At my performances and speaking engagements, one of the things people find most impressive is my apparently incredible memory for names. By the end of many of my presentations I can name just about everyone in the room. In one of my card tricks I have nearly two dozen people select cards from the deck, then I find all the cards and call each of the people by name. This feat frequently garners as much applause as the card trick itself.
My Memory Mojo! presentation teaches about a range of mnemonic memory techniques which can be applied to name recall. However, my personal approach for remembering names differs somewhat from the standard mnemonic approach. My technique combines some of the memory tricks you may have heard before, plus a personal twist that helps me lock most names into place.
The Memory Mojo! name memory system has three steps: Question, Repetition, and Visualization.
I ask questions about people’s names. As my name is “Joe,” most names are more complex than mine and many lend themselves to some comment. I almost always ask about the spelling of the name; is it Michele or Michelle, Sean or Shawn? If I sense a derivation from another language, I’ll ask about it. I try to make a person’s name my first topic of conversation with him or her.
The point of asking questions is to force yourself to pay attention in the first place. Most memory courses emphasize the importance of training oneself to attend to incoming information; this concept is called increasing primary awareness or initial awareness. Even without learning or using any of the other steps and techniques in a memory course, raising the initial awareness of information automatically improves a person’s recall. In short, the attempt automatically brings success.
To increase the degree of success, I move to the second step.
This is the one that most people have already heard, often many times. Most sales people or other people who have asked me about names have heard advice such as “use the person’s name immediately,” or “make sure to call them by name three times.” They’ve used this technique with varying results.
There’s nothing wrong with the advice to repeat a name to yourself several times. Repetition is a key to learning new material, but taken by itself it’s not what I’d consider the most efficient path to retention. Learning anything by rote repetition generally takes longer than a structured repetition of something that has already been conceptually grasped. That’s why we question first, commenting on the spelling or derivation, and generally develop an understanding of the name and person, then repeat the name to yourself.
After asking questions about the name, repeat the name in your head, then give yourself ten or fifteen seconds before using the person’s name in a statement back to them. Don’t keep a checklist of using it three or five times in the conversation; just use it at points where it can naturally fit the conversational flow.
It’s the third step, though, where you really get the name fixed firmly in your mind.
My Memory Mojo! course, like nearly all memory training courses, uses creative visualization and association as the basis of the techniques. The use of the imagination to create mental pictures to associate new information to old information is the fundamental building block of memory training.
The classical mnemonic approach is to create a vibrant and exaggerated picture with the name and associate that with some outstanding feature of the person’s face, body, or perhaps clothing. For example, the name “Frank” might call to mind a hot dog or the Frankenstein monster, which could then be associated to something noticeable about the man’s face. Other images might be based on people you already know with the same name – relatives, friends, or colleagues. This is the most commonly taught technique and it can be extremely useful.
Another visualization technique, though, is this personal approach which I developed a few years ago. This is my own approach and it has significantly improved my name memory. When I hear the name, I visualize myself writing the name, in longhand, with a fountain pen on good paper.
I make this visualization as detailed as possible, almost feeling the ink flow from the pen as it scratches across the paper. I can feel the texture of the writing surface and even pick up the faint smell of the ink on the paper. In my mind, I can feel the weight of the pen in my hand and hear the scraping of the nib as I form the letters.
My goal is to create a rich, detailed, multi-sensory experience of the name, albeit in my mind. I picture the swoop of the letters and try to see, hear, feel, and smell what is happening as I write the name. You might visualize something different – a chalkboard, a crayon, or a Sharpie – but the point is to engage multiple senses as you think of the name. This one technique has helped me lock in names with a high success rate.
Some closing advice…
Finally, give yourself permission to forget a name. Your self-talk has a lot to do with your capabilities, and most people have unfortunately convinced themselves that they “can remember faces, but have a bad memory for names.” They tell themselves they won’t remember, and they agonize over forgetting.
Take the pressure off yourself. The goal is not a perfect name memory, but an improved name memory. You will help yourself succeed by learning to be comfortable in asking people to repeat their names when you forget.
By dialing down the pressure and using the approaches described above, I have been successful in improving my name memory. It has helped my performances, my business interactions, and in my own personal life. I hope you find success using these techniques, too. Let me hear your success stories!
(Fountain pen/paper image by Linda Cronin.)