Never Forget Someone's Name Again With This Memory Trick

Ever meet someone at a social event and immediately forget their name? Try this technique for understanding and using memory's nature to your advantage.

Sometimes one of the important aspects to career success can be something intangible like how likeable you are.

That vague feeling of goodwill is often determined by how genuine you seem when interacting with others. One of the first steps to showing someone you sincerely care about what they’re saying is remembering what they say--especially their name.

According to a Dale Carnegie training course I took last year, the sweetest sound to anyone’s ear--no matter what language it’s in--is their name. Without nailing down this first step, it can be difficult to move forward in building a genuine professional or personal relationship. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult task since someone else’s name often doesn’t mean anything to us (it’s just another word) so it’s difficult for our brains to remember it.

The solution to our forgetfulness?

According to the course, our memory works best when we remember scenes and images. Our minds are “associate machines” so in order for you to remember something--like a name--you need to form your own association to it.

This is called the memory-linking technique.

It works like this: When you meet someone, pay close attention to what they’re saying so that you can use the details to associate them to your images. Associating a name with a personality trait, an occupation, a visual cue, or where someone’s from is an effective tactic.

Carnegie says:

Paint a mind picture of the person whose name you wish to remember doing something that reminds you of the person’s name. Have the face and body of the person you wish to remember in the picture so that, when the picture comes to mind, you get both the face and the name.

Using those details, make up some kind of clear, vivid mental impression exaggerated in color and motion. The more ridiculous and outlandish the details are, the better your chances of remembering.

For example, if you meet Jill Hamlette who’s a professional basketball player, imagine her fighting with Jack over an enormous piece of ham in her basketball uniform. If you meet Bill Turner who’s a musician, imagine him DJing at a turntable with a bunch of dollar bills in his hands. If you meet Gus White, imagine a gust of wind so strong whipping by that it turns Gus’s face, hair, and clothes into a powdery white. How about Ashley from China? Imagine her running on the Great Wall of China throwing ash over the sides.

Remember that the images should be so ridiculous that they could never happen in real life because we tend to only remember things if they stand out from the surrounding environment. If an association based on the details you’re given doesn’t work, you can also associate the person with someone else you know based on their appearances or the sound of their name.

However, before you can form any association to anyone’s name, you must first truly listen to what they’re saying. Remember that forgetting someone’s name is less about having a “bad memory” and more because you didn’t really try to listen or commit to remembering their name with a technique. If you didn’t hear the person say their name, always ask again.

You can use Carnegie’s memory linking technique to remember just about anything--even facts and figures. The secret is making an association with all of these things in your mind.

[Image: Flickr user kris krüg]

Add New Comment

28 Comments

  • Denise VanEck

    One of the problems with this old school technique is that in our multi-cultural world, most names don't sound like "Bill" anymore.

  • a7696493

    Well I can assure you that I HATE hearing my name being said in a conversation. Mainly because I hate being engaged in any conversation that isn't meaningful, like socialising and networking meetings of profit making greedy individuals and loud-mouths who like nothing more than the sound of their own voice.

    thanks.

  • Nick Valeontis

    The most fool proof way Ive found to remember someones name is don't even bother with knowing it until half through a conversation. On a 6 month trip around Europe last year, what I did was get to know people through conversation, then at some point after I had a grasp of their personality, I'd mention my name and ask for theres. Worked every time. Never forgot a name that way.

  • Erin Bauer

    I always thought this technique of memorizing stuff was too complicated. I know it works for some people though. I think the best way to have a good memory is to use it and use it often. I used to be a server and I was one of those servers that never writes down orders, but always gets them right. Now that it has been a while since I was in the restaurant biz, I find my short term memory went to hell. I didn't use any special technique. I just was always working that muscle so it stayed toned. Since I don't use it like that anymore It has gotten flabby.

  • Steven Hughes

    Thats only ever happened once to me/us. About 8-10 of us sat down at a restaurant. We all ordered drinks and then food. No writing it down (only time I've seen it) and I remember thinking......no way, thats not gonna work. Then out came the drinks. No saying coke and looking for the guest to raise a hand. Just 100% confidence in whose drink it was. She was 100% accurate and it literally blew me away. Food was right as well.

  • It's Dale Carnegie fer gawd's sake. You write this like it's a new discovery. Listen baby girl, it's old news — old as the hills. And who does Dale Carnegie anymore? It's so contrived — you can always tell someone who's done it as they annoyingly over-use your name in obvious attempts to ingratiate and manipulate. ICK!

  • William Gary

    Dale Carnegie's techniques are based on sincerely appreciating and acknowledging another person. If that is passe, then I'm an old fart.

  • Norah Downey

    Dale Carnegie tips work! However, it still takes active listening and a commitment to remembering. If I don't do these two things, I am hopeless with names.

  • Great tips. The asociación things really does work. I have a book that helps you learn the chinese language caracteres in this way and it is truely helpful. It should then also be helpful for remembering names.

  • Stephen Q Shannon

    Okay, it's old school. I used "How To Develop A Super Power Memory" by Harry Lorayne to apply link-association technique to memorizing the names, title, and company of more than 100 guests who flew into our city from SF and LA. As they stepped off the plane and I heard their name and saw their face the homework kicked in and I was for that weekend a freak who could call 95% of the guests by name. From then on it was a new skill, less a parlor game. If your comfort zone is violated, skip the recommendation. Find a more classy way to remember names, faces, title and business affiliation. Don't tell on me. Thanks.

  • Sally Ulianich

    I find that if I repeat their name right after they say it, I have a much easier time remembering it. "What's your name?" "Charlie." "Oh hi, Charlie, nice to meet you..."

    If I can then introduce them to someone else and add a tidbit about what they do, that helps even more. "Kevin, this is Charlie. Charlie's a designer for the newspaper. Charlie, meet Kevin. Kevin works for the city."

    If I say something out loud, especially multiple times, I have a much better time remembering it.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Time after time I find myself telling people "You're the guy I have this ree-eely neat mnemonic for."

    -dlj.

  • My strategy: imagine a small puppet on someone's shoulder with the same name but you already know. For example: you meet another Mark, just put a small Mark Zuckenberg puppet on his shoulder. Works very well! Try it ;)