We’ve all done it. You meet someone and within seconds you forget their name. There you are starring at them thinking “Oh my God, I did NOT just forget their name. They JUST told me their name. How could I forget?”
The problem is we did not store it in our short term memory. Once it’s in our short term memory, we can move it to our long term memory, also known as Active Memory. The amount of information that can be stored in short-term memory can vary. An often cited figure is plus or minus seven items, based on the results of a famous experiment on short-term memory (wonder why phone numbers have seven digits or why license plates have typically have seven digits) . In an influential paper titled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," psychologist George Miller suggested that people can store between five and nine items in short-term memory. More recent research suggests that people are capable of storing approximately four chunks or pieces of information in short-term memory.
Keeping the name In short term memory until you figure out what to do with it.
Repeat the name: “Hi Jay, nice to meet you.” Or “Hi Tracey…nice to meet you…is it Tracey with an IE or with an EY? “
Now that you have the name in short term memory, do something with it before you lose it.
Transferring the name into your working memory.
Since we think in pictures, the best way to transfer it to your Active Memory is to make an image of the name or better yet, a movie. The stranger the better. Here is an example.
Last month I was giving a talk to El Monte High School students (about 30 in this class…all staring at me) and I went to a few students during the “remembering names” segment and someone asked how I would remember his name. “What’s your name” I asked. “Keyvonne” (pronounced Key- Vonney) he said. Crap. I was hoping for a softball here, but without missing a beat, I said “I am going to let you know what I am thinking as it comes to me. I am looking at the first part of your name….”key”. I am imagining you either in jail or a jail guard holding those big ring of keys. I also know a girl named Vonnie. I am imagining Vonnie in jail and you are her prison guard. “Key-Vonnie”. " Now, what did Vonnie get herself into..?
This was truly the first two things I thought of, I went with it. Remember, you only have a few seconds to lock it in or it’s gone. Typically the first image or movie you make you should go with it.
Make an image in your mind. The weirder the better. It could be silly, X-rated, funny, totally hokey…whatever. You never have to tell anyone your secret for remembering their name.
Know someone with the same name?
It's easy if you know someone, or know OF someone with the same name. Someone famous perhaps such as Albert (Einstein), Howard (Stern), Justin (Bieber). Find something, ANYTHING that may resemble or remind you of the person. In the case like I had with the student above, I just broke the name into syllables and played the game that way.
Use their name in conversation.
This is cool because chances are they did not remember yours. At a party, maybe you see them at the bar later in the evening. “Hey Jason, having a good time tonight?”. Chances are, Jason will be too embarrassed to ask you your name and will hunt down the host and ask them your name.
This is so easy to practice because most days, you always encounter a service worker, cashier, waitress..someone who has a name tag. Look at their name tag and play the name game. While you are waiting in line, take a peek at their name and instead of looking at the tabloids lining the checkout, make up an image or story about their name. The more you practice, the better and faster you get a remembering names quickly.