You’re a whiz at creating choreography. Now if only you could remember the combinations every time you taught. Or maybe you’re one of those people who can remember every face you see, but when you have to put a name to a face, your memory freezes.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? Then read on. Memory experts and veteran instructors have a few unforgettable tips for strengthening your memory. Give these suggestions a try, and remembering names and choreography will soon be a snap.

Make Memory a Priority

You may not think that having a good memory equates with being a good instructor, but it does. “You have to multitask when you’re leading group exercise,” says Ken Alan, a Los Angeles-based international fitness presenter and the 1989 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. If you struggle with remembering names and choreography, you may ignore the dozens of other things you have to do. These things often make the difference between a good and a great instructor.

“A great instructor has a list of things to do that’s three times as long as a good instructor’s list,” says Debora Redder, head judge of the National Aerobic Championships and national program director for HealthCare Dimensions in Pheonix. The extra tasks, like introducing participants to each other, don’t take additional time but do require more effort. You can’t put forth that effort when you’re too frazzled to concentrate.

Understand Your Memory Bank

Why is it, though, that some people are better at remembering than others? Is it because their parents have good memory skills? Experts say no. Memory is acquired, not inherited. “Memory is a skill you can improve if you work at it,” says Alan Searleman, PhD, professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and author of Memory From a Broader Perspective. “Having [a] good memory means taking material that’s in your mind and accessing it,” Searleman tells us.

Nor is memory a trait exclusive to highly intelligent people. “People with good memory have made remembering a priority, and they’ve learned skills associated with good memory,” says Marlene Caroselli, PhD, an international keynote speaker and author of Memory Tips for the Forgetful.

Memory, though, isn’t foolproof. At times, you may experience what Searleman calls the tip–of–the–tongue phenomenon, finding yourself unable to recall information you thought you knew. For example, maybe a friend asks you for the phone number of the health club where you teach. You know the number. You’ve called it dozens of times, but suddenly the information seems just slightly out of recall reach. So what causes your memory to fizzle like this?

Social situations often cause memories to be temporarily inaccessible. “If you’re stressed, nervous or tired,” Caroselli says, “you may not be able to retrieve information.” In addition, you may not have paid attention to the information in the first place. As a result, Searleman says, you never committed the information to memory. How long it takes to commit that information — names, facts or movements — to memory varies. If you see a participant only once every three weeks, you’ll undoubtedly have a harder time remembering his or her name than you would if you saw that person three times a week. How well you remember something also depends on how much importance you place on learning the information. “If it’s really important,” Searleman says, “you’ll think yard and you’ll probably commit it to memory faster.”

Train Your Brain

Fortunately, with practice, you can sharpen your memory. Caroselli suggests three actions to help you muscle up your skills, adding that the rhyme in these words should help you remember the tips: Concentrate, duplicate and associate.

Step 1. Concentrate. Before you walk into the fitness room, give yourself a private pep talk to focus your attention and calm your nerves. “Maintaining focus and concentration while you teach is just as important as being physically prepared to teach,” Redder says. Dr. Caroselli suggest engaging in minor mental activities, such as thinking of 21 words that begin with w or 14 female vocal artists. “Instead of an emotional disbursement of energy, all of your faculties are focused on this cerebral task,” she says. In this state, you’ll be better prepared to remember old and new information.

Step 2. Duplicate. Repeat any information you receive in class. If you meet class participants for the first time, use their names immediately. Repeat those names two or three more times in your conversation, Searleman says.

Step 3. Associate. To help a memory stick, make an association. If you meet a woman named Sue who’s wearing blue, think “blue Sue.” You can also attach an object to a person. To help people remember his last name, Searleman tells them to imagine a giant pearl with the letter S on its head. “The more bizarre the mental object,” he says, “the better you remember.”

Here are some other tips to increase your memory retention. try a few:

Encourage Introductions. Suggest the people in your group introduce themselves to each other, Searleman says. When you’re trying to recall the names of two class participants, ask if they’ve met. If they know each other, they’ll say hello and state each other’s name. If they don’t know each other, they’ll introduce themselves. Just be sure to pay attention to those names.

Personalize the Information. When you first meet a participant, attach something personal to that individual, says Caroselli. Maybe blue Sue is tall, or maybe you learn she plays basketball. Focus on that information so you can store it in your memory.

Overlearn Your Choreography. “Practice so much that the moves become second nature,” Alan says. You may also want to consider videotaping your choreography and watching it several times.

Write Out Key Words of Choreography. Keep these notes in sight while you’re teaching. As long as you’ve practiced the choreography, the key words should trigger your memory, according to Alan.
Hang Choreography Notes on a Wall in the Back of the Studio. Alan suggests permanently posting words, such as grapevine or aerobics, to motivate students. Then, when you need reminders, place other key words on the wall before class.

Create a Choreography Menu That You Can Renew. Redder suggests putting together three or four simple moves into blocks and establishing those blocks as the basis of your choreography. Rather than creating blocks every time you teach, you can simply vary, or renew, the ones you’ve memorized.

Lastly, remember that like a muscle, your mind is expandable and trainable. So take your memory for a jog. “The more you develop it,” Caroselli says, “the better it works.”