What's in a name?

Knowing a person's name says to them: 'You matter'
Not knowing a person's name says: 'You don't matter'
Getting a person's name wrong says: 'You really don't matter!'
Is that overstating it?
Probably not.  And certainly not if you are a trainer.

Years ago I was part of an organisation of many thousand individuals.
I had no significant role in the organisation.  I was one of the crowd; or so I assumed.
One day I passed the director of the organisation on the street
and not only did he recognise me, he spoke to me by name and even asked after my wife, mentioning her by name as well.
I was amazed; I was flattered and my sense of self-worth shot up.
Surprise , surprise - in an instant I was much better disposed towards that director,
and my commitment to the organisation instantly went up as well.

So for a trainer, to remember the names of the people in the room,
suggests to the students that they each have significance as individuals.
And if they feel better about themselves they will contribute more to their training.
And in the process commit more to themselves!

You may be thinking:
'…but I am just not very good at remembering names.'
I remember a man saying that out loud once and his wife came back at him immediately:
'When they start to matter to you, you will remember their names!'
Names are too important not to remember.

Like most of us, I have days when it seems I cannot even remember my own name!
That is why I will often go to some lengths to make sure I am clear about students' names.
Obviously, if you have a 2 hours session in a room with 50 people,
it is unrealistic to remember everyone's name.
In fact in that case I would probably not try at all: all or nothing!

However usually before a training session I will ask for a list of names.
I will look through them and see if I can put them into patterns to help me remember them:
maybe I can group 3 names that start with the same letter: Sally, Simon and Sandra;
maybe there is a run of names that follow consecutive letters of the alphabet: Claire; David; Ed and Farouk;
maybe some go together to make a famous acronym or a set of initials:
Isabelle, Thomas and Veronica for ITV;
maybe 2 names pair together to sound like a famous person or someone I know, such as:
David and Cameron; George and Michael; Lilly and Alan.

At this stage I have not yet met the students, but by preparing the names in my head,
all I need to do when I meet the students on the next day is join each name to a face.
Then once everyone has sat down I will write out the names discreetly on a piece of paper in seating order and keep it next to me.
Usually I will remember the names anyway, but I do not want to risk going blank at a significant moment half way through the day and lose the connection that I have built up with that person.

2 further observations:
name tags or name tents on the desk in front of the students are clearly better than nothing at all,
but all that says is that you can read not that you care.
There is no substitute for going the extra mile and actually learning the names properly.

At the other extreme I have seen trainers who turn retaining names virtually into a party trick,
which seems more about demonstrating how brilliant they are,
than suggesting how significant the student is.
I even remember from my musical days, an American conductor learning the names of the whole orchestra in the first half of the first rehearsal: we were very impressed!
We then went our own separate ways and saw him again the next week:
he barely even recognised any of us.
It needs to be sincere.

It may take a few extra moments of your time, but a person's name is very important to them.
Therefore, as a trainer, it should be very important to you.

This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at the College of Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.

To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course here