How I learned to never forget someone’s name

A name is useless…and also incredibly important

So you’re at a party with a friend and you don’t know anyone there. He’s introducing you to new people every few minutes and while you wish you were having fun, instead, you’re stressing out because you’ve already forgotten the names of the three people you met just three minutes ago.
Or maybe you’re at an important business function—with your boss or on your own. You’re trying to make a great impression on some people who could make or break your career. You’ve met a few of them, but now you’re starting to sweat—little beads of nervousness popping up on your forehead—because you just forgot the name of the gal who offered to introduce you to someone you’ve needed to meet forever

What’s in a name?
Nothing and everything all at once. A name is, for the most part, meaningless. Someone’s name tells you nothing about them, and gives you no concrete facts to judge or remember them by. That guy you met yesterday could just as easily be named, “Sunday Stranger #5″ as he could be Jerry or Arnold.
In this way, a name is nothing. And if you’re bad at remembering them, it’s probably what you tell yourself to ease pressure when you have to meet new people—”I don’t need to remember names. As long as I’m genuine and nice, people will accept that.”
But you know you’re wrong. You know a name is, in fact,everything because you remember how it feels when someone you thought you made a connection with forgets yours.
But even if you’re absolutely useless at remembering names, it need not be this way. In fact, in just a few days with a few small changes to how you meet people, you can remember the name of every single person you meet.
How do I know? I used to be the same way. I used to meet someone and forget their name just seconds later. It was embarrassing, and I could tell just how that person felt each time I forgot.
But now, I struggle to forget names. The minute I meet someone, their name is practically burned in my mind. The change has been profound, and it’s made a significant difference in my life and how I interact with people.
In fact, it’s been over two years since I’ve had an embarrassing, “I’m sorry, I forgot your name” moment.
How did I do it? Read on to find out.

The Cheat Sheet to Remembering Anybody’s Name Forever

If you’re horrible at remembering people’s names like I was, you’ve probably already told yourself whatever you’re about to read is garbage and will never work for you. I get it; I used to tell myself the same thing.
I’m going to ask you to suspend that belief for just a moment as I describe the process that changed my life. You won’t regret it. Promise.
Before I stumbled on this method, I tried all sorts of repetition based exercises that never worked. It was really upsetting.
But then, I decided to try this random, crazy exercise a friend of mine had shared with me. It was so silly, I didn’t want to do it at first. But, knowing I needed to conquer this problem, I gave it a shot.
The method can be broken down into three phases:

  • Moment of Meeting
  • Story Creation
  • Story Maintenance

I know that sounds weird now, but keep reading, and it’ll all make sense in a moment.

Moment of Meeting: Success in the First 5 Seconds

Now that I’ve seen both sides of the struggle to remember names, I’m convinced that 90% of the problem can be solved at the very moment you meet someone new.
Difficulty with remembering names typically comes in an environment where you’re either surrounded by a lot of stuff going on—a party, concert, meeting, etc.—or you’re being introduced to a lot of people all at once.
What happens is your brain gets overloaded, and it becomes extremely hard to focus on one single thing, like someone new telling you their name! You can fix this problem in four little steps that all happen within a few seconds of meeting someone new.
Step #1: Create an “I’m about to meet someone” cue.
The first step in remembering a new name is to create a cue that prepares you for the event of hearing it. I like to close my eyes for a second and make all the noise around me go a little blurry. It’s weird, but it’s the perfect cue for me.
As soon as I get the impression I’m about to meet someone new, I close my eyes, mix all the sound from the room together in my head so that I’m not paying attention to any one thing—it all becomes background noise—and then I can focus everything I’ve got on the person I’m about to meet. I can do this very discreetly in just a second or two, so it’s not that weird.
Step #2: Ask for their name before it’s offered.
There are several ways to introduce yourself that are socially acceptable. Some are more passive; you wait for the other person to offer their name or ask for yours. And some are more assertive; you initiate the exchange.
If you’re the type who commonly forgets names, you’re likely more passive in this regard. Step two is to change that, and become an “assertive greeter.”
Every single time you meet someone new, make it a point to be the one who initiates the exchange. This subtle psychological hack changes the way your brain interprets the information you’re about to receive. It goes from saying, “Oh, someone I don’t know is talking at me—disengage” to “I’m asking for information from this person, so I should listen to the answer.
Step #3: Make direct eye contact.
As a person is telling you their name, look directly into their eyes. Do not look away until you’ve fully processed the information. This helps a bit with future facial recognition, and ensures your focus on the person is undivided as their name leaves their mouth.
Catching a name on the first try requires a type of concentration that those of us with bad name recognition struggle with. This step helps make sure we catch the name in the first place.
Step #4: Repeat the name back to them.
As soon as the new person has offered their name to you, it’s important you repeat it right back to them immediately. So, if you were just introduced to someone named Brandon, you would simply follow up with, “Hi Brandon. It’s great to meet you.”
If you’re meeting a group of people—do this once after each person is introduced— and then do it again as a wrap-up, recounting all the names.
Remembering names in a group is one of the hardest things to do. So, one thing you can do to slow the process down and give your brain time to let each name sink in is to take control of the greeting, and do each introduction individually.
Do not let a group introduce itself to you all at once, name after name. You won’t remember. Instead, introduce yourself to the first person just like you would if they were the only one there, and then work your way through the group.
You can add even more time to let your brain catch up by shaking each person’s hand.

Story Creation: Remember Every NameTomorrow

If you only do the first four steps above—and remember, those first four steps all take place within just a few seconds—you’ll likely have no problem remembering everyone’s names for a few hours. It’ll get you through the evening.
But, if you want to become a name remembering ninja who can confidently greet people weeks or even months later, you have to go one step further. This is the part that seems absolutely ridiculous, but it’s the most important step for your long-term memory.
Step 5: Create an insane/silly/ridiculous story about the person you met.
The human brain is a master at telling and remembering stories. For millions of years before history was recorded, everything we knew about everything was passed down from generation to generation through a series of stories.
We’re experts at remembering stories. So, if you want to remember someone’s name for the long-term, what you have to do is create a rich and detailed story about them. The more outrageous the story, the easier it’ll be to remember.
There are a few tricks you can use to do this well.
Trick #1: Compare them to someone with the same name.
Any time you meet someone who shares a name with someone you already know, you can pick out their most noticeable feature, and compare it to the same feature of the person you already know.
If you meet someone named Dan, and he has a mole on his nose, picture it as the biggest mole you’ve ever seen, and then compare it to the Dan you already know who has no mole at all. This is a simple story, “Old Dan has no mole, but New Dan has the biggest mole I’ve ever seen.”
This works because you’ve anchored New Dan to Old Dan in multiple ways, and the brain is better at remembering superlatives: “Dan has the biggest/ugliest/weirdest/mole on his nose” than the mundane: “Dan has an average looking mole on his nose.”
Trick #2: Use name alliteration.
To craft a truly memorable story, try to use alliteration wherever possible. If you can create a short sentence or story about someone new using words that all start with the same letter/sound, it becomes much easier to recall later on.
This works best if you can work features of the person’s body into the story. Personality traits also work in a pinch, but they’re not as strong because you can’t see them right away to recall them when you need to.
For instance, if you meet someone named Alice and she has a large…posterior… you might tell yourself, “Alice always has an ample ass.”
Obviously, you’d only want to recite that story in your head!
Or you can attach the story to another person: “William works with Wendy who I met on Wednesday.”
Trick #3: Create a bizarre story.
If alliteration is proving difficult or you want to add another memory element, an extremely effective trick is to create an absolutely bizarre story that incorporates the person’s name, or pieces of it, so that when you re-tell the story to yourself—you can piece together their name, kind of like a puzzle. You basically encode their name into the story.
For instance, if you meet someone named April Claussen, you might tell yourself a ridiculous story that incorporates parts of her name: “It’s always raining in April, which is when Mrs. Claus is busy making mounds of cookie dough for the winter.”
Because you used her whole first name, you’ll remember that no problem, and then the partial use of her last name will give you the clue you need to remember the rest.
This works the best when you make your story absolutely ridiculous. Go crazy!

Story Maintenance: Remember Any Name Forever

Once you’re home from your meeting, you’ll move into the story maintenance phase of name memory. This is the last important piece of the puzzle for remembering someone’s name for the long-term. And it’s especially important if you meet more than one person.
When you get home—or wherever you have a moment in private—make a quick note of each person’s name who you met and the story that you’ve attached to them.
Do this with a pen and paper. You may never look at it again, but just the act of writing something down helps immensely with the memorization process. Go over it once before you go to bed, visualizing each person as you slowly recite the story, and you’ll be on your way to memorizing their name for a lifetime.
If you’re the type that likes to be extra thorough, you can save your notes, and review them once every few days for a week or so, and then once a week for a month or so.
If you follow the steps above—even just a few of them—you’re going to get much, much better at remembering the majority of names you come across each day. Even if you used to be horrible at it.
Welcome! It’s better on this side of the fence and the people in your life will appreciate you more. It’s a nice feeling! Just remembering someone’s name is the first step to what could become a very important relationship.

This article originally appeared on Medium
Title Photo Credit: flickr