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10 Tricks to Help Remember Names

Use these easy techniques to boost your memory and gel participants’ names in your brain.

You’re preparing for class, and participant Jane Doe walks in early. She is “Jane Doe” to you even though she’s been coming to your class for the past 5 years. Somewhere along the way she told you her name, but for the life of you, you can’t remember it! Surely at this late stage in your teacher-student relationship it would be rude to ask her.

Has something like this ever happened to you? If so, don’t feel too bad; you’re not alone. If you teach a lot of classes at different clubs, it’s especially difficult to
remember everyone’s name. However, the most beautiful sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his or her own name. So,
in your quest to Inspire the World to Fitness®, you’ll want to make as many
authentic connections as possible. The simplest way to connect with your participants is to learn, remember and use their names. Here are some powerful tips.

1. Use Positive Affirmation. Stop saying, “I’m terrible with names.” The power of suggestion is tremendous. We are what we think about the most. Begin telling yourself you are great at remembering names. Announce to others that you are “getting better” at recalling names. Soon it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

2. Make a Cheat Sheet. If you teach a lot of packed classes at various clubs and have the privilege of meeting many new people each week, don’t rely solely on your memory. There may not be enough “hard-drive space” available in your brain! You might meet 20 new people in one day. So keep a small notepad in your gym bag. Write down the name of each new person you meet. I use my PDA/cell phone. Next to the name, I write down an interesting tidbit of information I learned about the person, along with a simple description. Example: Lisa—tall, thin brunette; front row; son @ UCLA.

3. Categorize. If you want to remember where you put your keys, you have to have a regular place for them. Similarly, if you categorize information or names, they become easier to find in your memory. Begin by creating categories in your gym bag notebook. At the top of each page, record the name of the club, the day of the week and the type of class. List only the names from that class on that page. You’re creating an imaginary file in your mind that will help you identify each person’s face and name. How embarrassing to say, “See you in cycle,” only to have the participant reply, “I’ve never taken cycle. I take your kickboxing class.” Validate the impression a person makes on you by recalling who he is and where you know him from.

4. Create a Name Association. Sometimes it’s easy to remember a name by
association. I recently had a redheaded
gal in my class whose name was “Pippy” [like the fictional character “Pippy Longstocking,” who was also a redhead]. I could run into this student 10 years from now and I would remember her name. It’s not always that easy, but if you study a person, you may find some physical characteristic that reminds you of his name. I often use rhymes or humor. Today in class I had “Tall Paul” (who happens to be tall) and “Mother Teresa” (who has three kids).

5. Learn More Than the Name. Name associations are not always so obvious. You might meet 100 Jennifers in your lifetime. How will you remember each one? You will need to learn more than the name to create a picture. When you meet someone with a common name, ask a few more questions: Do you go by “Jen” or “Jennifer”? Are you from this area? By learning more about the person, you are more likely to learn something to help you recall the name.

6. Use It or Lose it! When a student tells you her name, immediately repeat it out loud. Sometimes by the time you’ve finished your brief conversation, you’ve already forgotten the name. It’s not too late! Ask again, “I’m sorry—please repeat your name for me.” Better to ask now than 5 years down the road when she has been coming to your class faithfully every week and you’re too embarrassed to ask. Use the person’s name in class or just in closing your conversation: “It was nice to meet you, Dana.”

7. Test Yourself. Just as we quizzed ourselves before a big exam in school, test your retention each evening and then a couple of days later. Briefly visualize each of the new people you met that day and see if you recall their names.

8. Take a Mental Picture. Take a mental snapshot whenever you meet someone new. Use all of your senses. What did the surroundings look like? What kind of music was playing? Pull this picture back up later in the day. Make sure your mental picture pulls up the details that help you recall the person’s name.

9. Declare That the Information Is Important. The human mind is amazing! We “encode” the information that enters our brain. Some information is stored in our short-term memory (STM), while other, more impactful information is stored in our long-term memory (LTM). Many believe that information encoded for our STM, if practiced enough, can be transferred to our LTM. Others believe that applying “meaning” to information stored in the STM can cause it to be transferred to the LTM. Why not do both—practice the information and give it meaning? With these two techniques we can control what we remember and what we forget! In the instant you meet someone, send your brain the message that this person is important! Later, review your mental pictures and quiz yourself.

10. Practice Attention Preparation. Prepare your mind in the same way an athlete prepares for the big game. The next time you’re on your way to an event at which you might meet new people, prepare yourself to learn and remember names. Envision the room. Do a mental inventory of all the materials you will need (e.g. notebook and pen, or PDA). Imagine the questions you might ask of the new people you meet. Remind yourself of the importance of learning people’s names.

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