Have we met? How to remember names in a sea of faces

Want to remember the people you meet at Natural Products Expo West? Consider using these 10 tips before the show.

Dawn Reiss

February 21, 2024

5 Min Read
The background of this image has been digitally altered to fit the required space.Canva

Whether you're an exhibitor or a buyer, practice these tricks to remember the names of those industry members you'll meet at Natural Products Expo West next month.

Remembering someone's name at a large convention or expo can be difficult. By the end of a long day, people's names can blend together before you get back to the hotel room.

"A lot of times being at a tradeshow feels like speed dating," says Clara Paye, the founder and CEO of UNiTE Food. Her advice: Take the time to have authentic conversations by keeping an open mind.

"Be badge agnostic," Paye says. "Treat everybody the way you'd want to be treated. I think so many people are worried about missing a buyer or reading every single badge that walks by."

Instead, give your full attention to anyone who stops by your booth—not just someone who is a buyer or can help your business. Listen to their feedback about a product and understand what they are seeking, she says.

"That will go much further," she says. "You'll naturally remember the people because you'll have had more original conversations."

Not everyone learns (or listens) the same way. Find a method that works best. Then make the most of business networking at the Natural Products Expo West and the surrounding events.

Take a photo of the business card

Studies published in the Quarterly Journal of Psychology suggest we can more easily recognize someone's face than someone's name. The reason: Our brains are better equipped to store visual data like a picture of someone's face. 

If you are likely to forget a name or lose a business card, take a picture of the business card and email it with a quick note about the person to yourself.

Scan the business card by using an app like Contact Snapper, Haystack, BizConnect or CamCard.

Write down notes

Use apps like Evernote, Joplin, Trello, Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote or Apple Notes to take digital notes.

Another option is Otter.ai, a speech-to-text recording app—and a tool many reporters use—that transcribes what is being spoken. (Be sure to disclose you are recording.) It can help you remember names when listening to panel discussions and large presentations, as well.

Or go old school: Use a pocket-sized notebook to physically jot down notes. The muscle memory it takes to write everything by hand will help, researchers found in a published study, The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard.

Make a genuine connection

Don't just say hello and end things there, says Blake Bennett, jun­­­­ior owner of Bennett Packaging.

"Have a conversation with the person to get to know them a bit," Bennett says, to associate the information you've learned with a connection. Just as important, pay attention. Actively listening and staying present in the conversation will help.

If you're easily distracted, use the technique of paraphrasing and repeating back what was just said: "So if I heard you correctly, you're saying…"

Using this technique will show the person you were actively listening and confirm that what you thought you heard is what was actually spoken.

Repeatedly use the person's name

Actively saying someone's name can help ingrain it to memory. For example, if someone comes up and introduces herself as Jane, respond by saying, "Hi, Jane. It's nice to meet you," says Alex Mastin, founder and CEO of Home Grounds.

Grant Aldrich, the founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com takes it a step further.

"Remembering names is hard, especially when you see so many people," Aldrich says. "However, the brain is much more likely to remember things when they're repeated seven times. To make sure they're cemented in your head, repeat the names at least five times in conversation."

Use wordplay, mnemonics

Clues can help trigger your short-term memory. Mnemonics—memory tools and techniques—help you remember more easily.

Use keywords or letter strategies with acronyms like T.G.I.F. to remember a longer saying like Thank Goodness It's Friday.

This can also be a memory hack by linking an attribute, a quality or feature of the person to their name, such as "Cheerful Chris" or "Helpful Heather." Using a first name and something about a person's booth or employer can help, says Tyler Crossno, a creative production assistant at Revel Energy.

For example, there's a booth with a smiling person named Nathan Smith who works at an environmental supply company, so he's remembered as "Natural Nathan," Crossno says.

Think of familiar associations

Rachel Blank, the founder and CEO of Allara likes to think of someone she already knows.

"One of the ways I remember names is by associating them with other people I know who have the same name. I'll think, 'I'll remember her because I have an aunt named Kathy,'" Blank says. She also keeps her phone handy to quickly type in names and a few details into her notes app.

Connect on LinkedIn

After meeting someone, don't let the connection get away. To quickly connect a face with a name, find the person on LinkedIn.

"I sometimes go ahead and connect with people via LinkedIn on the spot, which helps me to remember names and faces while expanding my professional network," Blank says.

Create a new contact in your phone

The same goes for adding the person into a phone: Don't wait.

Create a new contact in your smartphone with a few details about the conversation, such as the person's occupation, location of where you met or the names of their children, says David Aylor, founder and CEO of David Aylor Law Offices in South Carolina.

Get help with an app

Not sure which one to use? Test a few before attending a conference. Most apps allow you to quickly jot down a name, notes and take a photo.

Add names, assign labels, take notes and set up reminders to follow-up using Tibbits. Name Shark allows users to create groups (like an event name), add contacts with photos and details and then take quizzes to help remember names. NameKeeper is a simple, straightforward app that connects to Apple's Notes app, if you allow it. Add a person's name, description, date and location into fields

Train your brain

Improve your ability to remember by using an app like Elevate. This brain-training app offers more than 40 mental exercises to boost productivity and memory. Similar apps include NeuroNation and Lumosity

About the Author(s)

Dawn Reiss

Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for TIME, The New York Times, The Atlantic, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Civil Eats, Fortune.com, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, among others. Find her at www.dawnreiss.com.

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