Joe Takash: Five simple ways to be better at recalling names Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2011
Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

At a well-known Ivy League school, a prestigious new science center was to be built on the north end of campus. The price tag: $260 million. Three major construction companies were neck and neck to win the job. The primary decision-maker for the university, Alice Dvorak, communicated that the winner would be selected based on strength of team connection.

The first two presentations involved each contractor discussing its own “unique experience and approach to building.” Then, the general manager for the third contractor began his presentation.

“Dr. Dvorak, Dr. Avery, President Chambers, Vice President Allen and Madam Jameson, my name is Robert Allen, 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 based purely on the warmth in Robert Allen’s approach. He smiled, he had a friendly, confident tone and he looked each committee member in the eyes. But Robert Allen did something that neither of his competitors considered. He addressed everyone, as well as the project itself, by name.

How are you at remembering people’s names? Fantastic? Not so hot? 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 like, “I’m good at faces but not names,” or “I just have a block, and I’ll never be good.”

There are a plethora of reasons why we forget names, but truth is, none of them matter. To the people whose names you can’t recall, your connection with them is less effective than when you do. The following are five simple rules for names that require commitment and repetition. The results are well worth it.

Ask people their name

How many times have you been to the same church, bar or gym, see the same people and never bother to introduce yourself? Think of the personal connections and professional opportunities you could be passing up. Make asking names a priority.

Spell and pronounce names correctly

These go together because they require similar efforts in clarifying, not assuming, for accuracy. Taking time to assure the correct spelling and pronunciation is something to attend to in fine detail.

Ask again when you forget

This may be the most underused tool because most of us tend to forget names immediately. By asking a name again, you are simply informing people that you want to value and respect them.


To lock names into your mental hard drive, use all tools possible, which can include rhymes like “Dan the man,” or associations like, “Rhonda from Reno.” Write names down, repeat them out loud, repeat them to yourself. Work hard, and you will get in better name shape.

Use them or lose them

When your name is called as someone who contributed to the success of a great team effort, it feels great. When your daughter’s name is on the Dean’s list, it looks like a work of art. Knowing names increases your confidence, makes others feel valued and is a competitive advantage in business. In writing, on the phone and in person, use people’s names.

In the case of Robert Allen’s presentation to Ivy U, it is comical to think that knowing people’s names alone could win a $260 million project. Experience, knowledge and a cogent strategy must be intact. However, the execution of these components involves making a likeable, trusted connection with decision-makers. Make names your first connection.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at