No matter where you are in your career, making a strong, positive impression is critical when building relationships with colleagues, employers, customers, and business partners. One of the best ways to do that is to remember people’s names. But, how many times have you been at a networking event or interview and realized you forgot someone’s name 10 seconds after being introduced? Not only is that frustrating and embarrassing, but it could be sabotaging your business, relationships, and future.

Why is it important to remember names?

When you remember someone’s name, they are flattered and impressed. It makes them feel special – like perhaps something about them stands out to you. Remembering names will also showcase your listening skills and builds a rapport faster. This then helps in overcoming those natural barriers that separate two strangers who are meeting for the first time. When you take extra care to notice and remember a person, you are signaling to them that he or she matters to you.

7 Tips for Remembering People’s Names

The next time you meet someone new at an event, or even when you’re out with friends, try these memory tricks for recalling names.

1. Stop making excuses.

Even though forgetting names is common, allowing yourself to think that you are inherently bad at remembering names won’t help! It takes some effort, but you can do it if you learn how and concentrate when you meet someone for the first time.

2. Pay attention.

It may sound simple, but it’s worth repeating because the most common reason for forgetting someone’s name is being distracted. For instance, while someone is introducing themselves, you might be busy thinking about what you’re going to say, or the firmness of your handshake, or other things moving about nearby. Give the person your complete attention and don’t look around. Be present and listen carefully when they say their name.

3. Repeat the name.

A handy memory trick is repetition. The conversation might go like this: he says, “Hi, I’m Rick.” While shaking hands, you say: “Rick? It’s nice to meet you, Rick. I’m Larry.” Repeating the name as a question does double duty. It reaffirms that you heard the name correctly and will also allow you to repeat it a couple of times. Just don’t repeat their name too often –it tends to sound unnatural and can be irritating! Repeating your new acquaintance’s name two or three times should be enough to help you remember it.

4. Ask them to spell it.

It can be particularly difficult to remember unusual or foreign names. It likely happens so often to the other person that you’ll make an excellent impression by being one of only a few acquaintances that can actually remember their name. A good way to do that is to ask them to spell their name out for you. Spelling it will also encourage them to repeat the pronunciation, all of which helps imprint their name on your brain.

5. Make a mental connection to the person.

Our brains have trouble remembering arbitrary information. If there is no context, our brain deems the name unnecessary and disregards it. So, immediately following the introduction, mentally relate your new acquaintance to something or someone you are familiar with, such as a celebrity. If her name is Rachel, mentally picture Jennifer Aniston (Rachel Green from Friends). Or if his name is Jeff, think of him as “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski).

6. Visualize their name.

Franklin Roosevelt used to amaze his staff with how well he remembered names. What he used to do is picture people’s names written across their foreheads. You can do this too, or you could try imagining their name written in black ink on a white piece of paper.

7. Pick out a distinctive feature.

Associating a name with a face is an important recall technique when you know you’ll be meeting the person again. Move your eyes in a Z-shape across the person’s face to encompass both eyes, their nose, and the two corners of their mouth. Try to notice a distinctive feature, such as their unique eye colour, large nose, or dimples when they smile. When back at home or the office, say their name aloud a few times while picturing their distinctive feature.

Once these mental practices become second nature, you will start to retain people’s names better, and make a great impression when you meet again later! The rapport you create with someone by simply remembering their name gives the person a reason to instantly like you. When you see them again and use their name, they’ll say, “I can’t believe you remembered my name!” and a positive conversation will evolve from there. And a good conversation is just the beginning to endless professional possibilities!

Written by Lin Parkin