When to memorize

There are many things in life that do not require memorization, such as complicated mathematical and statistical formulas that can be looked up or nowadays, calculated by a computer. In addition, there are some things that used to be memorized by most people, such as frequently dialed telephone numbers, which are now programmed into speed dial systems or other similar devices, making the need for memorization obsolete. There are, however, many things that still require memorization, at least in my view. These important things to memorize include: names of people with whom one has frequent contact; faces of people with whom one interacts; one’s address; driving directions to common destinations one travels; one’s allergies; important dates and events; and others too numerous to list. Unless someone has a cognitive impairment or other limitation that prohibits memorizing names, faces, directions, etc., there are often negative social consequences for the person who fails to remember the things other people can’t forget. Some people are, to put it nicely, just not “people oriented.” These individuals, many of whom are narcissistic, care little for anyone other than themselves. When I have the unfortunate occasion to see one of these people, it is interesting to me that, although I can usually describe the circumstances of our previous encounter, they act as if they are meeting me for the first time. Perhaps I failed to make an impression on him/her, but usually, the self absorbed person failed to remember my face and my name because he/she never spent any time learning them to begin with. There are many mnemonic devices that help people remember things that, if forgotten, will lead to dire consequences. However, for these devices to be effective, they must be used, meaning steps must be taken to ensure the information to be recalled later is attended to in the first place. Not everyone has a great memory, but if someone knows this about himself/herself, then memory enhancement methods must be employed. Like most everything else in life, people take time to do what is important to them. If remembering you met me isn’t important to you, I’ll remember that about you!

I once took a memory class in Jacksonville, Florida by a local memory expert named John Currie. Currie gave seminars on memorizing things, especially names and faces. His “trick” was to suggest that one form a picture using the name as tied to the face. I found this trick moderately helpful; I was not as good at this task as Currie’s most famous student – Jimmy Carter. Prior to Carter’s inauguration, he consulted with Currie to learn the names and recognize the faces of all 535 members of the US Congress. Now, that’s quite a feat! Notwithstanding that my memory was not that strong, the seminar reinforced the importance of at least attempting to quickly learn names and faces. We often arrive at a mock jury research project to a room full of “new” faces. Though we certainly know our repeat clients, and we know the faces of our current clients, at least via the photos posted on their firm websites, we are often meeting, for the first time, other attorneys/associates, end clients – claims professionals or corporate representatives, and paralegals, AV techs, and facility staff. Meeting sometimes 10 to 20+ people all at once is a challenge. But, as we’ve tried to train our staff over the years, there are tricks to making the connections between names and faces. One trick is that we usually have an attendee list such that we know who should be in the room. Using this as a checklist and reference tool is invaluable to assimilating the new faces. In other meetings we attend we walk into a room full of people we don’t know around a sometimes very large conference table. Making a list of attendees including a seating diagram is sometimes possible and again, is a very fast way to try to make mental connections. I recently participated in a program involving a brief presentation by a Dale Carnegie trainer who provided tips for one on one meetings – including “cocktail parties” or business meetings that involve making a conscious effort to learn names and other key information. This trainer’s technique includes asking for some background or personal information – such as where is the person from, their hobbies, family information, and where they live now. The trainer used a visual cuing system that seemed silly at first but made sense when implemented. Tying visual cues to verbal information enhances memory. And, in the business world, we try to take this one step further and memorialize some of the cues in our client relationship management program (CRM). Including some of these details in the CRM makes for strong reminders the next time we encounter the person – and hopefully makes a good impression. Impression management is not about mental tricks; it is genuine interest in the individual. But, these memory cues remove some of the fear of not being able to remember names/faces such that one can move beyond that fear. As with many of our posts, we “have been there and done that” in training young professionals, if not ourselves. And, be glad that the need for some rote memory has diminished with computers and smart phones – now concentrate on the important stuff!

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