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Best Career Advice: Learn to Memorize Every Name in the Room

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Tera-Tom here!

I have taught over 1,000 classes around the world, and the best thing I have ever done was to train myself to remembering names. I have done this for each student before the class begins. I start each class by asking each student to introduce themselves and to briefly explain what they want to get out of the class. I then call a student by name and the process begins.

“Diana, what brings you to class today?”

I never once used name tags. Memorizing American names was challanging, but memorizing Indian, Chinese, European and African names was extremely difficult.

Most people can recognize faces, but they can’t remember names. Some people believe that there are multiple ways to do things, but let me tell you that there is only one way to memorize names. If you don’t do exactly what I say, you won’t be able to do it. Follow my instructions exactly, understand my theories, and you will succeed every time. It will be the best career move you have ever made.

Theory Number One: Your eyes are your worst enemy and your best friend!

A shark’s brain has evolved for millions of years so that one third of its brain is dedicated to smelling blood. When there is blood in the water, a shark will instinctively hunt for its prey. It can think of nothing else because its brain is flooded with smell.

A human’s brain has evolved so that one third of our brain is dedicated to sight. When you meet someone, your eyes are your worst enemy to hearing and remembering their name. When you meet someone, your eyes take over and your brain is flooded with visual messages. You most often won’t even hear their name or, if you do, you can’t recall it seconds later. So, the only chance you have in remembering a person’s name is to defy instinct and concentrate on hearing their name. I call this portion of the process, “Turning Off My Eyes”. It is the most difficult piece of this entire process and that is why I told you that your eyes are your worst enemy. Sight dominates every human, and you have been a slave to your sight your entire life!

So turn off your sight!

You must then continue to repeat their name in your head while also trying to have a conversation. That is not easy or comfortable! I like to ask my students questions like, “What brings you to class here today?” As they are speaking, I can continue to repeat their name, and it is soon time to turn my eyes back on to paint vivid pictures and associations.

Give yourself three associations for each person. I like to associate a name with someone famous for my first association. For example, the first person you meet might be named Diana who is in her early 20s. As I am continually repeating Diana in my head, I begin to use my eyes to paint a vivid picture that Princess Diana is in my class and this is what she looked like at an early age. As I continually repeat her name in my mind, my second association is with someone I know personally. I used to date a girl named Diana, and she broke up with me. I now picture myself being nice to Diana in class, but after class, I am going to break-up with her and tell her it is over! As I continually repeat her name, I will use my third association as either a rhyme or their first initial. Diana starts with a ‘D’ so she probably got a ‘D’ average in High School. How smart could she be seeing that she was stupid enough to break-up with a catch like me?

I now take about 30-seconds to make sure I have all three associations down. Princess Diana, my ex-girlfriend Diana, and she was a ‘D’ student.

I am about to meet my second student, and I remind myself to be sure to turn off my eyes. I then meet a person named John. I ask, “What brings you to class today?” as I continually repeat John in my mind and think of someone famous. “Oh my goodness, John Wayne is in my class! I am excited to teach someone who is a movie star. Maybe John can get me a bit part in his next feature film!”  The next association is someone I know personally. “My cousin John stole my wallet once so I need to keep an eye on this student.”  The third association is a rhyme. “His name is John, and I bet he sleeps on the lawn!”

Theory Number Two: Once you start the memorization process, you cannot lose concentration for a single moment for at least ten minutes. 

Short term memory is very small, and you need to keep refreshing it continually for ten minutes, or you’ll have no prayer of remembering these names. After meeting John, I immediately start repeating my associations for both John and Diana, and I continually repeat both names in different order.

“John and Diana, Diana and John, Princess Diana, John Wayne, she broke up with me, he stole my wallet, her initial is D and his is J. If they worked together they would be DJ’s on the radio.”  

Nothing can break your concentration. After about 30-seconds, you move to the next person.

I then meet a person named Hitesh. This is where things get difficult because I don’t know anyone famous named Hitesh. I didn’t have friends growing up named Hitesh. This is where I sense danger so I really put some extra time into his name. I ask him, “What brings you to class today?” I then begin to break it down into syllables and I start with “Hit”.

“I hope he doesn’t hit me.” 

I then work on the second syllable and notice it is like “ash”, but it is “esh”.

“I hope he doesn’t go near the fire and Hit ash with an E.”

I then notice his name is like John Tesh, the radio host, but it is Hi Tesh.

“His name starts with an “H” so he seems very happy.” 

I go over the name until it is very clear to me. I know this name will be more difficult to remember than Diana and John so I give myself a little more time, and I continually make Hitesh my top memorization priority as I repeat, “Hitesh, Diana, Hitesh, John, Hitesh, Hit Ash with an E, Diana, Hitesh, John, Hitesh, Diana, Hitesh is happy, Diana broke up with me, John stole my wallet, Hitesh might Hit the Ash!

I now continue this process as I meet each student. I don’t panic. I don’t lose concentration. I stay disciplined enough to know to turn my eyes off when first meeting them and to turn my eyes on afterwards to paint my associations. I stay focused as I repeat the names continuously. If I do all these things, I will have the names down perfectly in about ten minutes.

At first, I could only do about eight names, then ten, then twenty, thirty, and then one day I did one hundred names! With practice, you will get better and better at this.

Doing this as a teacher makes my students feel important and valued from the first minute of the class, thus endearing us together right from the start. Learning everyone’s name seems impossible to everyone else in the class so people always think I am a genius, and that is important for credibility.

Is memorizing names easy? No way. I always say, “I work harder in the first ten minutes than most teachers do in an entire day”, but the biggest key to my teaching and professional success has been to dedicate myself to memorize every name of every student before every class!

Follow these techniques and watch your career skyrocket, as well!