Sometimes one of the important aspects to career success can be something intangible like how likeable you are.
That vague feeling of goodwill is often determined by how genuine you seem when interacting with others. One of the first steps to showing someone you sincerely care about what they’re saying is remembering what they say—especially their name.
According to a Dale Carnegie training course I took last year, the sweetest sound to anyone’s ear—no matter what language it’s in—is their name. Without nailing down this first step, it can be difficult to move forward in building a genuine professional or personal relationship. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult task since someone else’s name often doesn’t mean anything to us (it’s just another word) so it’s difficult for our brains to remember it.
According to the course, our memory works best when we remember scenes and images. Our minds are "associate machines" so in order for you to remember something—like a name—you need to form your own association to it.
This is called the memory-linking technique.
It works like this: When you meet someone, pay close attention to what they’re saying so that you can use the details to associate them to your images. Associating a name with a personality trait, an occupation, a visual cue, or where someone’s from is an effective tactic.
Paint a mind picture of the person whose name you wish to remember doing something that reminds you of the person’s name. Have the face and body of the person you wish to remember in the picture so that, when the picture comes to mind, you get both the face and the name.
Using those details, make up some kind of clear, vivid mental impression exaggerated in color and motion. The more ridiculous and outlandish the details are, the better your chances of remembering.
For example, if you meet Jill Hamlette who’s a professional basketball player, imagine her fighting with Jack over an enormous piece of ham in her basketball uniform. If you meet Bill Turner who’s a musician, imagine him DJing at a turntable with a bunch of dollar bills in his hands. If you meet Gus White, imagine a gust of wind so strong whipping by that it turns Gus’s face, hair, and clothes into a powdery white. How about Ashley from China? Imagine her running on the Great Wall of China throwing ash over the sides.
Remember that the images should be so ridiculous that they could never happen in real life because we tend to only remember things if they stand out from the surrounding environment. If an association based on the details you’re given doesn’t work, you can also associate the person with someone else you know based on their appearances or the sound of their name.
However, before you can form any association to anyone’s name, you must first truly listen to what they’re saying. Remember that forgetting someone’s name is less about having a "bad memory" and more because you didn’t really try to listen or commit to remembering their name with a technique. If you didn’t hear the person say their name, always ask again.
You can use Carnegie’s memory linking technique to remember just about anything—even facts and figures. The secret is making an association with all of these things in your mind.