Dec 6, 2019

Cue Cards

By Ed Goldman
A friend of mine, Michael Lawrence Green, gives talks and workshops all across the country to companies, government agencies, trade associations, salespeople and news organizations about memory.

One of his gimmicks is to mingle with the people attending his presentations beforehand, then, at least a half-hour later, call them out by name from the stage. I’ve watched him do this a few times and the only time he got a name “wrong,” it was because a snarky clerical worker used another woman’s name during the pre-speech. When Green looked shocked he’d got her name wrong, she confessed and was loudly booed by the audience. I didn’t check back but suspect that small act of perfidy cost her a slot on the company’s bowling team.

I found Green’s accomplishment notable in two ways—first, because he could remember that many names and second, because he refused to look at the attendees’ “Hi, I’m So-and-So” name tags when he met them. Instead, he made little mnemonic notes to himself, he told me—like, if a guy he met seemed very sincere, Green would remember the guy’s name as Frank.

I’m glad he didn’t rely on their name tags, mainly because I despise those. First, whether they’re the stick-on kind or attachable badge, there’s a risk of it damaging your lapel, shirt, blouse or even mock-turtle sweater (after all, the season has turned a tad chilly). Second, since the tags are usually placed somewhere in the vicinity of one’s left breast, looking at it without appearing to engage in mammary monitoring is a serious challenge, regardless of your gender identification. I mean, even two straight guys staring at each other’s left pec can seem creepy—especially if one forgot his reading glasses and has to leaninthisclose to find out the other guy’s name.

Then, too, name tags were not all created equal. Some people put so many initials after their name to show you just how many one-day classes/lunch included they attended to become, say, a certified “life coach,” my favorite dubious descriptor. (“Licensed Time Management Consultant” comes in a close second. As I’ve been asking since the mid-1970s, if you can find the time to attend a time management seminar, why do you need to go?)

I’m glad he didn’t rely on their name tags, mainly because I despise those

One day in the early 1980s, I was on the board of a local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), essentially the same thing as the Public Relations Society of America except that the former had that “ABC” thing working for it. If you attended one of the IABC conferences—and took a course there called something like “Flackery in an Age of Fact-Checking: Is our Profession Doomed?”—you could win an ABC designation to follow your name, which meant you were now an Accredited Business Communicator.

My wife Jane and I went to one of these IABC confabs in Chicago when I was working as an assistant director/spokesman for the UC Davis Medical Center and she, in a similar role, for the California Building Industry Association. We had made the trip planning to skip as many seminars as we could and instead roam around Chicago, where Jane had lived as a young adult after graduating from Northwestern University in nearby Evanston. Our roaming involved a certain amount of bar hopping and by the time we rolled into the conference in time for pre-dinner drinks, we saw a number of people wearing plastic badges that had their names on them, followed by the aforementioned ABC designation. I borrowed someone’s Sharpie® and carefully printed after the name on my own ID badge, DEF. Jane gave me the puzzled look she never abandoned during the almost 30 years we had together until someone came up to me, who had an ABC on his name badge and asked what the DEF stood for. I said, “It’s just a little farther down the alphabet than ABC, if you know what I mean.”

By the time we were seated at dinner, I must have been asked by 20 attendees if I knew where the courses were being held so they, too, could become certified DEFs. Jane was by then rolling her pretty blue eyes, another thing she never abandoned in our time together. I said, “I honestly can’t say”—which, when you think about it, was the absolute truth.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).