Good Old What’s-His-Name

If only remembering their name was this easy.

I saw a Facebook update from Shawne Duperon where she talked about what to do if you have forgotten someone’s name in a networking situation. The first thing, of course, is not to be too embarrassed. Unless this is the third time that you’ve had to ask the same person for their name, forgetting a name or two is rarely seen as an unforgivable breach of etiquette.

I remember seeing Bob Burg do his amazing memory trick. This is where he asks everyone in the audience whom he has met for the first time that day to stand and he proceeds to name every single one of them. OK, even he admits that he usually misses one and at the event I watched he missed four — still a remarkable feat, if you ask me. The point is, that he has trained himself and practiced to be really good at remembering names and even he misses one now and again.

So, what can you do if the person walking up to you knows your name and, while maybe they look familiar, you are drawing a complete blank on what their name is and maybe even how you know them? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Check out their nametag. OK, this might seem a bit obvious, but sometimes the name isn’t enough and you need their company name in order to get the association.
  2. Ask them where you last saw each other. You can tell them that you’re trying to remember the event. Sometimes that’s all you need to trigger the memory. Of course, the danger is if you just saw them, say, yesterday, they’ll probably guess that you haven’t a clue who they are.
  3. Introduce them to someone you know. If someone you know approaches, take a moment to introduce that friend to your unknown conversation partner. Something as simple as “I want to introduce you to my good friend, Bob.” is all that’s really necessary. The unknown person will usually say, “Hi, Bob. My name is Clarisse.” Now, it is slightly rude to exclude Clarisse’s name, but you’ll have to decide if that embarrassment is worse than admitting not knowing her name in the first place.
  4. Ask someone else. If you notice someone whom you recognize, but can’t remember their name, find someone who will know. Often the event organizer will know the names of most of the people attending, so you might approach one and ask. Alternatively, if you see the person talking to someone you know, you can always ask them. Of course, this method doesn’t work when they are standing directly in front of you with their hand out in greeting.
  5. Admit it. This was Shawne’s solution and I think it’s a good one. Almost everyone is going to understand that if they only met you for five minutes over a week ago, it may be that their name didn’t make it into long-term storage. One way to mitigate the situation is when they remind you, if you do remember any details of the conversation, bring it up immediately. “Oh, Bob! That’s right. We had that great conversation about sailing. How is that new boat doing, by the way?” This tells them that, while you might have momentarily lost their name, you didn’t forget them.
When you are in the moment, forgetting someone’s name can feel like the most dire insult you could bring to a new relationship. Be honest with yourself, though. Has anyone ever forgotten your name? Did you assume that they were an awful person who didn’t deserve the time of day? Probably not. In fact, I would almost wager that you probably supplied your name and didn’t give it another thought. Give them credit for being at least as understanding as you are. Move past the moment and start making friends.

Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

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About Greg Peters

Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He works with trade associations on both the local and national level to create a culture of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or gpeters@thereluctantnetworker.com.

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