It happens more often than you like: You’re standing there speaking with someone at a cocktail party, networking meeting, conference, convention, etc., and you realize you have no idea what that person’s name is. You’ve been chatting it up, yet, you have no idea who the person is or, worse still, how you might introduce them if you need to. And you’re hoping that doesn’t somehow come up.
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The reality is when you exchanged names during the initial introduction you probably weren’t listening the first time. You didn’t actually forget the name, you simply never processed it. Why? You were on to the next thing – the conversation.
People love it when you remember their names even if they’ve forgotten yours. Better them than you, but here are five techniques to help prevent you from forgetting someone’s name and ways to recover if you do.
Repeat their name back to them when someone introduces themselves to you. “Hello Lenny. My name is Michael. So, what type of work do you do, Lenny?” Repetition gives you a better chance of remembering the name and engaging in a richer conversation. People really do like hearing their own names and will feel a sense of intimacy when someone they meet for the first time is using it.
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I will almost always ask for a clarification in spelling no matter what the name is — even if the name is Joe. It as a way of making the conversation more interesting, gaining clarification, and serves as a memory hook. “Is that John with or without an H?”
If it’s a popular name like John or Ryan (or John Ryan), I’ll clarify the spelling and associate the name with someone I know well that has the same name. Names like John, Ryan, Paul, Jimmy, Tommy, Joe, Brian, and of course Michael make it easy for me to make this type of an association.
If it’s an unusual name like Avish (pronounced a-veesh) I will ask for the spelling, origin of the name, and even its meaning. I imagine people with unusual names deal with this sort of thing all the time. As long as you’re genuinely looking to learn and remember, people appreciate it.
Ask for a business card
If I think the person I’m speaking with will be someone I’ll be speaking with again, I’ll ask if it makes sense for us to exchange cards. Once I have their business card in hand, I now have a visual of their name and other related information.
I will often keep the card framed in my hand during the duration of our conversation out of respect and in the event I need to take a peek to jar my memory. Often once I have the card, I’m peppering the name throughout our conversation.
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A mnemonic device is a tool used for a memory aid. My favorites are using the spelling of someone’s name — Linh with an H, Brian with an I, Tom with one T — but anything that’s kind of witty or catchy will help me remember names.
Using this technique also works great when I’m presenting to a group of agents as it creates energy and gives me material to use later – “A question from Brian with an I.” (It’s all for my entertainment really, but it works.)
When you’ve lost it
If despite all of this you still forget the name of the person you’ve been talking to, simply say, “I’ve been standing here this whole time and have forgotten your name. Again, you are?” As long as it’s important enough for you to try to remember someone’s name, people appreciate it. We have all been there before and you have nothing to lose by asking.
Also, if I see someone I’ve met in the past and want to speak with again, I assume they don’t remember my name because I often don’t remember theirs. As I approach I’ll say, “Hello, we met at last month’s meeting. My name is Michael.” And they will reply with their name and we’ll both be on track.
All of these tricks of the trade are great at the moment but may not help you retain and recall the name for the longer term. That’s when you want to review notes, business cards, databases and websites to refresh your memory to prepare for upcoming meetings when you’ll be seeing those you may have already met. As you develop deeper and more important relationships, the names will stick.