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Remembering names starts with focus

The site: a posh hotel banquet room Gulf-side in Tampa.

Roast guinea fowl lay on the platters. Gray Riesling rested in the glasses.

Four hundred people -- managers of a top corporation and their guests -- sat at 25 candlelit tables.

A bald, bespectacled man with a beard made the rounds, shook hands and introduced himself to each diner. Two-and-a-half hours later, the scene was repeated. The same guy with the same glasses walked around and said so long to all 400.

And? And, he said goodbye to each of them -- 99 percent of whom he had met for the first time that evening -- by name! To top it off, he was 100 percent accurate!

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Don't believe it? Neither did I until I witnessed this amazing occurrence. Knighted "The King's Magician" by Fortune magazine, Benjamin Levy has wowed royals and VIPs worldwide with his memory prowess. He tells all -- or at least enough -- in his book "Remember Every Name Every Time" (Fireside, 2002).

Is there a trick to this? There always is. People think there are two kinds of memory: good and bad. Wrong. There are two kinds of memory: trained and untrained.

"Most failure to remember names and faces has to do with the fleeting nature of the conditions under which the information is supposedly acquired," contends a neurobiologist quoted by Levy.

What could be more basic than Loews co-Chairman Laurence Tisch in this quote: "When you're introduced to people, if you focus on their name at the time of the introduction, you might remember it. But if you're introduced and you just don't pay any attention, then it's hopeless."

Remembering names starts with focus. For Levy, that goes one big step further. "The more important and potentially rewarding the task seems, the more focused you'll remain," he contends. That's why most people work at remembering only things they have to -- like their Social Security number.

There are two levels to Levy's memory training -- basic and advanced. Levy uses a dandy word -- FACE (Focus, Ask, Comment, Employ) -- to sum up his basic technique.

FOCUS: When you tell me your name, you're throwing a baseball at me at 98 mph. The crowd is screaming and I'm determined to catch it. Really paying attention is the difference between a sure catch and being bowled over by a fastball.

ASK: "Is that Kathleen with a K or a C?" Questions like this show that you care and are really paying attention.

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COMMENT: Connect the new name to something you know, like a Paul you've just met to Paul McCartney. Do it either aloud or in your head.

EMPLOY: Use the name in the conversation or maybe in introducing your new acquaintance to someone else.

None of this works unless you stay focused. Pro athletes do this all the time with a skill called "positive imaging." Levy quotes former NFL field-goal kicker Rolf Benirschke on taking control of the situation to excel: "Instead of being superpsyched at the moment, you slow it down."

Benirschke would sing himself a little song: "Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last. ..."

At the advanced level, Levy helps readers remember names and faces by playing with them. We see Sue and match her name and face through an "exaggerated association." When she smiles, her lips take the shape of a bow. Why not Sioux Indian? Why not add an arrow?

Levy endorses "vivid imagination as a tool to help you remember names and faces." Why? The brain's memory center goes for "information that's extreme in a striking, weird or sensational way." It's OK to have a stack of associations for one person. The more associations you make, the better the chance you'll remember.

This is only the tip of a big iceberg of information and evidence you'll find in "Remember Every Name Every Time."

Bill Clinton, who has an outstanding ability to remember names, would remember the names of hundreds of journalists and grass-roots political people.

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Clinton also had the discipline to write down the names and vital statistics of everyone he met during a given day on an index card before he went to bed.

If you don't believe someone could someday be important to you, you will never learn his or her name.

Mackay's Moral: By any other name, you just aren't the same.

Harvey Mackay is author of the New York Times best-seller "Pushing the Envelope" (Ballantine Books). He can be reached through his Web site: www.mackay.com; or Mackay Envelope Corporation, 2100 Elm St., Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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