At a well-known Ivy League school, a new, prestigious science building was to be built on the north end of campus. The price: $260 million dollars. Three major construction companies were neck and neck to win the job, make a large profit and add this esteemed institution to their client list. The decision would come down to the sales presentation.

The primary decision-maker for the Ivy, Dr. Alice Dvorak, made an unusual request. She asked all the contractors to sit through each other’s presentations and address the selection committee in front of one another. Securing the business could mean many years of Ivy projects, so each of them complied.

The first two presentations went fine, with each contractor discussing the construction logistics and how their “unique” approach to building was better than the rest. Then the general manager for the third contractor began his presentation.

“Dr. Dvorak, Mr. Avery, President Chambers, Vice President Allen and Madam Jameson, my name is Robert Small and on behalf of Elliott Construction Company, we are honored to be considered for the Leonard T. Abraham School of Sciences’ project.”

At that moment, the energy changed. There was a warmth in Robert Small’s approach. He smiled, had a friendly, confident tone and looked each committee member in the eyes. But the most important difference was that Robert Small (who became very tall) addressed everyone, as well as the project itself, by name.

Remembering People’s Names

How are you at remembering people’s names?

a) Fantastic

b) Not so hot

c) Embarrassingly bad

If you are like most people, you’ve checked off either b) or c). What typically comes next is a litany of excuses, such as, “I’m good with faces, but not names,” or “I just have a block with names, I’ll never be good at it.”

Why is it that you can meet someone, learn his or her name, and four seconds later, smile while thinking, “I have no idea what your name is”? Or why is that you’d rather yell out a random nickname like “Hey Big Shooter!” instead of saying “I’m sorry, please tell me your name again” when you forget a person’s name?

There are all kinds of reasons why we forget names, but none of them matter. Your connection with people whose names you can’t recall is far weaker than with those whose names you do remember.

Following are five tips to help you remember names. They are simple in theory, but require practice, commitment and repetition. The results are well worth it for building your network and your business.

1. Ask People for Names

How many times have you been to the same church, bar or gym, seen the same people and never bothered to introduce yourself? Think of the personal connections and professional opportunities you could be passing up! When it comes to asking people’s names, simply think, “When you just jump in the water, it’s not that cold.” Be an initiator and approach others with courage and excitement on the outside, no matter how you feel inside.

2. Spell and Pronounce Names Correctly

These are paired together because they require similar efforts in clarifying (not assuming) for accuracy. I was once introduced to speak to five hundred people in the following manner: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Joe Takass” (instead of Takash).

Our name is an important attribute of our identity, and when someone misspells or mispronounces it, it comes across as a lack of care. Taking time to assure the correct spelling and pronunciation is something to attend to in fine detail.

3. Ask Again When You Forget

This may be the best and most underused of these five tips. Chances are, four times out of five we all forget names immediately after hearing them. By asking people again and again, you are simply informing them that you value them and that knowing their name is an indication of that value. If the person gets upset, simply say, “I’m very sorry, I just want to respect you by getting your name correctly.” It’s hard to argue with that.

4. Make an Effort to Remember

To lock names into your mental hard drive, use any and every tool available. This might include rhymes (like “Dan the man”) or associations ( “Rhonda from Reno”). Remembering requires an eclectic effort. Write names down, spell them out in your mind, repeat them out loud to yourself. Work hard and you will get in better name shape.

5. Use Them or Lose Them

In writing, on the phone or in person, use people’s names. When your name is called as someone who contributed to the success of a great team effort, it feels wonderful. When your daughter’s name is on the Dean’s List, it looks like a work of art. Knowing names increases your confidence and makes others feel valued and connected. It can also mean that extra competitive advantage in business.In the case of Robert Small’s presentation to the Ivy university, names have been changed to protect confidentiality. However, I know a construction person who bid on a very similarly priced project with a very similar approach.

It is unrealistic to believe that simply using people’s names could win a $260 million dollar project. Clearly, experience, knowledge and professional pedigrees must apply. However, a week after the presentation, Robert received a formally written letter that read, “Dear Robert, congratulations! All competitors were very impressive and capable of building this project, but we’ve selected Elliott Construction because we believe your personal connection and sense of team is what will make this a highly successful partnership.”

So, what’s in a name? Everything.

JOE TAKASH, founder of Victory Consulting, is a business
consultant and keynote speaker who specializes in
leadership, motivation and selling skills. He is author of

Results through Relationships: Building Trust,
Performance and Profit through People.