What's in a name? A lot, it turns out -- particularly when it comes to garnering new business contacts. When you remember somebody's name -- even after meeting them just briefly -- it sends the message that the interaction was important to you. Perhaps no other skill can make others feel as valued, or open as many doors to new connections.
While some people possess a gift for remembering names, for others, it's more of a learned skill. But every new introduction is an opportunity to practice recognizing faces, and, as you improve, others will begin to perceive you as a valuable connector in business and in life.
Use the strategies below to practice -- and make it a point to challenge yourself at networking events. My advice? Start slowly, and then increase your repertoire with each new introduction:
1. Repeat names throughout the exchange. Repetition helps your brain form the connections necessary to retain information. As soon as you're introduced, say, "It's lovely to meet you, Jane." Refer to the person by name upon greeting and then repeat it again in parting.
2. Make mental associations. Make a visual connection with a person's name to something memorable in your world -- the more outlandish, the better. For example, if you meet someone named Jay who happens to be a music producer, visualize a blue jay at a mixing board. The humorous image will imprint his name and career onto your memory.
Related: How to Nail an Introduction
3. Study names in print. Use your eyes as well as your ears. When someone wears a nametag, for instance, look at the nametag as well as the face to create an association. As soon as you receive a business card, glance at the name and say, "Thank you, John."
4. Ask for clarification with difficult names. If a new acquaintance has a name that is difficult to pronounce or happens to mumble their introduction, simply ask him or her to repeat it. Then say it again yourself for verification. In addition to gaining clarity, the extra effort will speak to your attention to detail.
5. If you forget a name, address it head on. If you absolutely can't remember a name, try to offer any information you can remember, such as where the two of you may have met. Alternatively, if you shake hands and introduce yourself, your contact will most likely follow suit.
If you think you know someone's name, but are unsure, venture a guess: "Bill, right?" Or you could simply apologize and say, "I'm sorry, I'm a little forgetful at the moment. Please remind me of your name." Don't worry, it happens to everyone.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette coach and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. She is also the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).