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Hacks for remembering names and faces

Whether you’re about to start Uni and you’re preparing for a hundred and one Fresher’s ice breakers or you’re just super forgetful, these tips will help get you out of some awkward situations.

Picture this:

You’re busy minding your own business whilst buying groceries in the on-campus shop, checking items off your shopping list. Cheese, milk, garlic bread, more cheese. Having collected everything you need, you saunter over to the queue. It’s a bit long today, but that’s the post-lecture rush for you – many students buy snacks and what-not before they go back to halls.

Suddenly, a student immediately after in the queue turns to you and smiles.

“*insert your name here*? Hey, I talked to you at the library the other day, remember? About medical school applications. I hope the PDFs I sent were helpful! How did your exam go?”

“Huh?” You think to yourself. In your mind you panic. “Who on Earth is this? And what is their name? Apparently we’ve met before…”

 You return a polite grimace of a smile in spite of your confusion. Upon reflection, you do recognise them a bit. “I guess I’ll just have to bluff my way out of this one…”

Sounds familiar? It’s one of the many perks of universities – sometimes you end up going where everybody knows your name, yet you don’t know them from Jack. But you DO know them! You just can’t remember their name/face. It’s just too awkward to ask them again because they seem to know you really well. But hey, there’s no need to fret, there are ways of getting around this.

Remembering names

It’s inevitable. In university as in life you will meet plenty of people, so you will encounter plenty of names. It’s difficult to remember them all. Sometimes, the fear and anxiety of it makes you want to avoid them altogether. However, it needn’t be a gruelling process, if you think carefully about how you’ll handle it. If done well, people will be impressed, and it will leave a good impression on friends, colleagues and employers.

  1. When being introduced to someone, slow down the introduction by having a brief conversation. Longer introductions give you more time to go over the name. Listen carefully and pay attention when they first mention their name and ask them to repeat it if you didn’t catch it. It might not be repeated later in the conversation – meet, greet and repeat.
  2. Ask them how their name is spelt or its origins, this way you can build up a mental image of how the name might look written down. Visualise the name on a page whether handwritten, as a signature or typed in your favourite font.
  3. Now connect the name with the person you’re speaking with using images. Make the image unusual, memorable and colourful. You could do this by exaggerating their name or another aspect about them. For example: you meet someone called Jane Shelley. You might imagine her selling sea shells by the seashore, all of which are neatly engraved with her name in cursive: ‘Shelley’s shells.’
  4. Use their name multiple times during the conversation, but not excessively. This not only cements the name in your memory, but also makes you seem friendly to the other person. People like the sound of their own names, so it instils some amicability when you use it.
  5. After repeated practice, you should be able to carry out these steps quickly during a conversation without getting distracted.
  6. Once the conversation is over, you still need to keep the name and person in your memory. At the end of the day, review the name and associated images in your mind, then link them back to the person. This is because the brain is less able to recall information if it hasn’t been reviewed within 48 hours.

Remembering faces

If the person shares a name with a famous person, that’s yet another way to create a mental image. Let’s say Jane Shelley’s friend, Abe Smith joins in with your conversation. From there you might associate Abe with Abraham Lincoln and Will Smith. So now visualise Abe with a full beard and tophat, travelling across the USA in search of aliens/dressed as a cowboy of the Wild Wild West/all in blue and popping out of a genie’s lamp, etc. Abe Smith is now much easier to remember because you have a ridiculous and humorous image of him in your mind.

When meeting a new person, pick out an interesting, defining aspect of their appearance. Connect this characteristic with an image in your mind, plus an action if you can. For instance, Jane Shelley from earlier has a large nose, so you may imagine that her nose is a massive sparkly shell. So every  time she sneezes, snot-coated shells fly out of her nostrils (eww, is that where she gets the supplies from her shell selling business from?). Making the image weird or even gross makes it all the more memorable.

Frequent practice and making a conscious effort will help you remember names and faces better with each interaction. Don’t worry too much if it doesn’t work all the time, few people go through life having never forgotten a name. Just carry on repeating and visualising.