One of the niggling frustrations of running a choir, particularly a large one, is remembering everyone’s names. It’s embarassing to be chatting with someone, or responding to an enquiry during rehearsal, and draw a total blank on a name, despite the fact that you’ve known the person for weeks or months. Don’t underestimate the importance of remembering your choir members’ names. If it happens once or twice when they’re new, they’ll forgive you readily. Six months down the line, when they’ve been attending rehearsal and performances consistently and feel that they have a relationship with you, they may be quite hurt if you still can’t identify them by name. Here are 8 ways you can get that name lodged firmly in your head.
One of the problems is that when we’re first introduced to someone, we’re taking in a lot of information about them – their appearance, demeanour, speech etc – as well as their name. It’s easy to hear a name, but not retain it. One trick is to use the name immediately as you’re speaking to the person, ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jane’, ‘what do you do for a living, Fred?’.
One of the reasons we forget someone’s name when we first meet them is that we don’t focus and actually listen to them – we immediately get distracted by other things and the name’s gone, along with all the information that person was giving us that would have helped us to remember them. When you meet a new choir member, consciously focus on them wholeheartedly while you’re speaking to them.
Create a mnemonic
Find a word association between the person’s name and something about them. Rhyming can work (Jane uses a cane), as can alliteration (Lizzie has long hair). This can also be a help when you want to retain some important facts about the person like where they work, how many children they have, where they live.
Write it down
As soon as possible after you meet someone new, write down their full name along with where and when you met. It might seem a little excessive, even pedantic, but as a choir leader you have to be able to handle a lot of contacts. There’s not much point in putting ‘John Smith’ in your contacts book with an email address if, a year down the line, you’ll have know idea in what context you met him.
If you don’t know, ask
If you forget someone’s name when you first meet them, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it. It won’t seem at all rude in your early conversations and it will give you a chance to let your memory retain the name.
Use a third party
If you’ve forgotten someone’s name and it seems too far down the line to ask them again, is there a third party you could ask? When I’m working with our 60-strong contemporary choir, I rely heavily on the lovely lady who takes the register when people arrive. If I spot someone new or newish arriving at rehearsal, I dash over to the admin desk and quietly ask who it was who just walked in. Then I find some way to retain the name for next time, so I can greet the person with a cheery ‘hi, so-and-so’ at the next rehearsal.
Be careful with diminutives
Just because you hear a choir member calling another by a nickname doesn’t mean that person likes the nickname, or likes everyone using it. When you’re commiting someone’s name to memory, take a moment to check that that’s the name they actually prefer. For example, if you meet a Susan, you might instinctively want to abbreviate it to Sue, but Susan might hate that. I speak from bitter experience here. I’m a Victoria, not a Vicky, but it’s astonishing how many people spontaneously abbreviate my name with no invitation (always men, by the way – read into that what you will).
If you’re completely stuck and need to ask a person’s name at a time when it’s embarassing to admit you’ve forgotten it, there are a couple of cheats available. The first is to have a smartphone or a pen and paper at the ready, then ask ‘may I have your full name and a phone number for my contacts book?’. That way, the person gives you their given name without you have to admit you’d forgotten it. Another similar trick is to ask ‘could you remind me of your name?’ and when the person says their given name, you quickly say ‘oh yes, I know that, I meant your family name’.
One really important lesson I’ve learned from having to remember so many names is to be sympathetic to people who forget mine! I’ll frequently offer my name in conversation, even to people who I think probably know it by now. They’ll often say ‘of course I know your name, Victoria’, but at least it gives them an opportunity to memorise it if they’re staring at me and desperately trying to remember who on earth I am.