Shortly after starting our business, Abigail and I met with a potential new client downtown. “Perfect Pitch,” he mused, eyeing one of our business cards. “I’ve heard of you guys.”
We looked at each other. He hadn’t heard of us and we knew it. We said nothing. Coincidentally we had started our business the year after Pitch Perfect, a Hollywood film about an a cappella singing troupe, had been released in theatres. We figured the movie was making us sound familiar and, in the beginning, we took advantage of the resulting illusion that Perfect Pitch was a well known company.
It’s turned out to haunt us. We have attended client Stampede parties wearing name tags that read, “Pitch Perfect.” We have been introduced in meetings as the ladies from “Pitch Perfect.” We’ve been referred to by clients as “Pitch Perfect.” We still believe the misnomer helps us and yet we cringe every time we hear it. Why? What’s so important about a name?
The answer was demonstrated to me years ago, when I ran a training session with a group of 30 people. I was determined to know everyone’s name without using tags or placards and I had an early morning activity that would give me an opportunity to call each of them by name. So I used a set of tricks I’d been taught by a former university professor who had this amazing capacity for remembering names. He could learn 200 names in a week and even if the students changed seats he would still remember them.
First, I arrived early and got set up so I could greet people as they arrived. Second, when they did arrive, I looked them in the eye, and repeated their name back to them. “Good morning, Harold, grab a seat wherever you like.” Third – and this was the most important trick given to me by the university professor – when I greeted them, I forced myself to think of nothing else. My mind was a blank slate, ready to receive their name.The last trick: when there was a lull in the arrivals, I looked around the room and reminded myself of all the names I had already learned. It worked! I ran the first exercise and called each person by name.
It wasn’t until the end of the course that I realized how important it is to remember a name correctly. At the end of the day I asked for questions certain I would have a bunch about the training material. A gentleman at the front raised his hand and asked, “Colleen, it is so impressive how you remembered all of our names. How did you do it?”
Out of everything we had talked about that day, the fact that I had remembered, and used, their names, was the piece that resonated most with him. And when I looked around the room I realized everyone felt the same way. They were leaning forward, waiting for me to answer.
I’ve read that hearing your name spoken is the sweetest sound to everyone on the planet. I think it’s true. When someone says our name, we feel valued, seen, and appreciated for our individuality. We are not a number. We are not a body in a seat. We are not just another face. We are individuals who want to be valued.
Wrapped up in our name is the painstaking effort our parents went to to decide what that name would be. Our name holds every story that shaped who we are. That name was sung to us by our mothers, called to us by our dearest friends, and whispered to us by those who loved us the most. Our name matters. When someone remembers it, says it, and spells it correctly, we feel closer to them. We trust them.
So, remember the importance in a name. Take the time and effort to remember, and say or spell correctly, someone’s name. Don’t refer to someone standing next to you as “he” or “she.” Refer to them by their name. Don’t start a text with instructions on where to meet for dinner. Start with their name. Don’t just shake hands and say, “Good morning.” As Florence pleads in her wonderful song, “Say my name!”