This past weekend, I attended a function of the highest prestige: the launch party for The Campaign for UC Santa Barbara, an event that celebrated the new phase of funding to further UCSB’s impact in the academic and research world. I say attended, but I really mean I gate-crashed. I found out about it, dressed up, walked in and started mingling with the billionaires, cute waitresses and open bar. A nice pair of evening clothes is a very good investment as long as you have the swagger to really sell that you belong. And after the night was over and I had broken bread with my boy Henry; his lovely wife, Dilling; Michael Douglas (Honorary Campaign Chair); and plenty of others, I was left a little buzzed from the four or five glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and a pocketful of opportunities in the form of business cards from people I had undoubtedly charmed the pants off of. I met at least 20 people that night, but by the time the soirée ended, I could remember every single one of their names.
Although people are naturally drawn to me because of my golden personality and frighteningly handsome features, even I can recognize that being able to remember everyone’s name is something that really helps in all kinds of social situations. I don’t have any special Aspergian memory skills; I just learned a technique that makes my memory for names much more effective. Here’s how I do it.
After forgetting someone’s name, if you’re brave enough to admit it (always the better route), you will often spout out the old adage, “Oh, I’m awful with names!” Yes, you are, dear reader, but only because you’re doing it wrong. We’re extremely self-centered as a species, so when we meet other people, we have a tendency to be extremely self-conscious. For example, my thought process on meeting a cute girl: Am I saying anything stupid? Why do I keep moving my hands around? Am I talking too much? I’m sweating. I’m sweating like a pig. Ugh, how embarrassing. While we are preoccupied maintaining control of our external dialogue, we are still trying to pay attention to the other party in order to respond adequately. As our monologue with ourselves and our dialogue with others compete, it is no wonder a random name is immediately forgotten. Ah, fuck. I forgot her name already.
So how can we do better? Well the first step to improving you memory for names is simple: Try harder. No, seriously. Right now you aren’t trying at all. You see, memory is all about attention. So to remember more effectively, you have to pay more attention. Upon meeting someone, think I’m going to remember his/her name. Hear their name, and then say to yourself, Ok, I got it. Jessica. Cool. Now you have her name. Perfect. Now after you receive it, you have about 18 to 30 seconds before it’s lost for good — the approximate length of human short-term “working” memory. Don’t panic, but don’t relax too much either because 18 seconds might have already passed by the time your seventh-grade reading level gets to the end of this god-damn-not-over-yet-frustratingly-long sentence.
In order to relocate this name from short-term memory to long-term memory, you have to make a connection. Remembering the name of somebody you just met is terribly difficult unless it’s a skill you constantly strengthen. Strengthening your neural connections is memory, and the way I do it with names is to connect the name of this new person with someone I already know who has the same name. So think to yourself, Is there another Jessica I know? Maybe she’s terribly short, a little squattish, with black hair and a Mason jar collection. So what we do is overlay information from Old Jessica onto New Jessica. Next, I immediately create a mental image of trying to stuff New Jessica into a person-sized Mason jar as she struggles to get out, until finally I have succeeded and I stand atop the Mason jar, raise my hands to the gods and laugh hysterically in their faces. My name is Kevin, King of Mason jars and Knower of Names!
A little weird, sure, but weird things are memorable. We have to use our imagination to make such strange and unusual pictures in our heads. This image I’ve created may make you think twice about introducing yourself to me, but if you decide to, I promise I won’t forget it. So, for your final test, what is my name?
Kevin Ferguson just wants you to know his name.
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