The Scientific Way to Remember Names

You’re going into a meeting with new colleagues to present a project you’ve been working hard on. You’re introduced to everyone and you get through the presentation seamlessly. But when you turn to discuss a point with someone you’ve just met, your mind draws a blank. You can’t remember their name.

When so many names are introduced to you in a short amount of time, it can be overwhelming and possibly make you look bad should you forget. Sometimes you can make not saying their name work that one time. But what about the next time you see them?

Below are a few simple tricks to help you remember names and faces.

Get Visual.

When you meet someone for the first time, try and take a picture in your mind of the person in front of you. What are they wearing? What color is their hair? During this snapshot you’re creating, your mind is capturing the exact moment, within a complex process of the brain called encoding. With so many images seen everyday, our minds begin to blur the unfamiliar ones. We have to recognize something about that person that distinguishes them from another. If you can remember specific details, you’re more likely to separate them and associate them with a name.

Get Creative.

When you were in school, did you ever try to make a rhyme to remember the definition of something? You will want to use this same concept only for names. For example, if you meet someone named Bob, create a nickname you’ll remember in your head for him like Billy-Bob. The next time you see Bob, you’re more likely to remember your nickname for him. In a recent TED talk, Joshua Foer, writer and US Memory Champion explained that people are more likely to remember that someone is a baker than that their last name is Baker.

“The entire art of remembering stuff better in everyday life is figuring out ways to transform capitol B Bakers into lowercase B bakers – to take information that is lacking context, in significance, in meaning and transform it in some ways so that it becomes meaningful in the light of all the other things that you have in mind,” says Foer.

Get Emotional.

And we don’t mean crying but instead forming an emotional connection to the person. Pay attention to what they’re talking about. Maybe they’re excited about an upcoming family trip to the beach, or their daughter is graduating this spring. Establishing something to go along with their name and their profession will help you remember their name the next time you meet them. It will also be a great conversation starter.

If you can, learn more about the people you’ll be meeting before the meeting. Ask identifying questions about them to go with the name. You will not only impress the person you’re meeting for the first time, but you’ll have more time to prepare and go over in your mind their names. University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of psychology Susan Krauss Whitbourne explained in a post for Psychology Today that, “knowing the name first gives you an anchor that you can use later to associate with the person’s face.”

Focus, focus, focus.

When you enter a crowded room with a lot of talking and activity going on, it’s hard to focus on the person you’re being introduced to. Your eyes may wander to the person who’s laughing in the back of the room and your focus suddenly falls elsewhere. You’re hurting yourself when you aren’t focusing because you’re not giving your brain a chance to encode the memory of the person properly. You can’t control what’s happening around you, but you can control your concentration. When you shake hands and say hello to someone new, focus on that person and look them in the eyes.

What are some tips you have for remembering names and faces? Sound off in the comments below!

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