What people think when you say you’re “bad with names.”
“I don’t think it should be socially acceptable for people to say they are ‘bad with names.’ No one is bad with names. That is not a real thing. Not knowing people’s names isn’t a neurological condition; it’s a choice. You choose not to make learning people’s names a priority. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, a disclaimer about me: I’m rude.’” – Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
What’s your name again?
You might be on to something, Mindy. According to Kansas State University psychology professor Richard Harris, the ability to remember has more to do with your motivation than your memory: The more interest you show in a topic, the more likely it will imprint itself on your brain.
So it seems then that if you find yourself struggling to remember people’s names at and after networking events, despite using their names every chance you get in conversation without making it awkward, you should either develop a genuine interest in getting to know people or trick your brain into finding names interesting. The latter, I can help you with.
For those of you who never took a cognitive psychology course (or ironically, forgot everything you learned from one), here’s what you should know about memory in order to improve yours: Encoding is one of the three major processes of memory. It involves taking data gathered from the world around us and converting it into information that can stored in the brain and later recalled from memory.
There are three levels at which you can encode:
Shallow. In this level, you perceive the physical and sensory qualities of a stimulus.
Intermediate. In this level, you recognize the stimulus and give it a name or label.
Deepest. In this level, you give the stimulus meaning, and make associations with it.
To illustrate how the different levels of encoding take place, imagine this scenario: You’re at a networking event when you see someone coming towards you, smiling widely (shallow). You recognize that the person coming towards you must be someone you’ve met before (intermediate), and you start walking towards him or her (deepest). You engaged in the deepest level when you associated the approaching person with a social interaction with a familiar person.
Research shows that the more in-depth you process information (i.e., the more meaning you give to and the more associations you make with a stimulus), the more likely it’ll be stored in memory and you’ll be able to remember it later.
However, memory recall is a function of not only the depth but the elaboration of encoding. Elaboration is the extensiveness of encoding at any given level. In other words, likelihood of recall is positively correlated not only with the meaning given to and number of associations made with a stimulus, but also the additional details observed (which by the way is positively correlated with the amount of attention you give the stimulus).
Using the previous illustration as an example, elaboration in the shallow level could mean also hearing your name being said loudly; in the intermediate level, identifying the person as a familiar man and not a woman; and in the deepest level, associating the current event not just with previously experienced pleasant social interactions, but also those you’ve had specially with the man coming towards you. Associating external data with personal values and past experiences is referred to as self-referencing, an effective type of deep elaboration.
So how exactly can you effectively elaborate?
Memorize with Mnemonics
Don’t have hyperthymesia (i.e., a super autobiographical memory, or the ability to remember almost every day of your life in near perfect detail without hesitation or conscious effort)? Rest assured: You can train your brain to better retain information using mnemonics.
Mnemonics are learning techniques that allow you to better encode and thus more easily and quickly recall information and involve reorganizing and personalizing information, which will help you to become a more active learner. Disclaimer: It takes time to create, learn, and practice mnemonics. But it’s worth it.
There are numerous mnemonic devices, but below are the three that I’ve found the most practical and useful when networking:
Imagery & The Link System / Chain Method According to psychologist Allan Paivio, storing information both pictorially and verbally provides more avenues for recall and thus increases your chances of remembering it over time. How-to: Create mental images that represent the information you want to remember. The more vivid, exaggerated, strange, humorous, or emotion-evoking the image, the easier it will be to remember. You can also add movement to the image to represent the flow of an association or to help you remember actions. Connect images together to illustrate concepts that represent one idea or person or to remember lists. How I apply it at a networking event: I use it to remember people’s names, and salient information such as their occupation and interests and hobbies. For example, when I first met Scott Marchesi, who at the time was on the Open Source & Mobile Technologies Team at Chase Technology Consultants, I pictured a Scottish Terrier who was barking into a phone while pushing an ice hockey puck with his nose across an M-shaped Parcheesi board. In this case, I think the implications of my representations are obvious, but remember: The image doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else but you!
Research suggests that your short-term memory can only remember 7 +/- 2 items at a time. How-to: Break down larger pieces of information into smaller “chunks” that are easier to manage. How I apply it at a networking event: For those quick “text-me-your-contact-info-and-we-can-discuss-business-further-here’s-my-number-glad-to-meet-you” moments when you don’t have time to whip out your cell phone. You break down the ten-digit phone number into three groups (area code, middle three numbers, and last four digits) and remember it by the label. For example, “617-227-5000” becomes “Boston, two-hundred twenty-seven, five thousand.” Chunking gives you 30 seconds, enough time to dial it into your phone (after your acquaintance walks away, otherwise that would be rude) before you forget it forever.
The Method of Loci: The Roman Room & Memory Palace / The Journey Method / The Familiar Path
Note: The concepts behind The Roman Room and the Memory Palace / The Journey Method / The Familiar Path are nearly identical. However, as their names suggest, the former uses objects around the room to associate with information while as the latter uses a route. The Roman Room and the Memory Palace / The Journey Method / The Familiar Path are often used to remember unrelated and related or sequential information respectively. I myself combine the techniques to suit networking purposes, as detailed below.
How-to: This strategy consists of assigning images that represent the information you want to remember to physical objects or locations.
Think of a layout of a room or building(s) you’re extremely familiar with (e.g., the objects in a particular room in your house, the floor plan of your house, the places you pass on your commute to work). The more familiar you are with your choice, and the more static it is, the easier it’ll be for you to recall information you’ve assigned to it.
Commit to memory a “route” of the layout with specific “stops” (objects in the room or locations). The “route” you decide should naturally form a progression so that it’s easy to remember.
Create images that represent the information you want to remember.
Mentally attach one image to each “stop” along your “route.”
When it’s time to recall the information, visualize walking through the “route” and visiting each “stop.” If you’ve done it correctly, you should be able to recall the information you associated with each “stop” as you pass by it.
How I apply it at a networking event: I envision the rooms in my house and key objects within each room. I “assign” each person I meet a room, and facts and observations about him or her to the objects. At the end of the networking event, I “go through” the rooms of my house to know who I should contact. The objects help me recall pieces of my conversation with each particular person that I then refer to in my follow-up to add a memorable, personal touch.
Remember: The “I’m just not good with names” and “Why bother meeting people, I’m not going to remember anything about them anyways” excuses stop here. Take the time and put in the effort to improve your learning and memory skills and become an effective networker. Sound Off: What mnemonic devices do you utilize to help you during networking events?
Photo Credit: Giphy.com, EarlyClues.com
Video Credit: Uploaded by YouTube user Howcast