A strange looking and eccentric woman walked up to me and asked my name. She said she had a strange ability to remember names. I was in the middle of a class of 30 people and liked my odds. I bet her should couldn’t remember names of every person.
I told her my name, then promptly moved to a seat across the room. I convinced another few people to move as well. This way, she couldn’t just remember a pattern of names. She had to remember our names based only on our faces.
My jaw was just as open as the other 29 jaws in the room when she went around naming each and every person. First and last names! Forget the speed reading course we’d signed up for, we wanted to know how to remember names.
What followed wasn’t nearly as magical. The woman we thought was some sort of psychic, sucking our names out of our brains with a single thought, just turned out to be a retired neuroscientist who understood how the brain remember names.
How many times have you cringed as your co-worker called your new client by the wrong name? Have you ever avoided a colleague in a restaurant because you simply couldn’t remember her name? Remembering names is a skill that can benefit both your personal life and have a profound impact on your business life. I’ll give you one example.
In 2010 I was exhibiting at a Trade Show in Long Beach, California. Standing at my booth I spied a tall, mustached, bald man walking down the aisle. His face looked familiar. I closed my eyes for a moment, practiced this trick to remember names, and yelled out “Jim” just as the man was about to pass my booth.
We struck up conversation. I asked him how his daughter’s college graduation had gone and if he’d purchased the retirement home he’d been wanting in the Northwest.
He was so blown away that I remembered not only his name but intimate details of a 5 minute conversation that we had several years ago. The ability to remember names lets people know you care about them. Jim has been a loyal customer ever since.
So here’s the not so psychic trick you need to know to remember names.
The name is not important. Remember other things around the name and your brain will find the name.
When I met Jim, we were outside of an In-N-Out Burger in southern California. I’d ridden in a friend’s car on my way there. He had to move some wrappers from the front seat before I could sit down. Among the wrappers was a protein bar. And this is how you remember names like Jim’s.
You remember names by remembering more interesting things that surround the name. What triggered Jim’s name and story was remembering how ironic I thought it was that my friend just tossed a protein bar in the back seat so he could go eat a greasy hamburger. I remember the weather, the taste of the hamburger, the seagulls encircling us, waiting for a french fry to fall.
If you want to remember names and let people know how much you care about them, be intentional about soaking in the moment. When you need to recall the name, simply think of the day, the food, the scenery. The name will come because the name is entwined in the brain and only accessible by way of the stronger memories you formed about the event.
How could this trick to remember names effect you?
Note: This post was originally published on November 6, 2013.