Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common complaints heard by professional memory consultant Nelson Dellis, who became the 2014 U.S. Memory Champion for memorizing, among other things, 99 names and faces.
How does he do it? He recommends five techniques:
- Focus: It sounds obvious, but how many times have you been shaking someone’s hand while mentally being a million miles away? It all starts with preparing yourself mentally.
- Prepare: Latch onto a distinguishing feature (you’ll need this in a moment).
- Listen: Make sure when you ask the person’s name that you properly hear it and understand it — you can ask them to repeat or spell it to make sure you have it right.
- Name to image: Convert the name into an image — someone famous with a similar name, or break down the name into something it sounds like (“Steve” = “Stove”).
- Associate: Now connect that image to the distinguishing feature from step 2, by creating a vivid picture of the two in your head (the weirder it is, the more effective, he says!).
Watch Dellis in action, memorizing the names of 29 strangers (and getting 26 right, but we can cut him some slack!) on a beach: