Names, faces, and others things not to forget

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This topic always emerges at my mock networking training events. So I give you the following thoughts, if you promise to remember that these techniques are not enough to develop and build a  network or a lifestyle of mentoring and networking. Okay, I am now descending my soapbox…….

It is amazing we remember anything these days. The amount of info that is thrown at us, the quantity of data we try to consume, all blended together with our growing fear that we are always falling behind: all contribute to a shorter attention span and declining memories. My favorite poem Forgetfulness by Billy Collins comes to mind.  I have mentioned to some of you my encounter with a 90 year old math prof, who recently told me that he was old and was starting to forget things, but he did not have Alzheimer's, just "some-zheimers"! We all have the onset of  "some zheimers"! 

As an aside, imagine if you did not forget anything. Would that be good? Not for me. Somethings we have to forget. I worked for a very prominent professor who gave me a great lesson in memory. I was briefing him on a technical subject and his eyes began to glaze over. I stopped and he said, "John, this all seems important, but at my age I have limited memory capacity left and if I start to remember this information, I will have to delete some of my precious memories and I do not want to do that."

Nevertheless, remembering people's names is pretty important. Think about yourself when people forget yours. Right. It does not feel very good to be forgotten, yet we do it all the time and yes and forget how it must feel. How memorable are you?  How you introduce yourself really matters (please read or re-read my blog on this–it is a pre-req :))

When meeting someone:
It all starts at the beginning. That fleeting moment of introduction where we go into auto pilot, say our names, shake hands, maybe have real eye contact and inevitably forget who we just met. You have to break this cycle. It is not your memory as much as your focus deficit that has to change.
  1. Prepare: Do your homework. Who is going to be at the event, reception, conference, dinner? Pause and reflect. Maybe even do some research to prep your mind.
  2. Be present: I know you think you are always present, but most times you are not. Awareness of what you are saying, to whom you are saying it, and direct eye contact is vital. BTW, smile!
  3. Be intentional: Before you  meet anyone you say to yourself, "I am going to focus." Always more interesting when you do things with purpose.   
  4. Repeat every name: So when you hear the other person's name, no matter if you think you heard it correctly or the name seems straightforward–say it out loud as you shake their hand, look into their eyes, study their face, say their name out loud and here's the clincher–ask how it is spelled. Say you meet me, I say, "I'm John" and you say, "John , is that spelled with an H?"

These steps are merely ways to slow you down to focus on the tasks at hand. Meeting people and remembering them takes energy, attention, and effort. Sorry no quick fixes here! There are many memory systems out there with mnemonics, and imagery to enhance your memory, but for me, it all boils down to paying attention.

What do you do when someone runs up to you, hugs you, they clearly know you, yet you have no idea what their name is? This happens to me from time to time and it is a jarring moment. People recite facts about me, know about my kids, my parents and I look at them, my mind racing for answers. A couple of techniques that have bailed me out. 

  1. Apologize: Just admit you forgot and say how sorry you are. If saying something about a "senior moment" helps then do that. Once they say their name hopefully memories flood back. If you pretend to know them, things can get much worse if you see them again. or they are friends of friends or you see them at work…….. So admit you forgot quickly.  
  2. Tag Team: As you know, networking is also a team sport. It can be much easier to meet people and remember them when you work as a team. Let me explain. Clue your friend or partner at an event to come to your rescue when the name forgetting thing starts to happen. Seeing you have no idea who this person is, your partner sticks out their hand and introduces themselves, and say "Don't think we have met, I am….." When the mystery person introduces themselves you have their name! And then you look brilliant. My wife Sarah has rescued me more than a few times!
Lastly, your brain, especially your pre-frontal cortex needs exercise. Just like your body you need to keep your mind fit and nimble. I use Brainage, a Nintendo handheld game that pushes you through a bunch of mental challenges, for about 20 minutes everyday. Read about other ways to keep your brain sharp and your memory will remain stronger. Keeping Your Brain Healthy 

Keeping the full onslaught of some-zheimers from engulfing us will help us remember people's faces, names, our anniversaries, and give us a modicum of control over our fading memories. 

 Thanks for reading. John


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