This past weekend I was invited to a pool party hosted by a friend, colleague, and strategic referral partner. Grace and I have known each other for around 8 years or so and are both well connected professionally in the Austin area. So it was no surprise that I knew four people at her party – one I was only connected to on Facebook and had never met, three others I hadn’t seen in probably five years. One of them was a woman I had only networked with a few times years ago, but we both instantly recognized each other.

When we reacquainted ourselves, I remembered her name [Karen], her business [travel agency], and she produced a travel podcast. She couldn’t believe that in meeting only a few times four or five years ago I remembered as much as I did. As a result, she wanted to reconnect and learn more about what I’m up to now and how we can help each other as small business owners [the Law of Networking Reciprocity].

I network a lot. The example above is a fairly regular occurrence for me because my goal is to attend 12 strategic networking events every month, or three per week. Austin is a heavily networked town, so there’s no shortage of events to attend. But attending every event available to me isn’t strategic. That’s throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. That may be some people’s strategy, but it’s not a very effective or efficient one.

The better, more effective networking strategy is a clear understanding of several things before you network. First, what’s your purpose for networking? Is it to make new friends, get out of the house, and explore new haunts in your area? Right on, that’s cool. If you’re new to an area, it’s a good idea to get to know people socially in your new locale.

Perhaps you want to network with other professionals in your industry or field; be a part of a community of like minded people who get what you do and speak your language.

Or maybe you’re a business owner or business development producer for your company and you network to get new business.

Your networking strategy will differ depending on what you expect to gain by meeting new people.

The one thing that must be consistent in any networking strategy, however, is remembering people’s names.

In my sales career, I learned early the more you can remember about a person and their interests, the more likely you are to make a sale when the prospective buyer returns to revisit a coveted item. But even if you don’t remember much about their interests or the product/service they expressed interest in, remembering their name was paramount.

You know why. Your name is the combination of sounds you’ve probably heard more than any other in your entire lifetime. It truly is music to your ears.

Think of it this way: across a crowded room full of chattering people, you can still somehow hear your name above the din of voices and turn your head in the direction it came from. Why? Because your ears are trained to listen for that combination of letters strung together that, when spoken by another human [and pronounced correctly!], is instantly recognizable by your brain as a specific sound you’ve been trained to respond to. It’s the proverbial Pavlovian bell to your ears.

So if you’re networking strategy is to meet new friends, establish more professional liaisons, or make sales [ESPECIALLY make sales], you’ll want to remember people’s names. It will endear you to them, like it endeared Karen to me at the pool party this weekend.

Here are a few tips from a networking pro on how to remember names:

  • once you’ve been introduced, repeat the name back to your new acquaintance and ensure you pronounce it correctly
  • use it two or three times during the conversation
  • get a business card – when you do, read the person’s full name out loud, again ensuring you can pronounce first & last name correctly
  • [hint – this is the most important step] before you go to bed, recall the important people you met whom you want to remember and do the following:
    • replay a few minutes of your conversation with them in your head
    • recall their name and face and a few other unique or relevant details of the conversation
    • look at their business card and say their name out loud again
  • if the people you met are prospective clients or referral partners, or someone you want to get to know better, call or email them the next day to schedule a 1 to 1 meeting
  • scan their card into your contacts, connect with the person on LinkedIn or Facebook if appropriate, and make notes about the important details of the conversation you want to remember in a CRM [include where you met the person in your notes]
  • depending on your comfort level, consider snapping a picture and uploading on a social media channel and tagging your new acquaintance. This isn’t appropriate for every situation, but significantly increases the likelihood you’ll remember their name. Always ask for permission to post or tag before doing so!

The reason replaying the person’s name and your conversation with them right before bed is so important is because your brain will process the freshest information and embed it in your memory faster. Call it a neuroscience hack. If you take a few minutes to do this every time you network or meet new people, I’m certain you’ll begin remembering names easier.

While this isn’t rocket science, I can tell you remembering someone’s name is guaranteed to leave an impression on the person the next time you see them, especially if it’s an unexpected meeting.

Now that I think about it, I ran into a guy at the grocery store Saturday morning who I’ve networked with recently. I was sweaty [it was over a hundred degrees] with no make up on, my hair pulled back, in workout clothes; probably pretty unrecognizable from our last networking event. But when I said hello to Gary, he stopped and smiled big when I remembered his name and shook his hand. Impressed he was.

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