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Photograph of a tray of champagne cocktails

The cocktail party effect

The “cocktail party effect” is a phenomenon we’ve all experienced. Imagine you’re in a busy, noisy room full of people, with many conversations going on, such as at a bar or cocktail party. You’re deep in conversation with someone and suddenly, through all the noise, you hear someone else nearby utter your name. In that moment, your attention is pulled out of the conversation you’re in, and directed instead to the person you just heard mention your name. Suddenly you want to know what they want or what they were saying. That’s the cocktail party effect.

It happens because while our conscious attention is focused on the conversation we’re in, our senses are still subconsciously drawing in information from all around us, including peripheral sounds. There are some sounds we are conditioned to react to, sounds that instantly demand priority for our attention, and one of them is the sound of someone saying our name.

It demonstrates how important names are to us. After all, we’ve been responding to people calling us by our name for longer than we can remember. It’s deeply embedded conditioning.

‘Tartle’ is a great word from Scotland, which describes that slightly panicky feeling you get when you are about to introduce someone and you can’t remember their name! You’ll know this feeling because we’ve all been there and it’s great that there’s a word for it.

Having someone take the effort to remember your name makes you feel good, makes you instinctively like them more and strengthens the social bond between you both. On the other hand, having someone forget your name subconsciously weakens that connection. This is why we feel an excruciating moment of panic when we are the person who forgets.

Calling your customers by name makes them feel more special. It makes your interaction with them feel more human and more individual. Without overdoing it (we all know what it feels like when telemarketers overuse our name), how can you create that personal touch when you connect with customers?

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