Success Stories By Dick Kazan - Valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on January 23, 2006

“I’m horrible with names.”

How many times have you said that to yourself, particularly after an awkward moment in front of “what’s-her-name” or “who-is-that-guy-again?”

Today, I’ll tell you about a man who could recall 50,000 names, how he did it and how it helped him to become one of the most powerful people in America. And I’ll offer you 4 vital tips so you too can readily recall names.

In his famous book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie said, “…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

And Mary Kay Ash, who built the Mary Kay cosmetics empire said, “Every single person you meet has a sign around their neck – make me feel important.” [A&E Biography, shown 12/15/06]

Recalling people’s names is a crucial step in making them feel important.

Jim Farley, the man who could recall 50,000 names rose from modest circumstances to Post Master General, head of the Democratic National Committee and became a close personal aide to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

Farley’s father died when the boy was just 10 years old, leaving a $3,000 insurance policy and a few minor business interests to his widow and five sons.

An indifferent student, Farley barely made it through high school. Yet by his 40’s he was FDR’s assistant and legendary for his mastery of names. He managed Roosevelt’s successful New York Gubernatorial campaigns in 1928 and 1930 and then his Presidential campaign in 1932 which put FDR in the White House.

Using his vast recollection of names and personal details, Farley would greet people by name or send them a note, “Dear Bob” or “Dear Mary” and sign it “Jim,” as he recalled personal details of each individual. He assisted Roosevelt to do the same.

How did this modestly educated man master these skills that helped to so dramatically elevate his career? How could you?

In recognizing how important it is to remember people’s names, long before computers, Farley kept manual files with the names and personal information of people he or Roosevelt met.

When he and FDR were to see them again, they’d review those files so they’d know their names and other essential facts about them.

Whether meeting with Congressmen to get New Deal legislation passed, meeting with influential public figures or with the general public, this knowledge proved to be invaluable. And stories are still told today about how FDR graciously recalled people’s names and sent wonderful thank you notes.

For you it is far easier today because you have a small number of names to recall and if you’d like, a computer can remember them for you.

Here are vital 4 tips to remembering people’s names and personal details:

1) Focus. When we meet people, most of us aren’t paying attention. Listen to their name and if you don’t absorb it, ask them to say it again and listen closely. They’ll be flattered you did.

If you do nothing else but this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easily you’ll recall names.

And names become easier to recall if you make a mental game of it. The grocery produce man where I shop is named “Dennis.” I recall this because he often makes wisecracks and I think of him as “Dennis the Menace.”

I instantly learned the name of my neighbor Gary because he’s tall, trim and distinguished looking and I thought of actor Gary Cooper when I met him.

I met Robin, a woman with a super personality and I recall her as “Rocking Robin,” the name of an old rock ‘n’ roll hit.

2) Take an Interest. Ask them about themselves and listen carefully as you repeatedly use their names to reinforce them in your mind.

“It is nice to meet you Bob,” and “What brings you here today Bob?” “Do you have a family Bob?” or “What do you do for a living Bob?” People enjoy discussing themselves to those who sincerely care and listen to them.

3) Take Your Time. This is not a race to meet as many people as you can. This is about quality not quantity. Give yourself a chance to absorb what you’re hearing rather than “listen” while your eyes wander the room.

Prior to starting her own firm Mary Kay had been a highly successful saleswoman. To honor her and their other top salespeople, one her prior employers had a greeting line where top executives were to personally congratulate each person and acknowledge their accomplishments.

When it came her turn, the man who congratulated her made no eye-contact with her because he was looking over her shoulder at others, and hardly acknowledged her. For the rest of her career, she was hurt by what happened and she made sure never to treat anyone else that way. This is excellent advice for you and me.

4) Write it Down. When you finish your conversation with someone, write-down a few details such as their name and other important information they shared with you. Whether you then put in into a computer or keep the information manually, you’ve now begun keeping a file as Jim Farley did.

If you think names are too hard to remember notice how you can recall the words to old hit songs, who sang them, the names of well-known actors or athletes and details about them. Why? You’re interested, you pay attention and it is reinforced through repetition.

If you ever doubt the importance of remembering names, notice how many buildings, sections of buildings or even plaques or bricks adjoining those buildings are named for people. And in most cases, those people donated a great deal of money for that privilege.

Success Tip of the Week: You can do as most people do, forget names as fast as you hear them. Or you can recognize how important those names truly are and treat them with the respect they deserve.

In the next KazanToday: The sudden death of a father taught his son an invaluable lesson that may also change your life.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!