How to Recover from a Networking No-No

By Gloria Eid  /  


How to Recover from a Networking No-No

You know what I appreciate the most? I’ll tell you.

When someone remembers my name. 

You know what makes me feel the most special?

How, after months since meeting someone, we meet again and… they remember my name. 

Remembering names is a great talent, though I’m not going to tell you how to do it because I can barely do it myself.

What I can offer, though, are some tips and scripts to use when you screw up and forget. Because that – that I’m good at doing.

I work with over 100 student leaders every year, and so every year, I meet about 100 new people at once. The “Hi! My name is” moment usually goes by too quickly for me to remember, so I know I need to make the moment last. I try to turn the Name Game into an experience, a conversation, a personal public declaration, each and every time. Here’s how:

  1. Upon handshake and introduction, repeat the person’s name out loud after they introduce themselves. What it sounds like:

“Hi, I’m Susan.”
“Hi Susan, nice to meet you, I’m Gloria.”

  1. So, you just shook their hand, and immediately forgot their name? … smooth move. Except this scenario is very real, so don’t feel so bad. Call yourself out here. What it sounds like:

“I know you just told me your name a second ago – I lost it already, I’m sorry. What’s your name?”

To save yourself from another embarrassing moment after this slip, it is up to you to make sure you don’t forget it again:

Repeat their name three times in your head. Sing it out loud back to them. Rhyme it with something. Associate the name to a celebrity. Connect it to what they’re wearing (aka, Billy in the Blue Hat). Do what you must. Whatever it takes.

  1. Admit it as soon as you remember you’ve forgotten it, rather than wait until the end of the conversation or at your next run-in. It’s a blow after all the time in good conversation to hear a comment like, “Well it was great chatting with you. And sorry, what was your name again?”
  2. If you’re meeting 3 or more people at once (e.g., at a party, or when introduced to a group already chatting at a networking event, etc), consider repeating everyone’s name once the introduction is over. What it sounds like:

“Nice to meet you everyone. Okay, let’s see if I got this: Peter, Amy, Josh, and … [looks at next person] shoot, I already forgot … SARAH! Awesome. Peter, Amy, Josh, Sarah. Got it.”

As soon as you realize you’ve forgotten, own up and ask again. Feel embarrassed as a deterrence to not do it again.

But, if you do indeed forget at your next run-in (I mean, we’re human…)

  1. Acknowledge that you know the person and remember them. What it sounds like:

“Oh hey, nice to see you again! I remember you from [insert event here]. Remind me what your name is?”

No need for a line like “Sorry, it’s been a while, I forgot your name, what is it again?” because it can dismiss the mere seconds beforehand when you acknowledged and remembered them.

If you’re lucky, hearing their name will trigger the conversation or a fact you learned about them from your last connection. If that’s the case, go a step further now. What it sounds like:

“Ah, yes, Phil! Good to see you. You were telling me about that new project you’re building – how is it turning out so far?”  Or, “Did you manage to make that trip to the Rockies yet?”

You get the drill. Mega bonus points. All prior forgetfulness is redeemed here. And now that you’ve made the connection yourself, you likely won’t forget their name again. Good job.

But let’s be real: once you admit you’ve forgotten a person’s name, it makes you a little vulnerable to that person, doesn’t it? Which is often why we don’t own up to it at all. But owning up to your slips keeps you authentic in that moment in conversation. By being real with them, you build a real conversation. Even in a moment as small as showing effort to remember a name.

And with all that, the guilt from forgetting is not held up in your conscience. Thoughts about it are not distracting you in conversation. You can be present. You are closer to giving full attention to the person in front of you now.

Some big results for simple efforts, I’d say.