Sharpen Your Memory for Greater Networking Success

Sharpen Your Memory for Greater Networking Success

How to remember people’s names when you first meet them and afterwards

A simple yet challenging bit of networking finesse is to have a good memory. Remembering people’s names, faces and details when you see them again (months, weeks or even minutes later) makes a formidable impression on them. The “in one ear and out the other” is a common aliment of most adults after being introduced to someone at a networking event. Without the help of name tags it can be quite awkward to introduce the person you just met to someone else you know if you have forgotten their name already. Out of discomfort, many people default to a worse social offense: not introducing them at all.

How do you avoid these uncomfortable situations? How do you crank up your social savvy and learn how to stick people’s names into your working short term memory?

First of all, you give yourself a break. We all suffer from the same problem. Research studies show that our cognitive memory starts to decline after the age of 25. We are also bombarded with unmanageable amounts of information and our on-board computer processing unit (i.e., our brain) has a hard time sorting, storing and recalling all of this detail.

John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, explains the truth about of how our brains handles all the data we receive.

“The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds! If something does not happen in that short stretch of time, the information becomes lost. If you want to extend the 30 seconds, to say, a few minutes, or even an hour or two, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. This type of repetition is sometimes called maintenance rehearsal. We now know that maintenance rehearsal is mostly good for keeping things in working memory – that is, for a short period of time.”

Source: page 130 of the book Brain Rules by John Medina

Repetition is the key

One helpful thing you can do to improve your ability to recall people’s names and faces is to repeat, repeat, repeat. That means using the person’s first name several times during your conversation. Not only do you draw them deeper into your conversation (everyone enjoys hearing the sound of their own name), but you are beginning the process of encoding their name into your working memory through auditory repetition.

Focus in and tune out other stimuli

When networking with someone in person or over the phone, I try to use their name at least three times in the initial conversation. I focus my visual attention on them. In person, this might suggest looking at their face and name tag and linking the two together. Disregard all other sensory stimuli and focus purely on them for the next few minutes. If I’m networking on the telephone, I will often write their name down on a piece of paper or pull up their Linkedin profile to gaze at their photo while I am speaking with them. Otherwise, I close down or turn away from my computer so as not to get visually distracted with other information. My visual attention is on them.

Can you confidently pronounce their name?

Next I will introduce myself and listen very attentively for their name, again double checking it against their name tag. If I don’t hear it properly or am not confident about how to pronounce it, I will ask them to repeat it. In some cases, I will ask them to teach me how to pronounce their name (first or last or both). More often than not, they are used to this situation and have figured out a helpful way to pronounce their name. My last name is McAfee which is very often mispronounced. I have two ways of teaching people how to say my name that makes it fun and memorable. 1) mimicking the giant in the Jack and the Beanstalk fable, I say, “it’s pronounced McAfee like fee, fi, fo, fum.” The other way is to tell them my name is McAfee, like the McAfee antivirus software company.

Use it or lose it

Now that you have figured out how to confidently pronounce their name, you must use it immediately. Notice how many times I use Ken’s name in this hypothetic introductory conversation.

(I say) Hello. My Name is Kathy. Kathy McAfee. What’s your name?

(he says) Ken. Ken Pacchino. Nice to meet you.

(I say) Well Ken, I’m curious, what motivated you to come to this meeting today?

(he says) Well, I just joined the chamber and wanted to meet some more other members. How long have you been a member?

(I say) Wow, Ken. That’s a memory jogger. Let me see, I launched my business six years ago and joined the chamber at the end of my first year, I believe. It was recommended by the Simsbury business librarian, Jennifer Keohane. Ken, do you know Jennifer?

(he says) No I don’t. Should I?

(I say) Absolutely! She is one of the best resources in this town, if not the entire state. She was just named one of the top 10 librarians in the USA by the New York Times. Ken, may I introduce you to her? She’s right over there.

(He says) Sure.

(I say) Jennifer, I’d like you to meet Ken. Ken Pacchino. Pronounced like Cappuccino – your favorite drink. Ken just joined the chamber and I told him he had to connect with you if he was serious about accelerating his business growth. Ken, what business did you say you were in?

Remember people after the event

Congratulations! You made it through the networking event and successfully retained and utilized people’s names. What can you do now to permanently lock their name/face into your long-term networking memory bank? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Jot down a few notes on their business card, such as the date, place or event where you met them. Write down any action items you promised to follow-up on, such as sending them an article or inviting them to another event.

2. When you get back to the office after the networking event, immediately send them a Linkedin invitation. Be sure to include a personal message referencing your meeting.

3. Add them to your contact database and include all contact information, not just email. Note down date/place and any important details from your first meeting.

4. For the really promising new connections, write them a personal card or professional letter. Use their name in the letter/card at least twice, again calling attention to what is really important – them!

5. If you want to build this new connection into a mutually-beneficial relationship, make it a point to reach out to them at least once every 3 months or so. Use the communication medium that they are most comfortable with: cards/letters, telephone, email, social media, face to face, events. Figure out how and when to best connect with them and add value to their life and work.

Summary. When you network with new people, make it a priority to capture and retain their name. Use their name at least three times when you are first speaking with them. Find a memory jogging aid that works for you such as jotting down quick notes on their business card or creating a visual anchor that associates their name with a unique facial or physical feature. Remember that repetition will give your brain an advantage and will help improve your social savvy and networking success. Regular follow-up will also help you turn these new acquaintances into valuable assets in your professional network. Put it into practice today.


About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business (Kiwi Publishing 2010). In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site MarketingMotivator.net. To receive free weekly networking tips, sign up at NetworkingAhead.com

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One Comment

  1. smartin
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Great advice at any time. But now is the perfect time to put these techniques into practice. Try it out at your next holiday gathering.

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