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by Phil Stott | March 26, 2012


Of all the skills you need for networking, few are as basic as the simple art of remembering someone's name. And few things have the potential to seriously annoy people more if you happen to get it wrong.

While we recently covered some options for what to do if you forget a name, the ideal scenario would be to become so good at remembering names that you never need to fall back on any sneaky tips or tricks.

So how do you do that? Here are a few tips for the chronically absent-minded:

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Part of the problem with remembering names stems from the fact that when you're meeting a new person you're typically focusing on making a decent impression. Which means your mind is most likely on the next thing you can say, or listening for details of what your new acquaintance does so that you can explore a shared interest or find a way to make a deal or a pitch or whatever it is you're hoping to gain from meeting a new person.

The last thing you're doing, in other words, is thinking about their name. One way to get around that: use it. Repeat it back to them when they introduce themselves. Repeat it in your head. If it's in any way unusual, ask them to spell it for you. Drop it into the conversation from time to time. Use it when other people you know happen by and you have a chance to do a brief introduction—even if you've only known them for 4 minutes. The point is to get some practice associating that name with the person in front of you. Once you've made that connection, remembering it the next time you meet will be that much easier.

Picture this

Ask a teacher what the hardest part of taking over a new class is, and "learning the students'" names will likely be in the first three responses. If remembering one name is hard, putting names to multiple faces in a short amount of time is an even more daunting task. 

Fortunately, in our digital age it's not that difficult to refresh your memory on which face matches which title. Most office email systems come with the ability to personalize contacts pages, including headshots. Feel a little weird asking a colleague for a picture? Try LinkedIn instead: many people choose to upload a professional headshot with their profile. The key here is to make sure you're connected with the person whose name you want to recall: that way, you only need to scroll through your contacts until you recognize the face.

Pro tip: Most people don't want anyone to take their pictures, so it's generally safer to request a headshot—just be upfront about why you're doing it. And definitely don't take surreptitious snapshots, unless you want to risk being known as the office stalker.

Map it

Take a tip from a former journalist: when covering meetings with multiple speakers, I would start by drawing a map, noting where each person was sitting and assigning each a number that I would use to track who said what (i.e 1 said "I don't agree with the policy." 3 said, "I support it wholeheartedly"). When writing up the article later, I could just refer to the map to fill in the blanks. That reference tool transfers well to corporate life too—and not just for meetings. Create a map of your office or department, and note who sits where. Next time you need to talk to someone, you can refer to the map to get their name before you approach them.

Pro tip: Don't refer to it while speaking to someone. That will just make you seem aloof and—yes—slightly weird.  

Using Mnemonics

Apparently there are a lot of people out there who remember names by focusing on mnemonic devices. Things like "Margaret. Sounds like Margarita. Which is made with my favorite drink, tequila." If that works for you, go for it. Personally speaking, the process involved in creating mnemonics simply complicates the matter, and I'm no more likely to remember that someone reminds me of tequila (or how that pertains to their name) than I am to pull their name out of thin air.

But at heart, all of these methods boil down to essentially the same thing: taking the time to make a conscious effort to connect a name with a face. Whatever methodology you choose, provided it helps your brain to make the connection between the face and the name associated with, then it's the right one.

Phil Stott,