Forget-Me-Not: How to Remember People’s Names (Almost) Every Time

8 min read

Dale Carnegie, legendary author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, once said, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

In other words: If you want to leave a positive impression on someone—to make them feel noticed, important, and valued—say their name.

And that’d be great advice, if not for one thing: So many of us—myself included—often struggle to remember people’s names that we meet. Sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me, you probably meet new people on a fairly regular basis. And despite the best of intentions, it can be so easy to forget the name of the person we shook hands with just 15 minutes ago.

I got so tired of this problem that I began to read and study everything I could find on the art of remembering names. Over the years, I’ve come across a number of great tips and even developed a few of my own; and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you.

But first …

The Unfortunate Truth About Remembering Names

The tips and tricks I’m going to share below have been incredibly effective for many of my clients. But no matter how powerful they may be, one thing remains true: Short of superhuman memory, you aren’t going to remember everyone’s name every time.

That might seem obvious, but it’s an important truth to accept. Here’s why: When we forget someone’s name, our default reaction is often guilt. We feel bad for not remembering their name.

But here’s the problem with guilt: It’s generally a negative emotion that can color all future interactions you have with someone. Guilt often causes people to get stuck in their own head, disengaging them from the conversation. Guilt is also a very powerful emotion, and it’s going to be evident to the other person.

They might not know exactly what you’re feeling, but there’s a good chance they’ll notice you aren’t happy. They may end up assuming you don’t like them, harming the relationship before it ever got a chance to start.

All of that to say, understand this: The strategies below are going to help you remember people’s names more easily and frequently, but you’re still going to forget names from time to time. That’s okay.

Give yourself permission to make a mistake and be forgetful. If you do, these strategies are much more likely to be successful.

Want to know what to do when you forget someone’s name? Check out Steven Benna’s (@steve_benna) What to do if you forget someone’s name immediately after meeting them.

5 Strategies to Help You Remember People’s Names

Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about 5 things you can start doing to do to remember the names of (almost) everyone you meet.

#1: Invest into Introductions

Too often, we have a tendency to treat introductions as a formality; as precursors to something more important. As a result, we aren’t fully engaged or 100% present during initial interactions. So it’s really no surprise we leave these conversations having already forgotten the other person’s name.

Simply by going into an introduction fully present, aware, and invested in the moment can make a huge difference in remembering people’s names. When you know you’re about to meet someone for the first time, take a moment to boost your natural curiosity and go in with the sole intent to actively listen to the other person.

Next time you’re about to meet someone new, quickly commit to yourself: “I am going to learn and remember this person’s name.” This simple mental commitment will divert more energy to hearing, repeating, and remembering the person’s name, increasing the likelihood that you’ll be able to recall it in the future.

#2: Harness the 3x Rule

When you enter a conversation actively seeking the other person’s name, you’re going to notice when you hear it. As soon as you do, mentally repeat it to yourself three times while looking at their face.

Doing this allows your brain to associate the person’s name to their face, increasing the likelihood that you’ll be able to recall their name the next time you see them. If you’re the imaginative type, you can take this one step further by mentally “writing” the person’s name on their face.

Beyond the mental repetition, it’s also a good idea to verbally repeat this person’s name as often as naturally possible during the conversation or event. Even better: Repeat the name to someone else after the interaction. For example: “I just had a great conversation with John Smith from Rapple. Have you met him yet?”

#3: Look, Snap, and Connect

Our brains love to find patterns and connections. By leveraging this tendency when you learn someone’s name, you’re much more likely to remember their name in the future.

So as you follow tip #2 and repeat their name to yourself, try mentally “playing” with the sound of the name.

  • Does it rhyme with something catchy that relates to the person? For example: Gayle, VP of Sales.
  • Can you link someone’s business, hobbies, or location to their name? For example: Debra from Detroit, Roger from Rapple Inc, or Dave the Drone Enthusiast.

Gary Small, UCLA Professor of Psychiatry and director of UCLA’s the Memory and Aging Research Center, summarizes this approach in what he calls the Look, Snap, and Connect technique. Here’s how it works:

  • Look: You take time to mentally “look” at the person’s name and really focus on it.
  • Snap: Take a mental snapshot of the person’s face.
  • Connect: Using visual cues and images, connect the face with the name.

The difference is, Small recommends getting a little more creative in your visualization. For example, let’s say you meet someone named Amy Carpenter.

First, you’d visualize her name. Second, you’d take a mental snapshot of her face. Then you might imagine someone taking aim at a carpenter.

Or take the name Todd Savage. You might conjure up images of a toadstool being eaten by a particularly savage frog.

It might seem a little ridiculous but, actually, that’s the point. The more outrageous the imagery, the more likely you are to recall it in the future.

This system is based on the concept of mnemonics, which uses imagination in combination with the five senses to take easily-forgettable information and turn it into vibrant, easy-to-recall memories.

 #4: “And how do you spell that?”

James Jorasch, Memory and Innovation Consultant and competitor in the US Memory Championships, says taking the time to ensure you have the correct spelling and pronunciation of someone’s name increases the likelihood of future recall.

So anytime you meet someone with a unique name, ask them how it’s spelled and make a mental note. Imagine yourself writing it down or, even better, actually write it down. You could do this in-the-moment by adding them to your contacts list, or after-the-fact by looking them up on LinkedIn.

Understanding how a name is spelled or pronounced gives your mind one more image to hold on to, furthering the mental connection and increasing the chances that you’ll remember their name the next time you see them.

#5: Play the Picnic Game

This one’s a little out there, but hang in there with me: Have you ever heard of the Picnic Game?

In it, one person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing [item].” Then the next person repeats what was just said but adds an item of their own. It goes around like this—with the list growing increasingly longer—until someone forgets an item that was said before.

Basically, it’s a memory training game. But the same concept works when it comes to remembering names—especially in group environments where you’ll be meeting many new people.

Here’s how it works: With every new name you hear, you repeat the previous names you’ve learned while envisioning their faces. For example: “I attended Post Seed 2016, and I met John, Erin, Abby, Reid, Kyle … ” And so on.

You get the idea. This plays into the brain’s natural desire to find patterns and connections, and I think you’ll be surprised just how effective this “game” can be.

Remembering people’s names is all about consistency

At first, some of these strategies are going to feel a little unnatural. Like when establishing any new habit, it may feel a little awkward and distracting at times.

That’s okay, it’s all a part of the process. If you stick with it, each of the methods above will become automatic and more-or-less subconscious, allowing you to make connections and remember names at a much higher velocity and quantity than ever before.

And that simple act—the act of caring enough to remember someone’s name—is one of the simplest, subtlest, and most profound ways to show someone you care.

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