About a year ago, I was at a cocktail party and saw a woman who had once hired me to work with her teenaged son Jimmy. Her son needed help on his campaign speech for senior class president. She waived me over to where she was chatting with three friends.

“Little Jimmy gave a wonderful speech and won the election for president of his senior class,” she boasted to her friends, as I smiled a little embarrassed. “And he really needed to win that election because it helped him get into Brown.”

Then she looked from her friends to me with a beaming smile. “And it all happened because of the coaching of Jerry Archer!”

Not having the heart to tell her that wasn’t my name, I just smiled and thanked her as I excused myself “to get another beer.”

With that story in mind, here’s a New Year’s resolution that will help anyone aspiring to improve their business and personal relationships: learn to remember names. It’s not hard. It pays dividends. And it’s fun.

Dale Carnegie, the self-help guru, once wrote that “A person’s name is to him or her is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” I’ve found that remembering names greatly improves my own ability to connect with clients. When speaking with groups of 25 to 40 people, I always get one question afterwards. “How did you remember all of our names? Do you have a system?”

I do rely on a system that I’ve adapted from several well-known methods. Perhaps the best known system involves word association and is from “The Memory Book”, a fun read by Harry Lorayne, a magician and self-described memory expert, and Jerry Lucas, the NBA Hall of Famer and former New York Knick.

Step 1: Hear the Name.

You can’t remember what you don’t hear in the first place. People often say, “I’m terrible with names.” That usually means they don’t hear the name in the first place. At parties, networking events, and workshops I carefully listen for names.

Step 2: Repeat the Name Out Loud.

“John?” I say. “Do I have that right?”

To my mind, the relationship starts the moment that you repeat a person’s name. That’s when they consciously or unconsciously think “This person is trying to get to know me.” They’re usually a little flattered.

If it’s an odd name, ask about it. During a recent sales call, I met a woman named “Edwidge.” “Edwidge?” I said. “What an interesting name. There’s got to be a story there.” She was delighted to tell me the name’s family pedigree.

Step 3: Make an Odd Word Association with the Name.

This is the word association trick from Lorayne and Lucas. First, find a substitute word for the name that is easy to visualize. So, for “Bill”, you might imagine the “bill” at a restaurant. For Kevin, you might imagine the inside of a cave (Kevin sounds sort of like “Cave in”. Get it?).

Then you connect that image with something memorable about the person’s face. If “Bill” has a prominent nose, imagine Bill’s nose looking like the “bill” at a restaurant. If Kevin has a big forehead, imagine it as a cave with someone inside.

These associations may seem like a stretch. And this does take practice. But it doesn’t matter if you come up with clever word associations. Simply trying to come up with something cements the name in your memory.

By the way, Harry Lorayne demonstrated this word association trick on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” He schmoozed with the audience before the show, memorized everyone’s names, and then demonstrated his memory live on the show. If you want to see the footage, go to Google and search “Harry Lorayne and The Tonight Show”.

Step 4: Test Yourself.

After I’ve collected about four names, I give myself a little test. Looking around the room, I’ll say to myself, “That’s Sarah, That’s Jack, That’s William, That’s Janet.” And I do it several times until I’m sure that I’ve got all the names.

Remembering names is a great way to start relationships. It’s fun. And it’s easy. Take it from me, Jerry Archer.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”