How to Remember Names - Memory Training with World Champion

Remembering peoples’ names makes them feel important. That’s exactly what you want your guests to feel like on your events. But how do you remember all those names? 

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Remembering peoples’ names makes them feel important. That’s exactly what you want your guests to feel like on your events. But how do you remember all those names?


Hi Boris, welcome in our studio.




Why is remembering peoples’ names so important?


Because it’s the biggest chance to make a great impression on them. Everyone loves to hear their name. And actually brain science shows, even in the brain, if you hear your name it is processed differently. You all know when you are at an event and maybe you speak to someone. In the distance or at the next table, if someone mentions your name, your attention is there. So, the brain is really fixed on its own name. If you remember a name you can grab someone’s attention and leave a great impression on him.


But it’s so difficult to remember people names.


It’s true, because a name in itself doesn’t have a meaning. Maybe it was different in the past, like maybe you meet someone who is called Mr. Fisher. That means probably his ancestor somewhere in his history was a fisherman, and probably he is not. So, it’s hard because it doesn’t have an inherent meaning. But the good thing is you can put the meaning into it by making it an image. So, if he is called Mr. Fisher, you picture him being a fisher. You will not confuse him with his job, but you remember his name. So, it’s possible to do it.


Yes. But my name is Kevin; how can you picture something with my name?


For first names, usually I try to remember someone with the same name. So, maybe I already know someone who shares the name who is also called Kevin. It might be a friend of mine who has the same name, so I imagine you’re meeting him, maybe for a glass of beer somewhere. Or if I have really never heard about the name before I can still try to find some words that sound similar. So maybe for Kenwin, Kevin, so he’s really motivated for a competition which he can win. And these two words, can win, would remember me, oh, Kevin, that’s actually the name.


That’s enough to remember it?


If I hear the name for the first time I would start the step earlier. First step is just to understand the name, to recognize the name. And in my opinion, a good way is to pronounce it myself. So, if I meet you, if I meet Kevin, I would say, “Kevin, nice to meet you.” I’d use the name myself for to get it first into my shorter memory. Because I get these other steps I just mentioned. Which are important, they take some kind of attention. But if I meet someone, let’s say at an event, I want to talk to them. I want to listen to them, I want to have some small talk maybe and not focus on the steps to remember the name. So, if I use a name, if I pronounce it myself, I can then go on. And maybe after the first meeting, then I can put some time into thoughts which images can I come up with to remember the name. And then there is one more step, I have to associate the images with the person. Like if I just say, oh Kevin, that sounds like Kevin Costner or he can win, that’s all linked to you. I need to see you in this image, associated with this image. I need you, seeing you, meeting my friend Kevin, see you meeting Kevin Costner, or see you eager for the competition that you can win. So, I need to see you in the picture. It enables you using the visual memory test for a huge capacity. To keep remembering the names of the future I need to add one more step and that is what we call in science, the retrieval practice. That means, if I met you early at the event and maybe now we head out of the session to lunch break, and I see you with a few people in the hallway, if I just run a brief second through my memories, “what was the name?” I test myself on it. And this testing has been shown to be massively improving long-term retention of the name. So, improving my chance to remember the name not only in the afternoon of the same event, but maybe in a year when I see you again at the new edition of the conference.


Okay, but you’re a world champion in memory skills? I can imagine for you it’s easy. But can everybody do this?


Everyone can improve their performance in this kind of thing. In particular, in remembering names. I have the pleasure to go to many events, event organizers bring me in often like before in networking sessions… to give a demonstration. I’ll have to begin with memorizing the names of maybe 100 people of the audience during the day. And then in my session I ask them to raise and welcome all of them by memory. Then I of course tell them how I do it, teach the technique. So, afterwards in the networking party they can do it themselves. That’s what I always do, that’s my job and I see all the people enjoying it and actually improving their memory. At the end, I’m really proud of having the Guinness world record for remembering names and faces and no-one else has it. So, maybe not everyone can break the record, but everyone can improve from where they are now quite a lot.


Yes, but you say, remembering 100 names. if I’m in a group with 10 people, I can’t manage to remember them. It’s just by using that simple technique you just explained?


I would say, it’s 80% the technique and 20% is training. Of course, if you do it the first time, maybe you hear a name and you think, well, Boris, I don’t come up with an image for Boris. But then maybe later you think, oh, Boris Becker. I could picture this guy Boris, playing tennis with Boris Becker. So, you need a bit of training to come up with the images, and in particular if the name is more difficult. If it’s an English or Flemish Dutch or maybe German name, it’s of course easier than if it’s let say a Philippine or Iranian name. So, you will need some training as well. And if you really think you should improve on your memory for names you can even schedule your time for training. Like there are some great tools online where you can do that. But for most people I would recommend, by just using the technique you have some training. And maybe if you watch the show today, there will be other guests, maybe use the technique as we hear today to remember their names. To think, well, I’m just watching it right now anyway, so, what kind of image could I maybe make up to remember the name of this person? And by doing so, you train yourself. And you have also additional benefits that a few moments later when you see the person again, I know the name, yes. You have the success with it. Then you start believing. So, you’re questioning me which is fair but if you tried a few times you’ll have the success. Of course then you believe in yourself and then you get the training and then you can massively improve exactly with these methods. When I set up my world record, this was exactly the method, just I already had a few years of training of course. I didn’t set it the first day I heard about the technique, but after doing it for a few years.


I can imagine your keynote is a very great kick-off of a network event.


It’s what I’m often invited to do. So, I love to do that and I normally stick around afterwards. I also love the variety of things I can do. Of course I’m also invited for events and maybe kick-off in general like a learning program or additional education program where I really want people to know these memory techniques, to reduce the time maybe needed for learning something in a course afterwards. So, it’s a variety of things I get to do. It’s quite nice. But kicking off networking is one part of it for sure.


Okay Boris Becker, thank you very much for your time.


You’re welcome, Kevin.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.