How to remember people’s names instantly

handshake with an invisible man
President Barack Obama prepares to greet workers during a shift change at NestlŽ Purina PetCare facility in Allentown, Pa., Dec. 4, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Last Updated on

You’re approaching the new person you’re about to meet.

It’s nearly time to speak…time to announce to the new person who you are.

You swallow to clear your mouth…silently you rehearse what you’re about to say. The moment is nearly there!

You take a deep breath while you move your hand forward in an inviting manner. The hands touch, and you say your name, loud and clear so it can be remembered, while firming the grip of the handshake.

Aah…you did it! The tension fades away as you exhale while your name still echoes in the room…you did it again. You stated your name clearly, and you didn’t accidentally spit while you said it. Perfect!

Suddenly you feel the grip of the handshake lose strength…oh damn! Your heart skips a beat while you realize you missed the other’s name.

You remember hearing a murmur, but you were so busy being proud, that your attention slipped… boy! it’s gonna look stupid to ask for the name now…better avoid using names all together today.

Recognize yourself in this scene? It sucks, doesn’t it?

It’s incredible how many people follow this strategy. In their minds, everything builds up momentum to the climax: introducing themselves! And in a short period, when energy levels recover from such a significant accomplishment, they miss the name of the other person. And that makes for a lousy start in remembering names; I can tell you that!

But even if you have heard the name, will you still remember it 5 minutes from now? Or in an hour? Or tomorrow? And if you met ten people in 5 minutes… would you always remember the names of all the people the next day? Odds are you can’t do it. Most people can’t. Or to be more precise, most people can’t do it YET.

Use these 5 tricks to remember people’s names instantly, and recall them the next day or next week or even the next month.

Focus on listening, instead of speaking

This is the most important part! If you don’t hear the name, you’ll never be able to remember it. So when you need to introduce yourself, focus entirely on the other person. Look them in the eyes, and wait for them to speak first. Focus on hearing the name. Heard it? Great!

Introduce yourself while repeating the other’s name

You just heard the name, now start by repeating it.
“Nice to meet you, Peter. My name is Bolden.” or
“Hello Peter, I’m Bolden.”

Doing this has three benefits:

    • It shows the other you paid attention
    • They get a couple of words to get used to your voice so that they can hear your name better
    • You repeated the name once: repetition is the key to remembering

Make a mnemonic…or connect the name to the person

Now you know the name and have repeated it at least once, connect the name to the person. You can use several techniques for this:

  • Visualize the name

    If you’re good at visualizing, use that technique. My name, for instance, Bolden, is an Anglo-Saxon origin for  “dweller by the top of a hill”.
    If you don’t have an association, visualize the name on the person. If Peter has glasses, for instance, has a name that can be across his face, with the ‘t’ standing on his nose and the ‘e’ on both sides before his eyes, and the ‘p’ and ‘r’ as giant wings beside his face. Now that’s a sight to remember.

  • Make fun of the name

    If you’re better with words, make a joke of the name. “Oh Peter, you’re such a cheater!” or “Mike is hardly a dyke…” or “Heeerrrrree’s Johnny!”. Be creative, make jokes that are funny, sexual, gross, or whatever it is that makes you remember.

  • Connect the name to the face

    If the person has a remarkable feature in the face (big nose, hairy wart, squinted eyes…), that’s also a good anchor point to connect to name to. Use either of the two previous tips and use the remarkable feature. This way, you will have a visual anchor to remember the name, every time you look the other in the face.

By doing this, you will repeat the name once or twice. Oh…and do this silently in your mind. The others might not appreciate it when it’s spoken out loud.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

I said repetition was the key to remembering…so as soon as you have a moment, look back at the people you just met, and repeat the mnemonic. Do this for all the people once, and then repeat several times per person. If you manage five to seven times, you’ll remember it for the rest of the day. No sweat!

When in doubt, just ask!

OK, so you didn’t remember the name. No big deal! I’ve never heard anybody get angry over a polite: “I’m sorry, I know we’ve met (recently), but I can’t seem to remember your name just right now.” or any variation to it. It’s better to ask than to guess wrong! People won’t remember that you requested their name again, but they will remember when you guess it wrong.

Decide you can remember names instantly, and use these techniques to help you. It might take a little practice, but it will surprise many people when you’re capable of doing this. And that, in turn, helps them to remember you.

Oh, and as far as concentrating on saying your own name, like in the example above. Don’t worry, you’ll remember! You’ve been living with that name for quite some years now