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How to remember people’s names


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I was doing a short session for RBS in London the other day, and the question about how to remember people’s names came up.  I learned the skill from my first boss, who had this amazing knack of walking into a room, shaking hands with everyone there and knowing their names as if by magic.  It really impressed people, and it allowed him to make a great impression in a very short space of time.  Here’s how he did it-

For a meeting where you know the attendees in advance-

  1. Get the list of names of all the people attending before the event.
  2. Write out the list of names in your own hand using a different colour for each name in the list. Or alternate colours if you only have 2 pens!
  3. Memorise the list of first names, and first and second names for repeats- it takes about 3 minutes for 10 people, and up to 20 minutes for 50, but it’s really easy to do.
  4. Then as you walk into the room and meet people, shake them by the hand, listen for their name, and repeat it back to them with a ‘pleased to meet you Jackie….’ kind of thing.
  5. And miraculously, the names just stick.

For a meeting where you don’t know the attendees in advance- but have you really tried to get them?

  1. Get there early and meet everyone as they arrive.
  2. Shake hands and introduce yourself.
  3. Then listen for their first name, or ask for it if they don’t give it to you.
  4. Then check that you’ve understood the name by saying it back to them and have them correct you if you misheard or mispronounced it
  5. Then say it back to them again to confirm you’ve got it with a ‘pleased to meet you Yeung….’ flourish.
  6. Then if you need to step aside and repeat the names of all of the people you’ve met to yourself to drive the names home.
  7. For people you’re struggling with, add a visual element to your memorising. Try imagining a person you know with the same name as them standing next to them and smiling at you.

For a meeting where you don’t get a chance to introduce yourself-

  1. Suggest to the meeting organiser that everyone goes round and introduces themselves
  2. As they do, write down their names and add a descriptor that helps you remember them- ‘great hair, glasses, blue suit…’ or whatever.
  3. Then memorise the list and use people’s names as often as you can without overdoing it.

Here’s a great post from Tina Su with more detail and a simple method that might work brilliantly for some people. Then whenever you get the chance, at coffee, lunch or after the event look to connect with them whatever way that you can, then a stranger that you didn’t know, becomes a connection.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
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