How to Remember Names and Faces

One of the hardest things about remembering people is that you only get to meet them once before you’re expected to recall their names. You can solve this problem with repetition. Focus on one or two obvious features—details about their personality or appearance or the way they talk—and say them to yourself as a sentence. For example, “Tyler has a goatee and firm handshake.” A moment or two after you’ve met, recall Tyler’s face and imagine him saying, “Hi, I’m Tyler.” The more you repeat it in your mind, the longer it will stay there. And just recalling the fact that you’ve chosen to remember one or two features from each person you meet will help bring those features to mind.

A lot of people swear by mnemonic systems, where you use the first letter of someone’s name—Slothful Stephanie, Happy Harry. My feeling is that systems like these take too much time, unless you’re dealing with a small group and you really need to get their names down cold. At a trade show or conference, where you’re meeting dozens of people over the course of a day, mnemonics make your mind into a jumble. It’s too hard to keep making up adjectives for people you don’t really know.

There are times when you’ll want to use your imagination to help remember someone’s name, especially when you can tap into the associations your mind makes when you see that person. Say you meet someone named Katherine, who looks a bit like Britney Spears. Next, try visualizing Katherine singing and dancing. When you meet Katherine again, travel back to this memory you’ve created. All the colorful details that you’ve imagined around her will help you fill in the empty spot—her name.

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