In the early 1990s Mark Channon was working at a London bar, when a friend taught him a technique to remember names. At the time, Channon, who was an aspiring actor, could remember lines for a performance, but had a terrible memory for names.
One of the most powerful things is if you are able to walk into a room and use everyone’s names
With the name-memorisation technique, however, he was soon remembering customers’ names and drink orders even during busy nights. Within a few years he designed a game show for the BBC called Monkhouse Memory Masters where he would teach contestants memory strategies and they would then compete in memory games. By 1995 he had come sixth in the World Memory Championships, becoming one of the first International Grand Masters of Memory.
Today Channon teaches workers these memory strategies to give them an edge in their careers. Business coaches like Channon say that the ability to remember names is an effective tool that can help CEOs build trust with employees and executives create rapport with potential clients. Being able to recall someone’s name shows that you’re paying attention to what they’re talking about and that you care about what they have to say, he explains.
“One of the most powerful things,” says Channon, “is if you are able to walk into a room and use everyone’s names.”
In addition, remembering names and other information helps people to work more effectively, gives people confidence and helps increase focus, says Luc Swaab, a trainer with BrainStudio in the Netherlands, which helps people deal with information overload.
“We are our memories,” says Swaab. “It’s very important to invest in having a good memory. Nowadays we outsource our memory to digital gizmos, but it’s nice to work at it.”
Improving your memory
Memory experts say that anyone can learn to improve their memory using some of the same strategies that ancient Greeks and Romans like Cicero used to memorise speeches.
“It’s not that you have a bad memory,” says Kyle Buchanan, founder of Memorize Academy, based in Toowoomba, Australia. “It’s that you haven’t learned proper memory techniques.”
It’s a major faux pas to forget someone’s name — it makes people feel like they have been slighted or marginalised or unimportant
Buchanan says he was terrible at retaining information until he saw a memory champion memorise the order of a deck of cards on a morning show in Australia about six years ago. He was working in finance at the time and decided to start learning memorisation techniques as a way to help his career. Eventually, he left his job to become a memory coach.
While humans aren’t good at remembering names, they do have innate spatial memory and facial recall abilities. Buchanan and others tap into those ingrained abilities to help people remember things like names and other information that is often hard to retain.
A person might, for example, picture objects in their house or another familiar place as a way to memorise a random list. Or they will associate a proper name with an already familiar word.
The first step, say memory experts, is to pay attention when someone tells you their name. Often people are so wrapped up in their own thoughts that they aren’t even listening when they hear a name. Following this, linking that name with a visual related to the way the name sounds and an aspect of the person’s appearance is advised. Finally, a person should review that information soon after an initial meeting.