Also published in the Boston Business Journal here.
It happens to the best of us at the worst time. You have just met someone at an event and then two seconds later you have no clue what their name is. Or you see someone walking up to you with an extended hand and smile. You think to yourself: "Uhm, what's their name?"
I have great news for you -- you are not alone. In fact you are probably in the majority.
First, let me allay the fears for you boomers who are terrified of growing old. If you cannot remember where you put your keys, you may simply just have a bad memory -- or maybe you are just disorganized.
Here are some tips:
- Get it right the first time. When someone introduces himself or herself and you haven't heard their name, simply ask them to repeat it. With international names it can feel tricky. People who have names that are unique to the U.S. culture actually have a gift in my opinion. They can hand out their business cards right away.
- Ask a question about the name. Even simple names such as "John." I often ask, "Is that with an "h" or without."
- Use the name. In the first few sentences, use the person's name once or twice. Don't do it too often or it appears pretentious and can quickly become annoying. When someone introduces themselves, simply say, "It is so nice to see you, _____________."
- Look at his or her business card. Too often we pop someone's card into our pocket. Take a look at it, comment about the logo or location while double checking the name.
- Ask a question. If you know someone with the same name, ask if there is a relation. Or ask what the derivation of the name is. We have become so politically correct we don't want to offend anyone; on the other hand we're willing to walk around mispronouncing someone's name.
- Write down the name. When you are in a meeting and people go around and introduce themselves, write their name in the same order they are seated.
- Create a system that works for you. If you remember things visually, mentally write their name down. If you are an auditory person, say it out loud. If you are a kinesthetic learner, imagine writing it in the sky.
- Spell it back. This shows you are genuinely interested in getting it right.
- Connect the name to something. If you know someone with the same name, make a note of the connection. For example, I used to work with someone named Susan Fleming -- just like Ian Fleming who wrote the Bond books.
Slow down. You can use all the memory tricks in the book. After trying many I finally realized the truth. I am not paying attention. It is unrealistic and unfair to think you can meet many people at the same time, look over their shoulder to see who is there, while trying to think of what you are going to say next. Slow down!
Remember Benjamin Franklin -- his face graces the $100 bill. If I promised to give you a $100 bill for each name you remembered, would you try harder? Whatever motivates you to learn names, do it.
Be cautious about your word association.
Once there was a man who met a woman nicknamed Chip. The man could not remember the nickname, especially since it was for a woman. So he thought of his favorite chip -- a chocolate chip cookie. The next time he saw her, he smiled, and said, "Hi Cookie!"