Want to make better business connections? Remember names

“Remembering names is only an offshoot of the desire to remember the people behind the names. Otherwise remembering names becomes a gimmick, merely to prove our prowess.” — Dale Carnegie

I recently did a weekend retreat for a professional services firm. Prior to the event there was a considerable amount of pre-work with the organizers to make sure that we hit the targets that needed to be addressed. In addition, I made the extra effort to go on their website and look at the bios and pictures of those who would be in attendance. By the time of the event, I knew each person’s name and a little bit about him or her. Needless to say, the ability to connect on a personal level with each individual in attendance got us off and running in a very positive way.

About an hour into the meeting, one of the attendees asked, “How in the heck do you know us all?” I explained what I had done. The feedback was that they had never received that kind of attention from other presenters.

This example is just one of many that shows the power of connecting with people on a personal level. As Dale Carnegie notes above, remembering and knowing a person’s name is just one more way of saying that I am interested in you as a person, not just another cog in the wheel. Carnegie also said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

So the next question is, what do we have to do to remember people’s names? If you truly want to improve your ability to remember names, you must first sell yourself on the importance of doing it. Your progress in remembering names, learning to golf, or any other skill largely depends on how strongly you desire to do it. Without that desire it will never happen. Assuming that you have the desire to improve, here are four suggestions to implement now:

Look and listen

When being introduced to someone for the first time, make the extra effort to look at the person and listen to his or her name. All too frequently in business or social situations where we are being introduced to three of four people, we forget the name of the first person as soon as we are introduced to the second person and this process continues. Message: Look at each individual and try to glue the name to the person.


Get a clear impression of the person. Concentrate on getting the name right. If you did not hear it clearly, ASK. If it is an unusual name, go ahead and even ask for the spelling. Observe the person: face, size, tone of voice, etc. Connect the person with their name.




As soon as you hear the name, repeat it out loud in your conversation. Repeat it silently to yourself while the person is talking. If you are in a meeting with a new group of people, draw a map of the meeting table and write down the name of each person where they are seated at the table. This will prove valuable during the meeting when you can actually use each person’s name, rather than refer to “you” (whoever that is). It will also prove valuable if you are getting together with the same group in the future. Just go back, look at your map and refresh your memory.

One cautionary note on repetition: DO NOT over use the person’s name. My guess is that many of you have been on the receiving end of an in-your-face salesperson who uses your name every other word. This habit is somewhere between rude and abrasive.

Association — create a word picture

I met a guy named Steve Wood many years ago. He was a carpenter foreman for a construction company. After meeting him, I used his business as a means of remembering his name. I pictured him with a carpenter tool belt on, carrying a two by four. Fifteen years later at a social function, I ran into him and immediately recalled that picture and called him by name. He was flattered that I remembered.

There are many ways to use this association idea — a person’s business as in my example above, a rhyme, a person’s appearance, or even the meaning of their name. Sometimes, the more exaggerated you make the picture, the easier it is to recall the name later.

In summary, all the tips, tricks, and methods in the world will never help you recall names if you do not have the desire in the first place. And remember, the desire is to remember and show interest in the person. That’s what building relationships is all about.

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