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The Secret to Remembering Names

I’ve completely lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve reviewed a description of the Dale Carnegie Course with a new client. However, almost every time that I do, the other person points to one of the objectives in the first session of the class and says:

I’m really need help with that. Glad it’s in there.

The phrase that they are almost always pointing to when they say that: recall and use names.

By the end of the first session of the Dale Carnegie Course, the vast majority of people in the room have learned the first and last names of the other 20-30 people there. While there are many skills we teach, here is a key one you can start today.

We Remember Pictures

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

No really, think about it. What did you eat?

When you thought about your breakfast, did you think of the letters B-A-G-E-L or did you picture what that bagel looked like?

Almost everyone thinks of what it looked like. That’s why you pictured your breakfast, not the letters or the words. It’s also why you hear people say, “I might forget a name, but I never forget a face.”

Our brains do a lot better with images that they do with memorizing letters, words, or phrases.

The problem? Names are words, so lots of us don’t tend to do very well with them.

Turn Names Into Pictures

Ever met someone who seems to remember everyone’s name, even weeks later? Chances are they are using something similar to this hack that Dale Carnegie has taught for over a century:

Turn names into pictures.

But how?

Just like this:

Picture my friend David Letterman and me, laughing at the kitchen stove together. We’re frying up a neon blue letter “V”. Dancing atop the “V” is a yak, trying to keep his hooves from burning.

That’s the example I use when teaching this skill to remember my name. Here’s how it connects:

  • David Letterman = Dave

  • kitchen stove = Sta-hove

  • neon blue letter “V” = ”vee” sound

  • dancing yak = “ack” sound

People who can remember that story almost always nail my first and last name perfectly — and most names are easier that mine.

You can easier do this too if you’ll just create a name association in your mind when you meet someone for the first time. Here’s the four things you need to do:

1. Put the Person in the Picture

It’s not enough just to create a story that reminds you of the person’s name — they also have to be in the picture. It’s worthless to remember a name if you can’t associate the person that goes with the name.

That’s why it’s David Letterman AND me together in the story. You can’t remember the story without remembering me. Do the same for the associations you create.

2. Make it Actionable

A static image isn’t recalled as easily as movement. The more action is in the association, the more it stands out in our minds.

That’s why there is laughing, frying, and dancing in my association. Put in as much action as possible in the associations you crate for others.

3. Bring in Color

Why is the letter “V” a neon blue color? The same reason that airplanes have red strobe lights and construction workers have orange vests. It stands out.

If I asked you later today what color the letter “V” was in this story, you’ll still remember. Our brains notice and remember things that stand out.

Include at least one stand-out color in any association you create.

4. Exaggerate, Exaggerate, Exaggerate

Obviously, the story is made-up. I’m probably the last person that David Letterman would be cooking with. People don’t fry letters and yaks don’t dance.

And it’s exactly why the story is memorable. The more ridiculous the association is, the more it sticks in our mind. Do the best you can to make your name associations as exaggerated as possible.

Create Associations Fast

The real key to success is to create a name association immediately upon meeting someone. Once you’re heard their name and there’s a break in the conversation or meeting, create an association in your mind using the four steps above.

Don’t worry about it being perfect and don’t start by trying to remember a whole group of people. Pick one person a day and create an association to remember their name.

If you do this consistently for a month, you’ll soon be able to create and remember associations for entire groups of people.

Don’t Let This Stop You

You’re not going to share the associations you create for other people in your mind with them. I’ve created lot of exaggerated name associations over the years I’ll never share.

Give yourself permission to create an association that include the person, action, color, and exaggerate it a lot. If you do, you’ll be remembering names more consistently than 95% of the people you know.

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