How to Remember Names

The evil name-erasing robot in my brain struck again!  This morning, I met several new people at a couple of meetings, they told me their names and I immediately forgot them.  Well, not ALL of them.  I’ve been working on remembering names because I know that remembering names is a critical skill both in business and socially.   Here are tips to:

1. remembering names in meetings,

2. remembering names when one-to-one,  and

3.  what to do if you forget a name

1. Remembering names at meetings:

a.  Name tags.  Name tags allow you to visualize a person’s name and mentally “attach” it to the person.  Wear name tags on the right side so that when people shake your hand, their eyes can travel naturally to your right shoulder.  Name lanyards, although very popular, often hang awkwardly low (think about where people’s eyes will be going).

b.  Name tents. In a seated group with participants at tables (conference table, classroom style, U-shaped table arrangement), name tents can help a presenter as well as other participants learn names, depending on the seating arrangement.  Make sure they face out if names are not on both sides.

c.  Brief Introductions. In a group setting with fewer than about 25 people, suggest to whomever is running the meeting that brief introductions would be helpful, if time allows.  During the introductions take notes–preferably in writing.  Just the act of writing down a person’s name (and a short description) will help cement it in your brain.  If you will be attending a  meeting regularly, review the names prior to the meeting.

d. The Name Game. If time allows and it is appropriate to the group (and the group has fewer than about 20 people), playing “The Name Game” is great fun.  The first person states his or her name, preceded by an alliterative adjective (a descriptive word that starts with the same letter as the person’s first name).  I might introduce myself as “Dynamic Diane.”  The next person says something like “Hello, Dynamic Diane!  I’m Terrific Tom.”  The third person would add-on to the list, saying, for example, “Hello Dynamic Diane and Terrific Tom, I’m Jolly Julia.”  This does get more and more difficult with each person, but everyone pays attention and tries to remember the names.  Those who have already participated can’t help but mentally go through the list and often delight in helping people who forget a name.

A short video demonstrating the Name Game:

e.  Business Card “Map.” For a small meeting around a table, exchange business cards and place the cards in front of you on the table in the same arrangement as the participants.  That way, you can match the person by location to his or her card.  After the meeting, jot a few notes about the person on the back of the card.

2. remembering names when one-to-one

a. Pay attention! Give the introduction your complete attention.  Don’t think about what you are going to say next.  Listen carefully to the name.  Verify the pronunciation or spelling—glance at the person’s business card, if it is offered (or ask them for a card).  Ask questions to elaborate on the name like, “Karla? Is that with a C?” or, “Perego? What nationality is that?” Study the person discretely, noting distinguishing features.

b. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat! Use their name a few times in conversation.  “Jim, it’s a pleasure to meet you!”  or, “So, what type of business are you in, Jim?” Be careful to not overdo it or you will come across as phony.  You can also repeat it silently to yourself.

c. Write it down! If you really want to remember people’s names, write them down when you have the chance.  If you have a roster or other name list, you can also study the list, picturing the person’s face when you see and say the name.

d.  Associate. Mentally tie the name to something else.  You could simply rhyme the name:  “Jack is smart as a tack.”  Or, just pick a distinguishing feature.  “Dave with the big nose.”  Or, and this is trickier, but very effective, turn the name into a picture.  For example, for the name “Tom Berg,” you could picture throwing a  Tom turkey onto an iceberg.

A short video demonstrating the association method:

3.  what to do if you forget a name

a.  Admit it. Say something like, “I remember you well, but your name has slipped my mind.” Or just, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.”

b. Ask someone else. Look delighted to see the person and extend a warm, “Good to see you again,” and discretely ask someone else the name later.

c. Fake it. (when introducing one person to another) When making an introduction and you don’t remember the name of one of the people you are introducing, confidently introduce the person whose name you do know to the person whose name you’ve forgotten:  “This is Sarah Jones.”  Then just let the mystery person complete the introduction.

All of these tips really just  involve paying attention to others.  Remembering people’s names is a simple way to show them that they are important to you.  If you want a person to remember you, remember his or her name.


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

4 Responses to How to Remember Names

  1. Hi Diane,

    Remebering names is such a simple yet relevant topic for fostering good relationships with all those you meet. I especially appreciate your tips for remembering names while participating in a meeting. When you can refer to someone by their name, it makes tha person feel special and important. It demonstrates that you pay attention, you listen, and you care.

    Thanks for a great first article! I look forward to reading more.

    Your friend,

    Vitalia Bryn-Pundyk
    Vitalia Success Seminars, LLC

  2. Hi Diane –

    Fantastic tips. I have done several of these already. I have done so much networking and found it hard to remember everyone’s name that I meet. I do repeat there name out loud at the beginning and at departure. It really seems to help me, even if I do not see them again for a long time.

    I can’t wait to use your other tips and your next blog!!!

    Cindy Mihalko

  3. Pingback: Talking to People About Your Business: Remembering Names, Acting Like the Host « Small Talk, Big Results

  4. Pingback: From Geek to Guru: 14 Networking Tips for Shy People | Small Talk, Big Results

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