How To Remember Names

There are few things more frustrating (and potentially embarrassing) than forgetting someone’s name. For many it’s a constant problem. This can be a big issue for business networking, befriending your peers, or simply showing respect for people you see on a normal basis.

You can do something about it. You can learn how to remember names in a surprising amount of time. It just takes commitment to following through both at the point of introduction and immediately afterwards.

Own it in the introduction

Obviously this is where names are given, but it’s also the exact moment when the names are lost. Seriously, how often do you hear someone’s name then forget it seconds later? Too often. You need to make a conscious effort to own names the first time they are given to you.

  • The minute a person’s name is given, repeat it in your mind five times. This quick repetition exercise makes you stop and focus on the name and the person you’ve just met.
  • Use the name immediately in the next sentence. This could be your introduction back, such as “Hi Steven, I’m Mark.” Or it could be a continuing of the conversation, such as “As we were discussing, Steven…” By doing so, you are getting the name into your vocabulary immediately.
  • Ask an honest question (or make a polite statement) about the name. By doing so, you’re getting more opportunity to hear the name out loud. If it’s a tricky name, ask for its spelling. If it’s a unique name, politely ask about its origins. Make sure you’re not rude about it, as some people can be sensitive about unique names. If it’s a standard name, it’s a little tougher, but you can tie it in to some aspect of your life and make mention of it. Maybe you’ve got many colleagues that share the name, or your best friend from school has a similar name.

See the person: Build an impression

Often we talk without seeing. We don’t spend the time to really get a physical impression of the person who’s next to us. It’s especially true in quick meetings, classrooms, and networking events. It makes remembering names a challenge–really it makes it tougher to remember the person at all.

So during the conversation, spend time looking at the person (or people) you are talking to. Build strong impressions so that the people and the names have much better chances of sticking with you.

Use the name a few times naturally in conversation

Now that you’ve established the name during the introduction, you’ve got to get it into your regular usage. If you want frictionless recall of this name later on, you need to build up your muscle memory of using it. Pepper it into conversation when you can. Don’t force it–you don’t want it to appear unnatural as that can kill the rapport you’ve been building, but you must get used to saying it and seeing the face (and hearing the voice) of the person it belongs to.

Write the person’s name into your contact or address book as soon as possible

People often forget about the power of writing (or typing) things down. It can really help you own the name as you’re again having to repeat it, and you’re using new muscles and senses in the process. Your body is taking an action on the name, not just your brain. That helps things stick.

Be sure to also write down the context in which you met this person. Was it at a convention? At school? During work? Where exactly did you meet? Were there other specific things that make it stand out? These notes will give you much-needed hints later on, especially if it’s not someone you see often. It’s good to have a relationship with the name to jumpstart the memory.

Build associations between the name and the person

Or tie a relationship of your own with the name to the person. Either will help you remember the name. Even if it’s a loose association or relationship, the act of trying to create one actually helps solidify the name in your head, so give it a go!

Maybe the name has an obvious real word pairing. Associate that real word somehow with the physicality of the person (Mrs. Price likes pricy clothes.) Perhaps you had a best friend from grade school with the same name. You could even tie in rhyming techniques and your initial reactions to the person (Alice has no malice.) Again, even a loose pairing and the act of trying to build an association or relationship will help you own the name.

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