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How to Impress the Heck out of People in Meetings

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

– Dale Carnegie

Government employees spent a lot of time in meetings. Stepping up your game at these meetings is not hard. When you do, it can have a positive effect on your career and can make meetings fun.

People have crafted all kinds of cool ways to make time in a meeting more enjoyable – from doodling on notebooks to playing footsie or flirty face with a colleague. The next time you want to spice up your meeting presence, try the technique I demonstrate below.

At the beginning of every meeting – particularly when new or unfamiliar faces are in the room – there is usually a period for introductions. We start at some point and go around the room. People state their names and maybe a little blurb about their title or what they do. Get ready!

  1. On one page in your own notebook, draw a quick diagram of the room. Make a circle, a square of a horseshoe for the table. Draw a box around that for “second stringers” who sit around the main table, etc.
  2. As people announcement their names, write them down in the correct place on your “seating chart.” Spelling isn’t important. First names are more important than last names.
  3. Announce yourself when it’s your turn and get ready to have some fun. You’ve got more info – and more important info than most everyone else in that room.
  4. As the discussion unfolds, keep a list of points made. Write the name or initials of the person in the margin next to each point. Leave a line or two for yourself to collect your thoughts and jot down a note or two. These will become your speaking points.

When the timing is right, say your piece, but do it like this:

“As John said a moment ago, I like the idea of…”

“I think I heard Janet say…”

“Can I expand on something I heard Frank mention in the beginning of the meeting?”

Look at the people you’re referencing when you use their name. This technique has stunning results. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!

Here are some of the things I’ve found by using this technique:

  • The person you referenced will be impressed that you remembered their name. They will appreciate your bringing their name up – especially if you do it in a positive way.
  • The person you referenced will wonder how you know them. (I’ve actually had people come up to me after a meeting and ask me how we know one another – a great opportunity to establish or deepen relationships).

Everyone else in the room will make some assumptions about you:

  • You are on a familiar, first name basis with many of the people in the room. You must be connected.
  • You’re plugged in not only to what’s going on, but who is doing/saying what.
  • You’re articulate, expressive, and understand the importance of relationships.

Have fun with this! The larger and more complex the room, the more impressive this technique can be. You will see people raise their heads from whatever they are doing when they hear you say their name. You’ll see other people ping-pong their heads between you and the person’s name you used (they’re watching his or her reaction and wondering how you two know one another). You’ll have some entertaining after-meeting discussions as people come up to you and either try to figure you out or try to get to know you – because obviously, you’re the person who knows everyone else.

After you try it, please come back here and leave a comment about your experience. I think it would be great fun to read people’s stories.

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Wendi Pomerance Brick

Great post. I agree completely! I make a special effort to remember everyone’s name when I facilitate a workshop and every session, at least one person comes up to me and asks me how I do it. They really appreciate it!

Jim Cook

Fantastic idea! I did something similar years ago in a medium-sized conference room where many of us were presenting agenda items via PowerPoint and other medium. As you know, PP is very easy to update/modify on the fly. While I sat in the back listening to the folks ahead of me, I updated my presentation with several of the people I had just met, incorporating them into my brief. In some cases, I made humorous reference to them– I must say it went over pretty well.

Jeff Furman, The PM Answer Book

Hi Steve, great idea. This is a variation of the “trainer’s trick” a lot of us use when teaching.

I always find it VERY handy to draw a seating map (all the more helpful when 2 participants have the same first name!)

David Dejewski

Dick – Of course you do. You’re on top of your game. 😉

Wendi – One reason I use this technique is because I don’t have the natural ability to remember people’s names like you apparently do. I wish I did. Having a memory for names is awesome. I’d like to know how you do it too!

Jim – I love the customized PP trick. I’m betting that grabs attention. I try to do something similar to that when I visit a new place to deliver a speech. I like to arrive early, circulate with people and pick up a few personal stories. Then I use them in my presentation. It has definitely improved responses.

Jeff – thanks for the feedback. Who’s Steve? lol… that’s irony in this discussion. 😉

Elizabeth Fischer Laurie

What a great idea! I particularly like that you suggest using a diagram because for some of us that will help to solidify the names more permanently.

David Dejewski

Elizabeth – I ‘m like you with regard to diagrams. Even crude ones help make things stick better.

The diagram helped me during the meeting and after. During the meeting, I could glance down…

“What was that guy’s name again?”

After the meeting, I could reassemble a little better picture of what happened and what my own next steps should be.

“Who was that guy who sat next to George?”

It also gave me a sense of who tended to clump together. Sometimes, it made sense to find out who was passing notes from the second row to the “principal” at the table. Often, those in the second row were trusted agents, people closest to the action or the data being discussed, and good people to make contact with later.

Everyone – Thanks for all the thumbs!

Stewart F Gwyn

Great suggestion, I’ve been one of those to try and peak badge or nudge another for name, and last bullet resonates with us. We hear others learning this skill, be genuine to help. We get into meetings that seem to lack components: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Where the ending is important, sometimes our meetings are left where you are mingling about the room unsure of closing. Thanking those contributions (time and efforts) being made, as content or contentions disorganized protocol to close.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Reminds me of that scene in “Mean Girls” where they explain to Lindsay Lohan where the geeks, freaks, jocks and popular girls sit. Except they didn’t tell her to remember names.

Great advice.

Wendi Pomerance Brick

I was facilitating a half-day customer service training for a government organization yesterday and someone commented they were impressed I remembered all the students names. I practice remembering because it is so important. I shared your tip with them and they liked it!

David Dejewski

Wendi – that’s awesome! It’s very satisfying to see a bit of a tip like that spread. I’m also thinking one of those courses on remembering names might be worth looking into. You live way too far away to get the technique from you over coffee. 😉

David B. Grinberg

Wow, 28 “Awesomes” — that’s pretty awesome and impressive in and of itself.
However, at the risk of playing “devil’s advocate” here, shouldn’t we also be looking above and beyond superficial tricks of the trade to “impress” people? Isn’t trying to impress people out of false pretense disingenuous and insincere?
Do we really need cheat sheets or talking points all the time? Why not just be ourselves, the unique individual that is each of us, rather than trying to win people over all the time and appear to be something we are not? What happens if and when someone at the meeting uncovers your rouse? What do you tell them about your diagram and basically tricking your colleagues in order to “impress” them? Do you continue with such a pattern until folks figure out you’re just a fake and a phony?
Real leaders don’t worry about, or try too hard, impressing people. Real leaders are unique, sincere and outspoken based on deeply held personal and moral convictions to do the right thing, despite what others may think. It’s been said that real leaders lead people where they don’t want to go. I’ve never heard that leadership or success is based upon impressing people or convincing them you are something that you are in fact not.

It’s not always all about, “How to win friends and influence people” — as Dale Carnegie would say, especially through artificial techniques and shortcuts which may eventually catch up with you. Real and sincere impressions last; fake one’s usually don’t. Relying on fake techniques or scams to impress people will ultimately show them that you’re a fake — and that one impression that will last regardless of whether you want it to. Just something to think about.

Carolyn Moeger

When meeting new people, or getting to know co-workers, the tried and true “one interesting fact” is the best way for me to remember someone. The weirder/more interesting the fact about the person the better. This would be a good point to jot down along with this great advice!

Jeffrey Levy

ery good technique. Like David Grinberg, though, I think the point is to use these tips as a way to start relationships, not just because it’ll impress people. Ironically, from other stuff you’ve written, David Dejewski, I’m guessing you’d strongly agree.

I also agree with David Grinberg that you’ll build your reputation best by doing things, not by tricking people. But one of the things to do right is to acknowledge other people and their contributions. And mentioning them by name brings a group together as well as granting that credit.

So again, these are all good things to do. My only comment is that I’d change the description of why.

Diana Cleland

I like the title; the purpose of a title is to grab you, lead you in. And this does.

And I don’t see this as being a “trick”. It is a technique on how to take the extra effort to interact with others as individuals. That is how our meetings really should be. What’s odd is how impersonal many meetings have become; so much so that people are intrigued when you recognize them as individuals. And that oddity is what also makes this a social experiment.

I’ve made those little seating charts for years. But this technique is leaps beyond that; it helps you remember the person – his ideas and his face. It’s not so shallow as just impressing people. They are impressed because you’re making the effort to build relationships; and because you’re encouraging everyone else at the table to do the same. I’ll definitely try this out.

And Carolyn, I like you addition – “one interesting fact”.

David Dejewski

Diana – you nailed the intent of both title and substance. Assuming we would do this merely to impress someone is missing the point. It’s really about making the effort to build relationships as you said – personalizing the meeting experience & lowering barriers.

I’m loving Carolyn’s suggestion of the “one interesting fact.” This is a great way to make names, faces and feelings about people sick. I’ve applied this technique several times and agree that it’s effective. I didn’t typically do this with oak table meetings (my experience with this technique has been in less formal settings), but I see no reason why it wouldn’t make a fun opening. I’d be willing to give it a try.

Jeff, I appreciate the private email. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and concerns. What you said makes sense.

Eric– you’ll have to let us know how it works for you in your new job!

Cynthia L. Johnson

This sounds like an awesome technique. I will be attending a meeting tomorrow with colleagues I barely know….can’t wait to try this!


Sheila Beaudoin

As many others have stated this builds relationships, but it can also work to build teamwork.

Many organizations have an issue with teamwork because of the continuing popularity of the age old stove-pipe organizational structure – which promotes information hording and divisiveness. In this information age, teamwork is the way to succeed by optimizing and exploiting inherent knowledge or the “corporate knowledge” of coworkers towards a common purpose – organizational success.

No longer can we succeed by hording knowledge and working on our own – the world around us communicates too quickly and freely. Building a team of learners – all learning and sharing at the same time – is the way to succeed. Through collaboration – which this technique would help promote – you can have the team focus on applying new knowledge to successful action oriented tasks.

Your method promotes collaboration, teamwork, and networking very effectively by attributing contributions to the correct team members, by overtly and publically demonstrating that you value them and their input, and by building upon their input to model critical thinking for the rest of the team.

Intent though is what makes this technique a success or not. Are you doing it to: 1) smooze and to get ahead – as David Grinberg notes below – if so, then others will eventually see through your ruse and distrust you in the future, or 2) to develop teamwork and improve team work- then you will succeed, because this will do it very effectively. Self-esteem will determine your intent….if you have to prove yourself above all others to prop up a failing esteem structure, then you will tend to do it for self-promotion – and use it as a trick. Better to not use it.

Either way, always be careful of the haters….when you are successful, there are always the low self-esteem people (the highly competitive who prove themselves through achievements over others – rather than their own innate sense of worth) that view your success as a huge threat to their overwhelming need for public acclaim at all costs. Until their self-esteem is assuaged publically, which means you need to do this for them too…do not forget them…..you will have a natural competitor.