Help! I Can’t Remember People’s Names!

Help! I Can’t Remember People’s Names!

Recently, I had a situation that left me really embarrassed — at first.

I went into an office break room and walked by a person whose name I should have remembered, as we had spoken several times in the past. I could remember things about them, but their name was just not forthcoming in my mind.

How often does this happen? For me, sadly, a lot…

It often feels like it can be the kiss of death for a professional or personal relationship when you run into issues remembering peoples’ names. And it’s plagued me my entire life.

I remember in high school when there was a person I wanted to date, but couldn’t remember her name after several interactions. One night, at a football game, she was there, and I was in a very precarious position.

In this instance, I had a good friend who had my back, didn’t know her name either, but did me a solid and figured it out for me to make me look better (what a friend!).

But there aren’t always others to bail me out like that. In fact, professionally speaking, this problem shows itself with me, and there aren’t always friends to catch me when I fall.

Trying All The Things

If you can imagine the problems that forgetting someone’s name has personally, you can really imagine the professional cost. When networking, it sucks to feel like you’re giving embarrassing excuses for not remembering, and you genuinely want to show other people that you do care about who they are. When working with a client or colleague, having to shuffle through papers to try and remember it is not the best approach.

Forgetting is stressful.

To fix this, I went through a host of exercises, and always hoped that something would come of them. I tried thing after thing after thing. It never seemed to work, and my frustration always grew.

The New Technique

Going back to the person in the break room, I apologized and he told me about a technique for remembering names that worked well for him, taught by a former boss.

First, he said that it was important to use the person’s name, such as, “Hi, [Person’s Name], it’s great to meet you.”

Then, he said to use their name along with a detail about them from your conversation, like, “So, [Person’s Name], you said you’ve been in fitness for twelve years?”

After this, he said to use their name in closing. “It was great to meet you [Person’s Name].”

Finally, when you walk away, say their name in your head, along with a characteristic of them. Think, [Person’s Name] — cheerful.

Put it all together, and boom — you have yourself a technique.

I tested it out with this person, right after they told me, and I have to say, sitting here, it worked pretty well.

But What’s The Real Lesson Here?

Some of us could sit here and say “hey, that’s a technique that sounds like it would work, and you’re sitting here telling me that it did, in fact, work. So that’s it, right?

Well, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the technique is a great one. But, I think it’s probably also just as effective as some of the others I had tried before.

So, what was the difference this time?


I sit here and think about the other techniques that I have tried in the past for remembering someone’s name. And the real issue? In the moment, when I need to make use of them, I can’t recall their details. I’ve read blogs about these techniques, watched endless YouTube or Insta videos about remembering names — and I realize that I’ve gotten caught up in the trap.

You cannot hack your way out of practice.

In reality, the problem was my impatience. I like to think that simply reading instructions or watching a video is sufficient to improve knowledge. And, in some minor ways, it does. But in terms of making those bits of knowledge actionable for our lives, we have to go further.

We have to practice. And that’s what the name-remembering technique teaches you to do, practice the person’s name in the moment. But the specifics of the technique — using the name three times in different contexts, then repeating it in your head after — have to be practiced in order for them to be easily recalled in the next situation. Just like muscle memory.

It’s something that seems so simple that you’re sure you’ll remember it next time…and you might. But probability-wise, if you're still reading this article, it’s probably coming down to — not the technique you need — but the practice of your chosen technique that needs to happen.

But fear not! With practice, you can employ a technique — better and better over time — and find the way you need to remember those names!

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