Everybody knows that it's rude to stare.
And growing up in Liverpool, home of The Beatles and Liverpool FC (the greatest soccer team of all time, just not the last decade or two), I was painfully aware of this from an early age.
You see at the time Liverpool was world-renowned for music, comedy and sport.
Unfortunately, it also held the dubious distinction of having the highest density per square metre of dodgy perms and shiny shell suits anywhere in the world.
Perhaps more worryingly, it also seemed to me to have an alarmingly large minority of people with very short tempers.
Thankfully things have changed somewhat these days, though on my last trip back home it appeared that shell suits were all still the rage.
But back then and for reasons of self-preservation, you quickly learned not to look at people for more than a nanosecond.
Because holding a stranger's gaze for longer than the blink of an eye could illicit a rather aggressive…
'What the hell are you looking at??'
Followed by the equally warm and welcoming…
'Do you want me to come over there and rearrange your face???'
Now I've never had any plastic surgery, despite the urgings of friends and people I pass in the street, but I do believe that it can end up costing an arm or a leg. So it's possible that such outbursts may simply have been spontaneous gestures of generosity.
But I chose not to find out and instead developed the healthy habit of not looking at people too closely.
Which is a shame really.
Because if you want to remember people's names, it's actually rude not to stare.
It's rude NOT to stare.
In fact, many memory books and courses recommend that you actively stare at people you meet, singling out one individual feature of your new found friend's face for your special undivided attention.
Here's an example…
You meet somebody called Bill. You stare at Bill and you notice that his nose is very well proportioned. Big even.
You now create a visual reminder for his name… 'Bill' might make you think of a duck's bill. You then connect or substitute your visual reminder with the person's prominent facial feature.
So instead of a nose, you guessed it… you picture him with a huge duck's bill.
Now I'm not going to suggest that you should start mentally distorting the facial features of everyone you meet.
In fact, there's an easier and more effective way of locking names into your memory which I'll mention in a moment.
But there's definitely something to be said for the first step - focusing on facial features.
Because doing this forces you to really pay attention to the people you meet and at the same time develops your powers of observation, your ability to notice details and distinctions.
And one of the basic keys to memory is focus… the ability to zero in on and actively register information that you later want to recall.
So if you want to get really good at remembering people's names, try the following fun activity for the next few days.
Pick noses for a day and really pay attention to them, noticing all the different shapes and sizes that you see. The next day pick another feature such as lips or ears.
Do this for just a few days and you'll be surprised how this simple activity enhances your powers of observation.
And here's the twist.
Even though you are focusing on individual features you'll probably find that you can close your eyes and easily and clearly recall a person's face in a lot of detail.
Because even though you focused on one feature, in reality we don't remember individual features such as noses, chins and foreheads… we remember people as a whole.
And if you can create and recall a vivid mental image of a person's face then remembering their name is easy - you just add in a visual prompt, something that will remind you of their name.
Perhaps you'll distort a facial feature as in the duck's bill example above. Personally I've never found the facial distortion technique to work particularly well.
Instead you may find it easier and more natural to just imagine people doing things… with objects… in particular locations.
So if you meet someone called Bill you might picture him opening a huge bill (object) and jumping up and down and screaming in disgust (action) in the middle of the post office (location).
What's great about using locations is that you've already got lots that you can use - just think of your friends and family and use their homes as places to put people you meet with the same first name.
You can also use work locations. We used to have a CEO called Craig with an office the size of a small soccer pitch. If I meet someone called Craig guess where I picture them?
You can even use famous people. A location for Mike Tyson? Decide on one and then use it for anyone you meet called Mike.
Works a treat, so give it a go.
In fact, this is one of the main techniques I used at the Australian Memory Championships to remember 118 people's names in 15 minutes.
And if when I mentioned Bill you thought of Bill Clinton then you could use the Oval Office as a location for people called Bill.
But I won't ask what your action is. Because in certain situations it really is rude to stare.
The Final Word: Focus on faces, stare at strangers and build your powers of visual recall. Turn people's names into visual reminders and link them to the people you meet. You'll have a lot of fun and it may even help you remember the odd name or two.
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