am good at remembering names.” Your mantra will help make that true.

Repeat the person’s name three times in your mind when you first meet and use her name in conversation three times.

Associate the person with a character or famous person. A handsome man named Brad could remind you of Brad Pitt. Or an outgoing bubbly woman named Betty could make you think of Betty Boop.

Think of an adjective that describes the person that starts with the same letter as their name. A friendly guy named Fred could be Friendly Fred. This is my favorite technique.

Think of something that reminds you of the person. For instance, I met a very tall, former NBA player whose name is James. I thought of the book James and the Giant Peach.

Another technique is to create a visual picture of the person. Let’s say you meet a woman named Amy Baker, you could imagine her wearing an apron taking a pan of cookies out of the oven.

Another one I like is to look at the person’s name tag or business card when he gives it to you, which helps to cement it in your brain.

Lastly, if you can’t remember someone’s name, simply admit it and say something like, “Please forgive me, will you remind me of your name?” Most people will be happy to oblige and not think anything of it.

Start working on it today. I promise you’ll do much better if you give it some attention. Make people feel special just like David does at the YMCA.

What techniques do you use to remember names? How do you feel when people remember your name?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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