Doctor’s Note: I’m on vacation this week. But rather than not have any updates or re-run old articles, I’ll be posting extra “Ask Dr. NerdLove” columns. The regular publishing schedule will resume on June 16th.
As I’ve gained more confidence in socializing and interacting with others, there’s still (what I think is) an important skill that I’m lacking: how to remember names and faces.
I bring this up because I came across someone on OKCupid who happens to be in the same grad faculty where I go to school. To be sure, I messaged her asking if that was the case. She responded and said that she did and recognized me from the last event the grad students had been out to.
I felt kinda bad because I wasn’t connecting any name or face, and I’ve always been bad at remembering names. It’s even harder in a context like that event (lots of people, loud atmosphere, alcohol). I’d like to know if there are techniques out there for remembering names and faces. This individual seems understanding but I’m sure there are people out there who would see this as being self-centered.
Don’t feel too ashamed, Forgetful. Plenty of people have a hard time remembering faces or names. in fact, many people out there – including Brad Pitt, as it turns out – suffer from a cognitive disorder known as prosopagnosia, which can make it incredibly difficult to recognize or remember faces. Personally, I’m actually really bad at remembering names; many times it takes me a couple tries before I can connect a person’s name to the individual. And let me tell you, this gets fun at parties when I introduce myself to somebody I’ve met three or four times before.
Thing is, knowing how to remember names is an important part of being charismatic and charming. We instinctively listen for our names; how many times have you sworn you heard someone say your name, only to realize you misheard? Dale Carnegie’s quote of “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” is entirely correct. When someone refers to us by name (instead of “hey you” or what have you) we feel more positively inclined towards that person. They’re showing us that they care enough and respect us enough to remember us… and that’s a pretty powerful feeling. One of the reasons why Tom Cruise is famous for his charm is because he makes a point of learning everybody’s name – gaffers, grips, the catering crew, everyone’s – and calling people by name when he sees them. Same with Bill Clinton; he not only makes a point to remember names but details about the person as well. Whenever he sees them again, he will call them by name and bring up something they talked about last time.
Never underestimate how powerful a “Hey David, how’d that pitch meeting go?” can be when you’re trying to befriend somebody.
Don’t worry if you’re not naturally good at it – or even if you have a problem. There are tricks and techniques to help you remember names and faces better.
To start with: pay attention. I realize this seems obvious, but one of the reasons why some people don’t remember names is because they were too busy getting lost in their own heads rather than listening, especially if you’ve been drinking. It’s easy to get distracted and miss their name – even when you think you heard it. Or you might be the sort who doesn’t listen but instead waits for their turn to talk. If you missed it, don’t be embarrassed. Shit happens; just say “you know what, I feel like a doof, but I don’t think I quite caught your name. Would you mind telling me one more time?”
But as obvious as this might be, it’s still important to consciously choose to pay attention and remember their names and faces. It primes the brain and makes you ready to put it all into practice.
The second trick is simple: repetition, repetition and also: repetition. If you want to remember names, find opportunities to say their name while you’re talking to them. The most obvious times are when you’re first introduced and when you’re leaving. “Hey Mellie, it’s great to meet you, I’m Forgetful,” and “Hey, Mellie, it’s been good talking to you, but I see someone over there I have to go say hi to,” are simple and natural ways of repeating somebody’s name back. You can also ask a question and say their name at the end. The more you say it, the more likely you are to remember it.
The next trick is association. What does their name remind you of? Do they share a name with someone you already know? How about an alliteration? If Mellie is sales, you might think of her as “Mellie from Marketing”. You can also associate their name with an image that they make you think of.
Another side of this – which will help you associate their face with their name – is to memorize their most obvious facial or bodily feature. If Mellie wears cat’s eye glasses or has purple hair, make a point of picturing that feature along with their name and whatever mnemonic you’re using to associate their name with something.
Another thing you can do is mentally assign them a nickname. This was one of the quickest ways I would remember names of the women I met when I was out and about: whenever I’d get their number, I’d make a joke about how I was going to put them into my phone with some random nickname (such as, say, Reverse Cowgirl). Nicknames and inside jokes are also a great way to help ensure they remember you. Nothing stirs the memory quite like a callback to how you met after all.
The fourth trick: ask them to spell their name. Don’t worry if their name is easy like “Jeff”; everyone has run into someone with an idiosyncratic spelling (Geoff, Cristal, Gerry, Randi, etc.) that it’s understandable that you’d want to double-check. This is especially useful if they do have an unusual way of spelling their name – now you know they’re Jerri-with-an-I not Jerry-with-a-Y. Visualizing writing their name along with their most prominent feature helps cement them in your head.
The fifth trick is very simple: practice. Memory is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Every time you meet somebody new, put these techniques to use. The more you work at remembering names and faces, the easier and more natural it will become.
Oh, and one more thing: When in doubt – cheat. The great thing about smartphones is that you can use ’em to record all kinds of information. One of the things I’d do after meeting someone was to immediately write down their name, where I met them, who introduced us (if anyone), recognizable features (hair color, glasses, etc.) and important information like their job or something they mentioned. You can jot these down in the note functions on your phone or add them to the “memo” section of any contact apps.
This is also one of those times when it’s quasi-acceptable to stalk them over social media. If you have a name, then do a Google search. At the very least, most people will have a picture of themselves on their Facebook profile – tracking them down this way can be a handy way of making sure you remember their faces after you’ve gone your separate ways, even if you’re not planning on sending a friend request.
In addition: many address book apps will also let you put a picture of someone in their contact information which will show up when they email or call you – another way of helping to associate names with faces. If you do friend them on Facebook, you can set their profile photo as part of their contact info. Alternately, you can find an opportunity to take a photo (with their permission) and use that. If you’re meeting them at clubs or parties, get a friend to take a picture of the two of you.
But those are the tricks that worked for me. Readers: do you have trouble remembering names and faces? Have any tips for cementing peoples’s mugs into your memory? Help Forgetful out and share them in the comments…