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10 tips for remembering names

From both a professional and a social standpoint, forgetting people's names can be a liability. Here are a few strategies for keeping names in your head.

It probably happens more than you care to admit or remember — you meet someone, then 10 minutes later, you have forgotten that person's name. Here are some tips to help you avoid that embarrassing situation.

1: Don't discount the importance of remembering names

Dale Carnegie said a person's name is the sweetest sound in the world to that person. You've undoubtedly run into people who didn't remember your name. How did it make you feel? Think of how much better an impression you can make on people when you remember THEIR names. A few years ago, I gained a consulting engagement when during a conference call, I recognized the name of one of the other participants, who was the father of one of my high school classmates. As soon as I mentioned that fact, the man said, "Let's hire Calvin."

2: Use as many activities as possible to remember a name

The tips that follow have something in common: They involve the use of multiple activities and actions in helping you remember a name. It's the same idea and principle you may remember from schooldays, namely that involving as many senses as possible during the learning process helps you learn faster and retain more of that learning.

3: Pay attention to the person's name the first time you hear it

When you're being introduced to someone, don't let your mind wander. Focus on that person. In particular, listen and try to remember the person's name the first time you hear it. If you heard it clearly, great. But even if you didn't, it's okay. Simply ask the person to repeat the name. Contrary to what you might think, few people will be unhappy at such a request. Rather, most people will be flattered that you thought enough about their name to want to hear it again.

4: Repeat the name you just heard

Once you hear the name, say it yourself. When you do, you are using your own voice as well as your sense of hearing. This particular tip might be the most important one of all, and it's easy to employ. All you have to do is immediately say the person's full name. Then, after the customary "Nice to meet you," say the person's full name again.

If you are unsure about the pronunciation or spelling, don't be afraid to ask. As mentioned before, most people will be happy to help.

5: Look at the person's face

When speaking to someone, don't look at the floor, at your watch, or at other people. Look at the person directly. Not only is it a more polite way to behave, but it also helps you remember the name by associating it with the face. After all, the next time you meet that person, you will need to recognize him or her using the face.

6: Look at the name tag

Don't look only at someone's face during the introduction. That person may think you're a stalker. If the introduction happens at a meeting, convention, or networking event, chances are the person will be wearing a name tag. Look at it in addition to the person's face and say the name while looking at it on the tag.

7: Jot names down on business cards

Writing down someone's name also will help you remember it. The best way to do so is on the person's business card. Of course, that card already will have the name on it, so you should look at the printed name as an additional reinforcement. However, writing it yourself still is a good idea. You also can make other notes to yourself about the person.

8: Make connection with common aspects

After the initial introduction, ask questions to find out more about the person. Try to discover things you both have in common. For example, are you from the same town? Did you go to the same school? If you can't find a connection between the two of you, what about between you and the person's relatives, or vice versa? Not only will discovering this connection give you something to talk about, it will help you remember this person.

9: Use images or word patterns to remember

Using memory tricks based on the person's name can help you remember it. For instance, if someone's surname is Toole, you can visualize a monkey wrench or screwdriver coming out of that person's head. Similarly, you could think of a word that describes the person and rhymes with his or her name. Be careful , however, about publicizing this technique. For example, you might not want someone to know that your rhyme is "plain Jane."

10.  Introduce the person to others

You may have found, as I have, that when you have to teach a particular subject, your knowledge of that subject increases. The same principle applies to remembering names. After you meet a new person, a good way to reinforce that name is to introduce that person to other people. Doing so will force you to be aware of the name and to be sure that you are saying it correctly.

Other tricks?

Are you hopeless with names or do you have some other tricks up your sleeve that help you remember a name once you've heard it?


Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

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