I'm at the Imagine Cup US finals and am among a crowd of people who are very influential -- congressmen & congresswomen, leaders of foundations and inner city youth groups, entrepreneurs, corporate VPs and more. It's a group that I am just fascinated to be around, because these are people who are making real change on a daily basis to make the world a better place.

When faced with a situation like this, one must draw upon the ancient art of remembering names. In an informal setting (e.g. a cocktail setting), business cards are infrequently exchanged. However, you often hear "Hi, I'm _____ from _____." Then, weeks later, you find a perfect opportunity to discuss a concrete, pressing issue -- or business opportunity -- with that person. You didn't get a business card; you can't remember the name; you are out of luck.

I've compiled a list of things that help me in situations like this.

  • MOST IMPORTANT RULE: Be conscious of the fact that you are in a social situation and will need to remember names. However you accomplish that is up to you. The biggest problem is getting too excited about the new person to sit back, listen to the name and commit to memory.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition, repet... Listen very carefully to the name when you hear it. Tune out background noise and zone in on the person's mouth, so you're sure you get it. Then repeat it in your head as often as you can.
  • Use mnemonic devices. Where applicable, a mnemonic device can be very useful. Dan Waters is the guy who lives by the water and showed me Sync cars... Oh yeah, he works for Microsoft and lives in Florida.
  • Write stuff down. When you get a moment, pull out a notepad and just jot down a fast note about the really interesting person you just met.
  • If you see potential for a "more than acquaintance" relationship, exchange cards. Not everyone wants to give out their business card. If you are offered a card, give yours. If you decide to offer your card, explain that you'd like to follow up and why.

In general, just follow the most important rule and you'll be fine. Listen to and be aware of the person talking to you. You never know when that connection could help you realize big aspirations!