by Roy Saunderson | October 27, 2011
You presented the annual service and merit awards, personally thanking employees with kind words and firm handshakes. But the next morning, a few greet you in the building lobby with big smiles, but you have forgotten their names. There is no real way to escape from this awkwardness, and it has the ability to torpedo your recognition efforts.

Remembering peoples’ names can help you build better personal and business relationships. It is also a key to successful recognition. I called upon the expertise of the 2008 USA National Memory Champion, Chester Santos, who speaks to corporations across the globe about the benefits of memorization. Below are the top tips and techniques Santos recommends to be sure that your memory is an enhancement and not a deterrent to your recognition program.

1. Repeat the name. When you’re first introduced to a person, develop the habit of repeating the person’s name at that moment. For instance, as you shake a hand, say something like, "We are proud of your efforts, John” or “John, how is your family?"

2. Associate the name. Come up with some sort of association between the person’s name and something you already know—even if it is “way out there,” since it then won't leave your head! If you meet a woman named Alice, think of Alice in Wonderland.

3. Visualize the name. Leverage the power of your visual memory; it allows us to recall something from long ago. In order to "see" a person’s name, all you have to do is visualize an image that is representative of the name in some way. Joe could be "cup of joe," with you imagining coffee that’s brewing.

4. Find ways to picture your new acquaintance. Keep the visuals going. Santos reminds us about the power of our imagination, and we need to link the visual representation of the person’s name to an outstanding feature of the person. Joe might bring you from the brewing coffee to the coffee shop or breakfast with your family.

5. Start a mental name journal. This involves periodically performing quick mental reviews of names and faces of people that you have met over the past several days. Doing such reviews each day and a similar review at the end of each week will actually make it very difficult for you to ever forget anyone’s name.

6. Engage with conversation about a name. Comment to the person that his or her name is fitting and ask about its origins. The key is to keep the person’s name as the topic in order for it to be more memorable.

7. Bad memory versus mishearing. Santos has found that we do not always forget someone's name; it could be that we never heard it in the first place. So if someone speaks too softly or the pronunciation is unclear, politely ask for the name’s spelling.

8. Exercise the body to improve your mind. Exercise reduces stress, and stress is one of the top killers of memory. Consider taking a dance class. In addition to exercise, it is a great memory workout, as you need to memorize dances steps and patterns.

9. Take sleep seriously. Lack of sleep can have a dramatic negative impact on your memory. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, as it improves your memory sensors.

10. Make goodbyes formal. Use the person’s name when you say goodbye, conclude a conversation, or leave a room. This will help keep the name in your memory bank.

To learn more about the 2008 USA National Memory Champion, Chester Santos, visit and In The Wings Speaker Management.

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is author of Giving the Recognition Way and president of the Recognition Management Institute,, which consults companies on improving employee motivation that leads to increased productivity and profit. He can be reached at [email protected] Also, tune in every Tuesday to his radio show, Real Recognition Radio