Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Memory Like an Elephant? Tips on Remembering People

I was asked recently to write an article on remembering people's names for the 'Get Networking' newsletter produced by the author of 'Brilliant Networking', Steven D'Souza. I thought I would reproduce the article for you here.

If you'd like to receive a copy of the full newsletter, including articles about using NLP and networking, story telling skills and a free e-book for all readers, please send me an email to andy@lopata.co.uk and I will forward it to you.

For many years I impressed people with a special talent. It was a talent I didn’t know I had, wasn’t aware was special and, if I’m to be honest with you, shared a lot with the great magic tricks in that it was really an illusion, although not one I consciously adopted.

The talent in question was that of remembering people’s names and recalling previous conversations we’d had, irrespective of how long had passed since that conversation.

At the time I was Managing Director of a business network with groups across the UK. I spent a lot of my time travelling to the different groups, meeting members, finding out how well the groups were operating and giving presentations. This would naturally put me at a disadvantage, everyone knew who I was and that I was coming. I would be the ‘stranger’ in their midst, they were seeing everyone else there week in and week out.

I, on the other hand, was walking into a room full of virtual strangers. Some people I had never met before, others only once or twice, perhaps as long as a year or more previously. Yet I could still recall people’s faces, their names and what we had spoken about before.

Dale Carnegie famously said someone’s own name is “the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. Remembering people’s names or something about them that shows you respect them as an individual can make a tremendous difference in the impression you leave and the impact you make.

The ‘talent’ I had was, therefore, so important in creating customer loyalty and developing my reputation as a strong networker and MD.

After a while, and a number of compliments for my memory, I decided to look at how I could remember names and what worked for me. I have read and heard others’ advice on recalling names, but some of it doesn’t feel natural. Here’s what I think made a difference:

1. Context

I was seeing people in a specific context, often in the same surrounds to our previous conversation. It would be highly likely that I could walk into a room and recognise someone immediately, because I expect to see them there, yet if I passed the same person in the street we would both walk by without a second take.

If you are going to attend a meeting where you know there will be people you have met before, take a few minutes to scan the attendee list, if available, or think back to whom you met and spoke to on the last occasion.

2. Association

It is much easier to remember someone if you can associate them with a particular event or conversation. I gave a talk last week and was approached by one of the attendees afterwards. She mentioned that she had recommended me to a company after seeing me speak two years previously, and had noticed that I had given a talk for that company a fortnight ago.

When she approached me I didn’t recognise her, nor did I recognise her name when she passed me her card. As soon as she mentioned the event where she had previously heard me speak, however, and her recommendation afterwards, I could recall our entire conversation.

If you are at an event and you recognise someone’s face but can’t remember who they are, ask them where you met before.

3. Shared Passions

You can fast track rapport with people by finding interests in common. As someone who has a strong interest in football, for example, I will remember people better if I have had a fun conversation about our respective teams and the matches we recall, than a dry, formal chat.

I am a great believer that there is a strong role for non-business conversation in a business environment. Shared passions bring people together and make them more memorable. They help to build relationships which can develop into stronger business ties over time.

4. A Furtive Glance

If you meet someone at a networking event, there are some simple tools available to you to help you remember someone’s name. The most obvious of these are name badges and business cards.

Rather than following the herd in pinning a name badge to your left lapel when you attend an event, wear it on the right hand side. You will find that it then lies in the natural line of sight when you shake hands with someone and makes it easy for them to look at naturally.

If you can look at someone’s name badge or their business card when you first meet them again, this gives your memory a trigger to recall more details about your previous conversations.

5. Concentrate

Very often we get embarrassed because we can’t remember someone’s name. That’s understandable if you don’t see people often, but less so if it’s a minute or so after they’ve introduced themselves! Yet it happens so often.

There’s a simple reason for this. We can’t remember their name because we didn’t hear it in the first place. When we exchange pleasantries upon meeting people, we are not always fully engaged in the conversation. People also often say their names quickly.

Listen carefully when someone introduces themselves, or a colleague, to you. If you didn’t catch their name, ask them to repeat it. Even repeat it yourself to ensure you remember it.

6. Follow Up

The people I am most likely to remember when I meet them a second or third time are the people I have stayed in touch with. Follow up with people after an event, build a conversation.

Even if you haven’t met between events but have exchanged the occasional email, you will find it much easier to remember both their name and the context of your previous meeting.

If, like me, you receive a large number of e-newsletters, don’t just delete them. Look at each one and ask yourself who it’s from and where you met them. If they send you the newsletter regularly they will remain high on your consciousness, making it much more likely that you will remember them when you next meet.

7. Be Honest

I always think it’s such a missed opportunity when people avoid others at networking events because they can’t remember that person’s name or where they met. If you can get past that first challenge you may be able to pick up where you left off previously.

The funny thing is that most of us struggle to remember names….and get embarrassed by that. If that wasn’t the case you wouldn’t have read this far!

If you are aware of that, just be honest.

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