The Definitive Guide to Business

11 memory hacks to remember the names of everyone you meet

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You aren't likely to get an investor or customer to sign a big check with your business if you can't remember his or her name.

"When you can remember someone's name, it shows them that they are important to you and this can build rapport," says Chester Santos, the "The International Man of Memory", an award-winning international speaker, U.S. memory champion and author of "Instant Memory Training for Success," in an email with CNBC. "Conversely, if you are forgetting names or calling people by the wrong name, it can be very detrimental to business and personal relationships."

In business, making a good first impression that leads to a critical relationship can have a serious impact on your bottom line.

"When you can remember someone's name, it shows them that they are important to you." -Chester Santos, "The International Man of Memory"

"It's hard to show somebody you are going to care for their business if you don't care enough just to remember their name," says Jim Kwik, brain coach and founder of Kwik Learning & SuperheroYou, in a memory training video shared with CNBC by Kwik. He is an expert in speed-reading, memory improvement, brain performance and accelerated learning and has an impressive client roster including Virgin, Nike, Zappos, SpaceX, NYU, GE, Fox Studios, Harvard and Singularity University.

The import of remembering names in business networking can be intimidating if you are chronically forgetful. The good news, though, is that you can improve your memory.

Jim Kwik on stage.
Source: Whitney Pratt
Jim Kwik on stage.

"There is no such thing as a good or bad memory, there is just a trained memory and an untrained memory, meaning memory is not something that you have, it's something that you do. It's not a noun, it's a process," says Kwik. About a third of your memory is dependent on your genetics and the biological makeup of your brain, but that leaves two-thirds of your memory that can be improved. "We know memory is not fixed, like your shoe size, it's something that you can grow," says Kwik.

To become that charismatic party superstar — and the guest that investors and potential customers are impressed by — here are 11 tips to improve your proficiency at remembering names.

1. Know your motivation.

If you aren't clear with yourself that it is important for you to remember a new acquaintance's name, you won't, says Kwik. Motivation is the force that drives memory.

"Imagine that there is a suitcase of $100,000 cash — $100,000 cash for you or the charity of your choice if you just remember the name of the next person you meet? Are you going to remember that person's name? Of course you are. You are going to be a memory expert. So it has nothing to do with your capacity or your capability or your potential," says Kwik. Instead, your ability to remember a new name has to do with your intrinsic understanding of why it matters. "Reasons reap results" in remembering names, he says.

2. Focus on the person you are talking to.

You don't stand a chance to remember a new name if you are daydreaming about your weekend plans."Focus your mind. Take the time to pay attention — if you're distracted the information you want to recall later will never get into your brain's memory storage file cabinets," says Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, in an email with CNBC. Small is the author of multiple books on the brain, including "The Memory Bible: An Innovative Strategy for Keeping Your Brain Young" and "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind."

"A major reason you don't recall names is you weren't listening. Someone says their name and two seconds later you don't know it. This is not a memory problem. It is a focus problem." -Ron White, winner of the USA Memory Championship in 2009 and 2010

"A major reason you don't recall names is you weren't listening. Someone says their name and two seconds later you don't know it. This is not a memory problem. It is a focus problem," says Ron White, winner of the USA Memory Championship in 2009 and 2010 and an international memory speaker, in an email with CNBC. "Develop this habit. When you are being introduced to someone ask yourself, 'What's' their name?' You don't know their name but this will force you to focus."

3. Repeat the name of the person you just met.

One way to help you remember a person's name is to find a way to repeat it right after you first learn it.

"There is no getting around the fact that in order to remember someone's name, you must focus on it for at least one to two seconds. So, the first thing you should get into the habit of doing is to immediately repeat the name and shake the person's hand. If you are introduced to someone named John, you will say something to the effect of, 'Nice to meet you, John' or, 'Pleased to meet you, John,' while shaking his hand," says Santos. "This forces you to focus and pay attention to the name. That's the only way that you would be able to repeat the person's name back to them while shaking their hand. A lot of times when someone introduces themselves to us we are paying no attention at all to the name."

Chester Santos at the CFA Institute Middle East Investment Conference in Bahrain naming people in the audience from memory.
Source: CFA Institute
Chester Santos at the CFA Institute Middle East Investment Conference in Bahrain naming people in the audience from memory.

Another way to repeat a person's name early on in the conversation is to mention how that person reminds you of someone else you know. "Practice makes perfect. When first introduced to someone new, repeat the person's name during the conversation, or comment on how that person reminds you of someone you know with that name," says Small.

4. Don’t have another conversation in your head.

"A lot of people don't remember people's names because they are not silent. They are having a question in their head, 'How do I know this person? What's this person's name? What am I going to talk about?' They are actually more interested in what they are going to respond with than they are in actually listening to the person. So first, be silent," says Kwik.

Staying present in the conversation means that you are observing what is going on around. "A lot of people blame their forgetfulness on their retention. It has nothing to do with their retention. It has to do with them paying attention," Kwik says.

5. Focus on a particular feature of a new person’s face.

"Pick out a facial feature that may be easy to remember. Look at the person's face and search for the most distinguishing feature, whether it is a small nose, large ears, unusual hairdo, or deep dimples. Often the first outstanding feature you notice is the easiest to recall later," says Small.

Gary W. Small
Source: Sterling Franken-Steffen
Gary W. Small

Connecting a name to a visual trait helps anchor the name in your memory.

"Ever go to a friend's house and take your jacket off and leave it in a chair in the front room? When you leave the house you go directly to that chair to get the coat. Why? The chair held the coat in your mind. What if you could store anything in a location and come back for it later? Like a name. You can," says White. "Ask yourself, 'What stands out to me on their face?' (pretty eyes, big nose, beard, scar, big ears, mustache, etc). This becomes your place to store the name mentally."

6. Link the new name with something you already know.

Connecting a new name to a person or object that is already stored in your memory is another way to anchor a new name in your memory.

"Think of a connection between the person's name and anything at all that you already know. I really do mean anything. The name John might make you think of John Lennon, the Gospel of John in the Bible, John F. Kennedy, or it could even simply be that you have a friend or family member that is also named John," says Santos. "Thinking of a connection between the name and literally anything that you already know will really help the name to stick well in your mind."

7. Connect the new name or face with a visual image.

If one part of a person's name sounds like another word, that can be a trigger for your memory. "Connect your name snapshot to the face snapshot by creating additional images so you can easily retrieve the information later," says Small. "If Mr. Bender has curly hair, imagine a tall curly haired man bending over. If Mr. Baldwin is bald, see a bald man winning at the poker table."

Often times, our ability to recall images is stronger than our ability to recall words or names. So if you have a name linked to an image, that can help trigger your memory. For example, if you meet a "Steve" think of a "stove" at the same time. If you meet a "Paul," think of a "ball," says White. "You remember pictures more than words. How many times have you said, 'I remember the face but not the name?' You remember what you see more than what you hear. Create an image for their name."

8. Break down complicated names with mnemonic devices.

"For complex names ask the person to spell the name and visualize the spelling. Also break the name into syllables so Angela Shirnberger becomes Angelina Jolie wearing shined shoes and eating a burger," says Small.

9. Connect facial features with visual images.

"If the person has big ears and their name is Brian. Imagine a brain coming out of their ears. If their name is Brian and they have thick eyebrows imagine the brain in their eyebrows. When you see them again don't try to recall the name, instead ask yourself, 'What was their unique feature?' You will remember eyebrows and then you will remember brain and Brian," explains White.

This trick requires a bit of creativity, but if a new person has a prominent feature that can be connected to a visual image, that can trigger your memory and help you recall a new name.

Ron White leading a seminar.
Source: Ron White
Ron White leading a seminar.

"One of the best ways to become better with names is to learn to take a person's name and turn it into a powerful visual. Jane might become a chain. Mike might become a microphone. Bill could become a dollar bill. Next, it's even better if you can then visually connect the powerful visual to a unique aspect of the person's look," says Santos.

"If Jane has beautiful hair, you'll see the chain running through her hair. If Mike has big ears, you'll see a mic coming out of each ear. If Bill has a big nose, then a dollar bill is spinning on his nose. It might seem a bit silly at first, but this technique for remembering names is very powerful and effective. With just a little bit of practice, you'll become better than ever at remembering the names of people that you meet."

10. Repeat a new name when you say goodbye.

Each time you repeat a new name, it helps. "Before you leave the party, meeting, wedding, or whatever other type of function you may be at, make sure to say goodbye to the people that you've met using their names," says Santos. "A simple, 'Goodbye, John,' or, 'Until next time, John,' will go a long way toward cementing the name in your mind and give you a much better chance of remembering it the next time you see the person."

11. Go back over names at the end of a day.

At the end of a conference or networking event where you may have met multiple new people, run back through the names at the end of your day. "At the end of each day ask yourself, 'Who did I meet today?' Review will put it in long-term memory," says White.