Remembering people

Remembering people is a common memory task described here and here and here.

Some people find it very easy to remember other people. For me this has always been a challenge. Three times I learned to remember people from the first handshake, and three times I lost the skill from lack of use. Here I will tell you the basics that helped me each time. Be warned, if you do not practice the skill once a week by visiting ever new events and meetups, you will lose it after a year or so.

We remember people when we are keenly interested in who they are and what they do. As long as each and every detail about them is interesting for us, we will remember them very well.
This interest can be true and it can be induced by training. During the training we can surf wikipedia, social networks or dating sites and remember profiles, for example: photo + name + job. Each of these details need separate cues, and all of them needs to be tied to the actual person.

Usually, we start from the face, and the face becomes the main visual marker for the person. Whom does the person remind? If the person reminds you of an animal this is a good start. He could also remind you someone you know very well. You do need to think in what this face is different from the person you know well. You could also focus on prominent facial features, like eyebrow, or nose. If you cannot find these features yourself, see how caricaturists draw people (person name in Google image search + word “caricature”) and look at caricatures of different people until your brain starts creating them automatically. For every person you see you can do this trick in your mind, find and accentuate strange or prominent feature until the face becomes hilarious.

Now you take name and surname. Typically you will be given name first and will need to dig the surname one way or another – looking at the business card is the best case scenario. Names can be either common or uncommon. Uncommon names are interesting, and you can create great associations to them. For the common namas you should have mental dictionary and associate the name directly to the face. Each name has etymology or meaning which you can use: You will have issues with variations of names, so do not just remember a visual mental marker: generate dual coding using the sound of the name.
For example:
Michael-michelangelo’s david
Matthew-winged man
Anthony-Tony from the mafia
Christopher-Columbus on a ship
Daniel-in the lion’s den

Now surname. Try to break it into pieces and generate a funny story. Do dual code with the sound of the surname. This is the most unique part of our profile, so it is the easiest one to remember. Do get it in written form to eliminate mistakes. The visual form of the surname on a page is yet another marker to remember the person by.

Profession. This is quite often the most useful piece of information. Try to add this to the person’s face into a more complex caricature. For example
Michael Smith, System administrator = michelangelo’s david with a hammer pounding a desktop box.
The job needs to be visualized. This is quite easy for a judge or a doctor, but you need to be more creative with abstract stuff.
You may miss the differences between a banker and a hedge fund associate or between an actuary and a statistician, but you will probably get the gist correctly.

Do try to understand why this person is interesting and important for you: a business opportunity, a problem he could have sold years ago, someone to drink beer with. Be creative, be resourceful. You do not want to know people just because they happened to be in some place, you probably want some mutually beneficial relationship. If the person generates fear, or envy – any strong feeling – this is also sufficiently interesting to remember the person.

Once you remember the person, actively recall him, use his name in conversation if you can. If the person is nice, befriend him on social network. Add the person and a short description of why you care about him to your diary – if you stayed out of touch for a long time, couple of years later you may have a hard time remembering.

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3 Replies to “Remembering people”

  1. Thanks a lot for this article. I procrastinated on the task of learning how to remember the persons I meet for too long. Now this clear post helps me to start the people remembering journey 🙂 Thanks again.

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