August 26, 2014

Money & Career, Networking

Be More Memorable: How to Better Answer the 3 Questions You Always Get Asked When Meeting Someone New

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Almost every time you meet someone new, there are three questions you will probably have to answer during your conversation:

  • What’s your name?
  • What do you do?
  • Where are you from?

These three questions are so common, and you answer them so frequently, that it is very easy to get in the habit of answering them the same way, again and again, without thinking. You probably get bored with your own answers, so you don’t put energy and effort into offering them in an interesting way. “Hi, I’m Joe. I work in public relations for an energy company downtown, and I’m from the Midwest but moved here a couple years ago.” Zzzzz…

You might even feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day – going through the exact same routine time in and time out. It may even contribute to why so many of us dread meeting new people.

Yet it’s worth upping your game in this area; how you respond to these three common introductory questions can greatly impact your first impression, how memorable you are to a new acquaintance, and whether your relationship ever gets past first base, so to speak.

In this post I will outline 6 specific strategies for answering these almost inescapable questions in ways that are distinct and memorable. I will also share advice from experts in communications, linguistics, and networking about how you can stand out from the pack.

Additionally, I will give specific examples of how you can use these tips in practice. First, let’s take a look at what those strategies are:

6 Ways to Make Your Answers More Memorable

Here’s a quick snapshot of the ways you can make your answers to these three common questions more memorable:

  • Repeat Your Answer. Science and common experience tell us that repeating a thing makes it more memorable. So find subtle ways to repeat your answers, without making it obvious what you are doing.
  • Ask a Question. People are more likely to absorb and retain new information if their brain is engaged, which is what happens when you ask a person you’ve just met a question.
  • Tell a Story. We’re all drawn to a good story. Use relevant, brief anecdotes or quick stories to stand out. Just don’t be that guy who launches into their entire life story within the first two minutes of an introduction.
  • Be Clear and Avoid Trying to Be Overly Clever. Always choose clarity. When you are meeting someone for the first time, you should be cautious about trying to be overly clever in your answers to these questions.
  • Create a Personal Association. A great way to be memorable is to create an association between your answers to the three questions and something that is more memorable to the person you are talking to. To use a quick example: a person you just met is more likely to remember your name if you share a name with someone in their family. Find ways to leverage these connections.
  • Find Your Inner Black Sheep. Look for ways to describe yourself that highlights your uniqueness. Be different if you want to be remembered. Vanilla is boring and forgettable; Cherry Garcia, with cherries and chocolate chunks, is memorable. Mmmmm…Cherry Garcia. Where was I?

Now, let’s see how these strategies apply to each of the three common questions:

How to Answer “What’s Your Name?” in a Memorable Way

Repeat Your Name – Without Being Obvious About It

When telling someone your name for the first time, one of the best ways to help them remember it is by repeating your name in a subtle way. One of the reasons people often have trouble remembering names is because saying it just once makes it unlikely the name will move from that person’s short-term memory, or their “working memory,” to their long-term memory.

If you want to make your name memorable by repeating it, but you don’t want to be obvious about it, then try these approaches:

  • Use your name in dialogue. You might say, “So my wife says to me, ‘John, you put the diaper on backwards again…’”
  • Address yourself by name. Try this in conversation: “I was really frustrated, but I said to myself, John, you’re going to learn how to speak Jive if it kills you.”
  • Explain the origin of your name, especially if it is unusual. If you have an unusual or hard to pronounce name, you might try explaining briefly the history or origin of your name so you can repeat it. For example, I might say, “Corcoran comes from the Latin, Corcorinitus, which means, ‘tries too hard to be funny.’”

Tell a Story

Another way to make your name memorable is to tell a story, such as how you got your name.

For example, my first name is John, which isn’t very memorable. However, I was named after my grandfather, a B-17 pilot during WWII who I have previously written about for AoM. If I meet you and I explain this background and tell a quick story about my grandfather, you are more likely to remember my name.

corcgrandfather

The author’s grandfather, John H. Corcoran Sr., a B-17 pilot during WWII.

Or, let’s say your name is Steve, and it turns out your parents named you after Steve McQueen, the actor. Because they had a sense of humor.

You might tell a short story about it: “My dad was a huge fan of Steve McQueen’s movies back when I was born. My mom was dead set against it, but they made a deal where he got to name me Steve, and she got to name my sister Anne, after the character in her favorite book, Anne of Green Gables.”

Create a Personal Association

Another way to make your name memorable is to create an association between your name and something that is more memorable to the person you are talking to.

For example, if you say your name is “Mitch” and the person you are talking to says, “I have an uncle named Mitch,” you could ask a number of questions about Uncle Mitch so that the person you have just met makes a firm connection between you and their uncle.

You can also connect your name with something the person you have just met already knows. Here are a few examples:

  • I have an unusual last name, which most people have trouble spelling. When I lived in Washington D.C., I would say I was “John Corcoran, spelled like the Corcoran Gallery,” an art museum near the White House. I think some people may have wondered whether I was heir to some Corcoran Gallery fortune, which probably made me even more memorable. (I also think that’s what got me a first date with my wife.) By creating an association between my last name and the Corcoran Gallery – a name which most people in Washington D.C. already know – I increased the chances my unusual last name would be memorable.
  • Amanda Marko, a strategic communications expert, tells a story about this approach. “So, my husband’s name is Nick Marko, and people say to him all the time, ‘I bet you got teased about Marco Polo a lot as a kid.’ And he always says, ‘Yeah, I did…until the kids got a little older and realized what Nick rhymes with.’”

How to Answer “What Do You Do?” in a Memorable Way

Ask a Question

If you want someone you just met to remember what you do, a great approach is to ask a question that forces them to think.

Art of Manliness style expert Antonio Centeno uses this approach to explain what he does for a living, which has evolved from custom clothier to creating online courses and videos which help men to dress better.

“When people ask what I do, I usually flip the question and say, ‘You know how most guys don’t dress very well?’” says Centeno. This usually gets the person he is talking to nodding along. “Then I talk about how I solve that problem. I might mention that I have a 9-year-old, and let’s say I go to take him to the doctor. Now imagine a guy comes in who is wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. Am I going to give my kid to this person? Probably not. Now imagine a guy wearing a white lab coat walks in. Everyone can relate to how clothing can make a huge difference.”

When you force the person you are talking with to think by asking a question, and to relate what you do to their own life, they are far more likely to remember you.

Be Clear and Avoid Trying to Be Overly Clever

Derek Coburn wears multiple hats. He’s a financial advisor for high net-worth individuals, he’s an entrepreneur, and he’s an author of the great book Networking Is Not Working.

Explaining all of these roles can be confusing. “Often times we get caught up in trying to be clever and it ends up not communicating what we do,” says Coburn. Instead, Coburn recommends keeping things simple and relevant to the person you are talking to by starting with questions. “By learning more about the person I am talking to first and what they do, I’m in a better spot to lead with what’s more relevant to the conversation.”

Naveen Dittakavi made the same mistake of trying to be too creative in describing what he does when he founded his own software consulting firm. “When I first started consulting, I didn’t know where I fit in the mix – I arbitrarily took a title for myself of ‘software architect.’ But no one knew what that meant.”

Worse yet, Dittakavi found many people thought he was an employee rather than a business owner. Eventually, Dittakavi settled on a way of describing what he does. He started saying, “I’m Naveen and I run a web development company,” and he found that people he met were far more likely to understand him – and to remember him as well.

How to Answer “Where Are You From?” in a Memorable Way

When answering where you are from, your answer will always be relative. If you’re standing in Miami, it is memorable to say you’re from New York City. If you’re in Manhattan, you need to be more specific.

But the best approach is to find a way of explaining where you are from that is distinct. In other words, to describe where you live that makes you seem like a black sheep in a sea of white sheep.

Antonio Centeno does this beautifully. On the surface, Centeno appears pretty clean cut. He’s a former Marine with short-cropped hair and no unusual facial hair or visible tattoos. You might even say he could blend into a crowd.

But it’s all in how you spin it.

Antonio is actually a heterosexual male style expert who runs his fashion empire out of his hometown, in tiny Wittenberg, Wisconsin. Population? 1,113 people. Now that is a little more memorable.

When Antonio tells people where he’s from, he makes a point of mentioning his hometown’s population because “my town is incredibly small for most people. I’m an oddity because people think with a fashion company, I would live in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago.”

He could say he’s from Wisconsin and leave it at that. But highlighting how small his hometown is makes him far more memorable.

Antonio finds his uniqueness means people are more likely to remember him, and they’re more likely to later tell their brother or husband or father to check out his website, Real Men Real Style. “Many times I’ll get an email from someone a few weeks after we’ve met saying you were brought up in a conversation,” says Centeno.

Go Out and Be Memorable

Hopefully these strategies gave you some ideas for making yourself more memorable the next time you meet someone new and need to answer the world’s most common introductory questions.

And remember: if you try these strategies and people still can’t remember you, you can always move to a small town in rural Wisconsin, because that is really memorable. I’m sure Antonio would enjoy the company.

How do you describe yourself in a memorable way when you meet someone new? Share it in the comments below.
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John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and is not really an heir to the Corcoran Art Gallery fortune (but don’t tell his wife that). He writes about business networking and social skills for Art of Manliness and for his own site, Smart Business Revolution. He has a free, 52+ page guide which you can download, called How to Increase Your Income Today by Building Relationships with Influencers, Even if you Hate Networking.


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