I earn a living teaching people how to build relationships. I'm an expert in business development so you would think that I am uniquely skilled at remembering names. You might even imagine that I've mastered this like some name recollection ninja. You would be incredibly mistaken. My cat Buttons is more likely to remember your name than I am. For all I know, his name is actually Biscuit. Just this week after a speaking engagement, someone asked what "tricks" I have to remember names. This question is akin to asking me what tricks I have to get taller. My "trick" or lame strategy is that I reintroduce myself to people. Some people have shaken my hand and heard me say, "HI, I'm Ann Marie Houghtailing," about thirty-seven times. It compels them to reintroduce themselves so that I can hear their name again and perhaps remember it for more than twelve seconds.
It's not that I haven't earnestly tried to get better. I've tried the meet-and-repeat tactic where someone introduces themselves and you repeat their name to imprint it into your memory. "Nice to meet you, Bob. So where do you work, Bob? Bob, I have a former client that works there as well. How long have you been there, Bob?" Even though I repeat his name as if I were getting paid for each time I say Bob, and I risk sounding as if I have the social skills of someone only recently introduced to the human race, it doesn't even work! By the end of the conversation I inevitably leave and say, "Phil, it was such a pleasure to meet you."
In my defense, I will refer to Brad Pitt as the guy who is married to the stunning actress/U.N. ambassador who has a bunch of kids. It's nothing personal. I just cannot remember anyone's name.
I've also tried the association tactic where you connect someone's name with something familiar. "Mary, so nice to meet you!" I then connect her with lamb as in 'Mary had a little lamb' and this might last for a while but then I forget and shorten it to 'lamb' and wonder if I was thinking of Silence of the Lambs or a rack of lamb and then decide that it was Silence of the Lambs and her name is Jodie, as in Jodie Foster, and I'm so incredibly impressed with myself that I've managed to remember this woman's name as well as the actress from Silence of the Lambs. "It was great talking with you, Jodie!"
I would like to blame my age but I'm only forty-six and frankly I had this problem when I was twenty-three. I spent an interview repeating the interviewer's name (because I read somewhere that demonstrates you care). I kept saying, "That would be great, Linda! I appreciate the opportunity, Linda." The only problem was her name was Lucy. I got the first letter right, but I don't think she gave me partial credit because I didn't get the job and I didn't even realize her name was Lucy until she handed me her card at the end of the interview in a passive aggressive attempt to communicate that I am an idiot -- and she would not be calling me.
I have an excellent memory for other things. I can tell you what some hateful girl said to me in the fourth grade; I just can't tell you her name. I know that it really offends people when you forget their name but maybe because my name is so difficult to pronounce and remember, I myself will answer to practically anything. I've been called Rosemary, Marianne, Emory, Emily and host of other three syllable combinations. My last name adds a whole other layer of complexity. I once had someone tell my receptionist that she had an appointment with Annie Hottail. The receptionist knew she could only be asking for me.
I sometimes tell people that I'm very present. I don't focus on the past or future which is why I don't remember names. I don't think one person believes this but it makes me sound Zen instead of incompetent.
Some woman recommended sniffing rosemary. Apparently, there's an essential oil for everything. I just don't want to smell like flatbread before every networking event. For now I'll continue to reintroduce myself to people and beg forgiveness until facial recognition software can be implanted into my brain. There must be a Kickstarter for that!