Remembering Everyone’s Name: My Secret Revealed

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Remember Everyone's Name

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It was a dark and stormy December night and I was holed up in the basement of some seedy downtown bar, surrounded by dozens of strangers. Everyone was staring at me. My reputation was on the line. Escape was futile. And then I pulled it off: Around the room I went, remembering everyone’s name with only one miss!

This was not an isolated event. Whenever I attend a party, wedding, or other social gathering frequented by people I haven’t met, I make a point of trying to remember everyone’s name. Like the true example above (there were literally about 20-30 people, except the bar was actually not seedy, and I don’t recall the weather!), I don’t have a 100% track record, but it’s pretty darn close. (That means if you are one of the people whose name I’ve forgotten, you’re rare and I owe you a special prize…) If I’m lucky and really focused, I might even remember many of those names a few days later!

So how on earth do I do that?

Well, before I reveal my secret, I’d like to share a bit about why I think it’s important. In my case, it all stems back from a very scarring experience in frosh week at university. (I know, I know, I should drop the baggage…) I had made a deliberate point of meeting as many new people as I could. There was one event in particular where I met a table full of people. Of course, like everybody else, I immediately forgot all those names. So I apologized and asked them again. And then BOOM. One girl completely flipped out on me! Tore a strip off me! “Why did you even bother asking if you were just going to forget?!” she screamed.

And that was it.

From then on, I pledged to remember everyone’s name.

Did you catch that? I chose to remember. It doesn’t happen all by itself. It’s not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It’s not a gift of psychic ability. It’s a deliberate choice. And perhaps one reason why it stands out is that so many don’t make that choice. And to be honest, it’s really not that hard if you commit to doing it.

I chose to remember. It doesn’t happen all by itself. It’s not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It’s not a gift of psychic ability. It’s a deliberate choice.

But why should you make the choice? Well, remembering everyone’s name will certainly help you stand out in the crowd. If you’re trying to make a good impression in a one-on-one meeting or in a group of any size, showing that you care enough to remember the other person’s name is almost always appreciated. It will help you build connections, business relationships, friendships, and grow your network. There’s really nothing bad that can come from it!

And now here’s the secret to to remembering everyone’s name: repetition.

Really? That’s it? Yes. Like a broken record. Let me repeat: repetition. Let me repeat: repetition. It starts by saying the person’s name back to them while you’re shaking hands. Maybe even saying it twice. (“Chris? Nice to meet you, Chris.”) This is particularly important for names that you struggle to pronounce. Ask for clarity or even spelling if you didn’t catch it the first time. (Always mimic how the other person pronounces their own name!)

At this point it should be politely obvious that you are making an attempt to remember their name. As the conversation continues, be sure to repeat their name to yourself (inside-your-head voice, ‘cause otherwise that would just be weird), and also refer to them naturally and frequently with their name throughout your conversation.

Oh, pardon me – I forgot the secret. I’m sorry. Can you please tell me again?


And did you see what just happened there? Many times, you’ll become engrossed in the conversation and forget their name. So ask again! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. They’ll actually appreciate it because it shows you care.

In certain cases, though, if repetition alone doesn’t work I’ll bring out the big guns: name association.

I don’t think I’ve ever used name association for everyone’s name in the room, but rather as a mixin with the rest of the names. I will attempt to connect or associate names with a family or friend’s name, or a city, or a flower, or a brand of car, or maybe even a facial feature or hair colour. Whatever comes to mind in the moment will work.

There’s one other really neat and fun thing you can do with remembering everyone’s name, and that is to treat it as an ice breaker or party trick at that social event. Let’s suppose you’re in a small group of 4 or 5 new faces. Why not go deliberately over the top and jokingly use each person’s name in every sentence you speak to each person in the group? Maybe even go as far as multiple names in each sentence. First off, you’ll look kinda silly and probably get a few laughs. But perhaps more importantly, you will actually help them learn all those new names too! What could be better than sharing the joy?

It’s OK to mess up…

In closing, I have to admit that I still forget names. Or I’m embarrassed that I should remember that person’s name because I met them so long ago. I’m certainly not immune to it. Other times, I will simply forget to process the person’s name as we start to engage in conversation. But it’s never too late to ask for a reminder!

Most of the time we’re trying to think about what to say next, not listening or trying to remember the other person’s name. So try and think about the other person first, and let that guide your conversation.

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Who’s up for a challenge? I dare you to put this into practice at your next social gathering with strangers! Let us all know in the comments how it goes! Do you have any other tips or strategies to add?

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  1. I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember. Recently I have started doing exactly as you say “I choose to remember” , because just letting it happen clearly wasn’t working. I must say it is a big confidence booster when you have names down early on rather than hoping to figure it out as the conversation goes or at a later time. Some of your tips will certainly help as well! I don’t expect I will be able to name a couple dozen people in one shot, but I will be happy when using these methods becomes second nature.

    • Thanks for sharing, Brent, and congrats on being deliberate with your choices. I agree that it’s easier to feel confident in the room when know more of the names early on. Even now, these methods are not necessarily second nature because I am continually working on them. I guess what IS second nature is that I *enjoy* doing it, and no longer see it as a chore.


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