Have you ever found yourself in the embarrassing position of forgetting someone’s name, right at the most inappropriate time?
This is an awkward and common situation, but by following some basic principles you can easily avoid it from ever happening to you again.
5 Steps to Commit Names to Memory
1. Be Motivated to Meet People
The most important step in remembering people’s names is to acknowledge that people are important and you are genuinely interested in them.
Very often we become too focused on our personal goals, letting relationships slip away. However, we need to be conscious about what people represent in our lives and acknowledge every new relationship as being important to us. Just by adopting this mindset – without resorting to any other technique – your chances of remembering anyone’s name will improve dramatically: No amount of memory tricks can replace genuine interest in people.
2. Pay Sincere Attention to Introductions
- Focus on the person.
Not paying attention to the other person is the leading cause of forgetting names. In introductions, most people are only preoccupied with what they’ll say next, anxious to cause a good impression. Relax, focus on the person and just listen: the best impression you can make is by calling the person by name later.
- Make sure you heard it right.
This may sound too obvious, but you need to make sure you heard the name correctly. If you didn’t hear it well the first time, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask the person to repeat it – actually, this is often perceived as a good thing, as it shows that you care. Moreover, if Mr. Csikszentmihalyi speaks too fast, don´t be ashamed to ask to repeat his name slowly. He will almost certainly not be annoyed; also, the more uncommon a name is, the more surprised the person will be when you say it correctly later on.
3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
We usually forget a name during the first few minutes after hearing it for the first time. By using the person’s name in the next few minutes after you first hear it, you are taking a great step in committing it to your memory.
- Use it immediately.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Robinson”. This not only counts as a memory aid, but also gives the person a chance to correct you in case you got the name incorrectly.
- Repeat silently.
“Robinson, Robinson, Robinson”. Mental repetition is especially effective when you combine it with other senses – such as doing it while looking in her eyes or shaking hands.
- Introduce the person to others.
Every repetition counts, and taking the initiative to introduce people to each other will also help expand your social circle.
- Repeat the name throughout the conversation.
“So, Mrs. Robinson, what do you do for a living?”. Throwing the person’s name in the conversation once in a while really works wonders for your memory and keeps the conversation more engaging. Just be careful to sound natural and not overdo it.
If you’re still not getting results, we’ll need to resort to some memory tricks. We know that memory works best by associating images, so let’s put that concept to good use here. We’ll need two images: one for the person (usually the face) and another for the name. Creating the association is pretty easy:
- Make the person’s face as vivid as possible.
Humans are already equipped with the best face-recognition software available, but every bit we do to improve the image can help. Exaggerate a distinguishing feature in the person’s face to make it remarkable and humorous, turning the face into a caricature. Pick the first feature that grabs your attention: eyebrows, nose, forehead, avoiding characteristics that may easily change, such as hairstyle, clothes or glasses.
- Transform the name into an image.
We are particularly good at remembering faces, but why don’t names usually come naturally to us? That happens because names are too abstract – we need to find a way to convert them into images, so that our brains understand and better deal with them. You can do this in many ways:
- Use a known person’s figure.
Picture the person you just met with a known namesake – either a personal friend or a famous figure. Make them interact in ludicrous or unexpected ways.
- Find a word that rhymes with the name.
Paying attention to the way the name sounds is also an easy way to find associations. As usual, imagine the picture for the rhyme word and combine it with the person’s image in a strong way. “Jake drowning in a lake” may be tragic, but works.
- Play with words.
You shouldn’t be limited to rhymes only: use any word similarities that suit you best. “Margarine melting down Margaret’s blonde hair” is an image that fits all outrageousness requirements. Don’t try to be too elaborated, though – the first association you come up with will usually be the most effective.
- Use a known person’s figure.
For some people, remembering the first letter of a name is enough for remembering it all. If that’s your case, you can define alphabet pegs for the name first letter and use them as linking pictures. This technique is explained in depth in the article ‘Improve Your Memory by Speaking Your Mind’s Language‘. Think ‘Billy the Bear’ or ‘Sandra the Snake’.
5. Review the Name Soon
Reviewing a person’s name and writing it down in the next day or so makes remembering names virtually infallible.
If you’re serious about making and keeping relationships, you probably already have a database with all your contacts. Adding the new contact to your personal contact database is a great opportunity to commit it to your memory. Don’t add only the contact’s name, but also other useful information such as place and date where you first met.
You will have the added benefit of being able to look up the names in your database when you know you’ll meet these people again.
How to Handle Those Sudden Memory Lapses?
What if it’s too late and you already find yourself in the dreadful situation of forgetting someone’s name?
First of all, don’t avoid talking to the person whose name you forgot: the risk of not developing a potential relationship is not worth it.
Another common behavior (of which I was once guilty as charged, I must admit) is calling people with expressions such as ‘man‘, ‘pal’, ‘my friend’. These are fine if you use them once or twice, but they wear out pretty quickly and you’ll risk getting even more embarrassed later.
Try these more elegant solutions instead:
1. Admit It
Being honest and admitting the memory blackout is the simplest and most obvious solution, which you should seriously consider as your preferred choice. Remember that the essential thing is to have the attitude of considering people important. If you do and your memory still fails you, there’s no reason to feel guilty at all. Admit it as soon as possible and get the issue out of the way. Don’t make a big deal of it – everybody forgets names every now and then.
When telling the truth, be gentle and polite: you may be surprised how people actually appreciate some candidness.
2. Introduce Others Skillfully
The most awkward situation for a person who forgot someone’s name is to be forced to introduce that very person to someone else. But if you do it skillfully, you can use that seemingly unpleasant situation in your favor. Try the following line: “I want you to meet someone: this is my friend John”. Then let the conversation flow; it will probably finish with your answer: —“Hi John, nice to meet you. I’m Robert.”
3. Recover Context Information
A great way to increase the chances of remembering someone’s name is by remembering specific information about the person or about the circumstances when you first met. If you can’t remember, you can try letting the person provide you the missing pieces: “What are you up to these days?” or “How’s the business going?” are good lines that don’t raise much suspicion.
Make It Easy for Others
Now that you won’t forget people’s names again, how about fixing the problem from the other side – making it easy for others to remember your name? You not only make yourself more memorable, but you also save other people the embarrassment. Try these tips:
- Always say your name slowly and in a clear voice.
- Introduce yourself first:“Hi, I’m Bob; we met at the company cocktail party last month.” This line has the added benefit of also encouraging the other person to say his name.
- When being introduced, you may want to “teach” others how to remember your name. “By the way, have we met already? I’m Luciano Passuello — you know, just like in ‘Luciano Pavarotti‘: I am no Italian singer, but my mom once said I can make damn good pasta!”