Think Like A Magician: How to remember people’s names

How to remember names

One of the things I most often get feedback about (aside from my Herculean physique and attractive odour) is my ability to remember names. I love saying goodbye to people by name at the end of a two hour gig, where I’ve met about 100 people. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t remember everybody I’ve met at the gig, but, if I’ve had some interaction with them as part of my magic, I’ll probably have their name in my brain somewhere.

Before I became a professional magician, I heard from several great magicians that remembering people’s names is one of the most astounding feats you can do, because everybody appreciates how hard it is – and they want to know how they can do it too!

In fact, I remember a lady who booked me to perform magic at her house party. She sent me a nice email after the event, commenting on my ability to remember names. She said that she had suffered a slight stroke and asked if I have any tips.

I’m not as memory expert by any means and, while I don’t use mnemonics to actively remember names, I believe that there are some things you can do to help you recall names that require no great effort and – though not guaranteeing you will become a memory expert – will get you remembering names better than you ever have.

So, here are some key tips that I always use when meeting new people:

1. Actively listen: This sounds silly, but how often have we asked someone a question while focusing on someone, or something else and then realise we’ve completely missed their answer, meaning we have to embarrassingly ask the same question again? It just appears appallingly rude, even though you’re not trying to be. You’re just focusing on the next question or something specific to the environment. Either way though, it’s a real rapport breaker.

2. When you ask someone their name, LOOK AT THE FACE AS THEY SAY IT. I’m sure that a psychologist will tell you that this forms some sort of neural pathway, but I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t. All I know is, if I hear the name whilst looking at their face and paying active attention, I’m well on the way to remembering it.

This also works the other way; when you say their name, LOOK AT THEM.

3. Make some comment about the name: does it sound funny? Does it sound like something else? Can it be spelled differently? Does someone famous have the name? Where did it originate from?

Most of the time you can ask a quick question about someone’s name without sounding like a potential stalker:

“is it Jayne with a “Y”?”

“Matt? Welcome Matt.” (Don’t you dare use that gag; it’s appalling!)

“Did you say Harindranath? As in the famous Indian actor “Harindranath Chattopadhyay”? (look it up!)

You get the idea. Be genuine. Show interest.

4. Use it frequently! The best thing you can do to help implant some new information is to regularly use it. As a magician, this will mean using it often in the short time that I’m with that particular group, probably no more than 10 minutes. You may not have such time constraints, but I urge you to use the name frequently, with one proviso: don’t sound like a nutter:

“Hi Sandra, it’s great to meet you again Sandra. Sandra, I was just thinking of heading to the buffet Sandra. Would you care for anything while I’m there Sandra? Why are you running away Sandra? SANDRA!!!”

Your aim is to remember the name, not add your own name to a register.

So, if you’ve ever had trouble remembering people’s names, be genuinely interested, look at them when they say the name (and when you use it), make a comment or query about the name and then use it as often as you can!

These four tips won’t turn you into a memory expert, but, if you’ve ever struggled to remember a name, they’ll give you a head start next time your at a party and you’re introduced to…you know..that guy from accounts. Steve? Sven? Bugger…