There's Only One King

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There are two principal techniques for remembering the names of people we meet for the first time. The first -- using visual associations -- gets top billing and the heaviest coverage in most self-help memory books. The other, which you could call the Carnegie Hall method -- rehearse, rehearse, rehearse -- gets short shrift.

* Using Visual Associations

The easiest version of this method involves imagining the face of your new acquaintance (Larry King, let's say) and creating an obvious visual image that will help you remember his name (putting a crown on his head). Like the image you already have of the Pink Panther, Larry King's image now carries nominal meaning along with it.

Of course, Larry King is a no-brainer, like Johnny Cash or Joan Rivers. For uncommon, multi-syllabic names, memory coaches advocate more laborious methods. Two expositors:

"The Memory Book" (Ballantine) by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. This 1974 bestseller is based on the system Lorayne used while performing memory stunts. A typical example: "Mr. Ponchatrain has deep creases (character lines) from his nostrils to the corners of his mouth. You can see trains running across those tracks (creases). You punch them. Punch a train."

"The Business of Memory" (Rodale) by Frank Felberbaum with Rachel Kranz. In this 2005 book, the author uses his own name as an example: Imagine beer bottles in the shape of bombs falling from the sky and exploding on his nose, which he feels is his most prominent feature (Fell-Beer-Bomb).

* Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

If you're willing to make a sustained effort but feel imagination-challenged, this method is probably the better bet. Some expositors:

"Ageless Memory," (Black Dog & Leventhal) by Harry Lorayne, again. Lorayne's emphasis in this book is still on association, but he also devotes a little space to rehearsal. He suggests that when we meet someone, we not only repeat the name, but also make a comment or ask a question about it, then use it whenever we can during the conversation and when we part.

"Memory Power," (Free Press) by Scott Hagwood. A workable approach for remembering names at a party. First, have modest goals (say, five names only, first or last). After each introduction, repeat the name immediately and then silently 30 seconds later. Do another silent repetition 30 seconds after that, and one more in five minutes. That'll do if you want to remember the name for at least a few hours. To remember it longer, consult the book.

* The Upshot

For most situations, go with one of the rehearsal approaches. Association techniques are probably best reserved for names that have repeatedly tripped you up in the past.

-- Charles Zanor


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