Five tips on how to remember people's names

"Sorry, I know we've been chatting for twenty minutes / met three times before, but what's your name again?"

We've all been there. You're at an important networking event, someone introduces themselves to you between canapés and warm, second cheapest wine - and within seconds, you've forgotten their name.

You remember their job, where they live, even their banal weekend plans, but you forget the most crucial thing about them.

Why is it so damn hard to remember someone's name when you first meet?

Nervous energy

Theories vary. When you first meet someone, adrenaline is at its highest. The nervous energy contained in the desire to appear very pleased to have met them and the sensory overload of taking them all in sends your brain spinning. It's not until a couple of minutes in – long after they've told you their name – that your brain settles to normal absorbing activity. Hence your likelihood to remember everything but the single most important thing.

When first being introduced, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, be sure to lock their gaze.

Rik Schnabel

Other networkers simply state that names can be dull and repetitive, so although it's the most important thing to remember, it's often the least interesting.

Rik Schnabel runs the Career and Life Mastery Program and tells me: "The number one reason people don't remember people's names is because they're just not listening with their eyes. I know that sounds strange, but the large majority of people who get this wrong are not looking at the person's face and listening while being introduced. It's that simple."

Name games

With that in mind, I asked the memory skills and networking experts for some top tips in the name game:

The physical things you should do straight away: lock eyes and long handshake.


Schnabel regularly teaches rooms of 30 people how to remember all the 29 other names in the room, and the first thing to cover is body language. He says: "When first being introduced, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, be sure to lock their gaze and never take your eyes off them. Then, keep shaking or holding their hand the entire time you're being introduced, again, no matter how weird it feels. Physical connection tells your neurology that they're safe and so are you. This'll lower cortisol levels so stress is diminished."

Rhyme time 

Catherine Plano has two decades of experience in behavioral and brain science and now runs leadership courses. She advises: "Break down the name into things that it sounds like (e.g. Steve sounds like stove or Brian sounds like iron). It doesn't have to match the name to a T; it only needs to be enough to trigger the name."

Careful if you ever meet Greg Hunt, though.

Think positive

Leigh Fisher has twenty years of experience interviewing and networking for Kingfisher Recruitment. Fisher plays bad cop in the name recall stakes: "Make no excuses. If you continually tell yourself that you have a bad memory, then you give yourself an excuse. What you're really saying is "I can't be bothered remembering." That's just rude.

Take it seriously

This is particularly important when you're at a work event. You don't just ignore parts of your job when you're at the office, so don't do it at an event. It's your job – take it seriously. Maybe even type it in the notes section of your smartphone when you go to the toilet if you don't trust yourself to remember."

Repeat, repeat, repeat

All the experts agree I speak to agree on this old but effective tip: repeat the person's name three times in sentences shortly following the introduction. Schnabel says: "The moment they say their name, keep eye contact and repeat their name slowly (this is key) as soon as they say it. 'Pleased to meet you (n-a-m-e)' is a simple reason to use their name, then you might ask, 'What brings you here (name)?' and finally, 'It's a pleasure to finally meet you (name).'"

More body language

Although your brain does the work, you can manipulate your body to maximise the chances of it working at its best.

"Breathe from your lower abdomen," says Schnabel. "Breathing lower will not only keep you calmer, it will also keep you centered and alert and assist in your confidence. And finally, here's the big confidence trick: lift your sternum.

"Raising your sternum which is the part of your chest just under your chin, will create an air of confidence and have you feeling quite empowered. You just have to lift it about an inch."