How To Avoid Embarrassment When You Can’t Remember Someone’s Name

If you’ve ever been approached by someone and drawn a complete blank trying to remember their name, or even where you know them from, you know how awkward and embarrassing that situation can be.

In this video, I share a story from one of my blog readers which describes a scenario of this very nature and I answer his question of what I would have done if I were in the same sticky situation.

As part of my answer, I explain what has worked for me in the past at times when I’ve been caught in uncomfortable situations similar to the one the blog reader found himself in and I offer two specific actions you can take to handle situations like these with diplomacy in order to avoid embarrassment.

After watching the video, I’d love for you to let me know what you think of my approach and, even better, I’d love to hear your additional ideas and suggestions for handling these kinds of potentially embarrassing situations.  As an added incentive, for the first 10 people who leave a comment with feedback on what I discuss in the video and/or share their own ideas on the topic AND ALSO correctly pinpoint where Bob is hiding (mention where Bob is hiding along with your comment), I’ll mail you a prize that will help enhance your networking efforts (to ensure you receive your prize, you’ll need to send your full name and mailing address to after you leave your comment in the comment forum below).  Thanks in advance for your input and participation!


41 thoughts on “How To Avoid Embarrassment When You Can’t Remember Someone’s Name

  1. Hi just watched your video.

    Whenever anyone says ‘nice to meet’; I say re-meet if we’ve met before.

    Interesting take on ‘how to be less awkward with conversation’.

  2. This happened at my wedding. I introduced all the people congratulating to my wife and she introduced me to her friends I didn’t meet before. After 70odd people my brain was completely numb and I couldn’t remember the name of old family friends. So I just (btw: bob is on the stairs) explained to my wife: these are good friends and they understand if I just kiss you now. All laughed and they said: “We’re the Muellers, nice to meet you”

  3. Whenever anyone says ‘nice to meet’; I say if we’ve met before.-always amazes then. If there’s another person there it makes it easier to find out their name.

    Interesting take on ‘how to be less awkward with conversation’. I mention living or working near there.
    Great to see you. Live in the area? Or my work is just down the street grabbing a few groceries before I go home. What’re you up to nowadays? That usually prompts a response.

    Bob is in the video at approx 2:55.

  4. I prefer to be honest and say “I’m sorry , but I forgot your name.” After they tell me who they are I say “Of course, how could I have forgotten?”, unless I really don’t know them. If I really don’t know them I’ll ask where it was that we met originally.
    I’ve never had anyone be offended with this.
    If you try to fake it, what do you do when someone else you know walks up and it would be appropriate to introduce them? Now you’re busted and have to say that you don’t remember their name. Honesty at the outset is better.

    1. Hi Bob. If I implied in anyway to be dishonest – I didn’t communicate my approach very well. What I try to do is buy myself some time to help figure out where I met the person before. However, I have tried this on rare ocassions and couldn’t figure it out. When it is clear that it is not coming back to me – I do tell them I don’t recall their name. However, the conversation I have almost always places them in my mind.

      1. Dr. Ivan,
        I’m a HUGE fan of yours!
        And you’re right some people might get offended especially if you know each other. Their face shows it. Believe it or not; wrote a series of articles on this!

  5. I smile and say Hi then I ask them to please tell me there full name again. Specially if when they address me they use a title like chief, sensei, Marine, the talk show guy etc. Yes, Bob is near the top of the stair section that is showing on the banister.

  6. Great advise! Depending on the situation and how many people are around you could say “Hey,” (you say to the person whose name you can’t remember), “let me introduce you to Joe Smith.” You introduce the two and say the name of the person whose name you remember. Almost always, the nameless person will volunteer his or her name.

  7. I like the idea of striking up a conversation and it works well most of the time. The situation becomes tricky when you are at an event and in need of introducing someone.

    In my view there are many ways to work around that, like waiting for someone else to address the person whose name you forgot or waiting for that person to introduce themselves and as a last resort, the need to come clean and to say “I’m so sorry, I’m suddenly blanking on your first name.”

    Bob is sitting on the wooden stairs in the top left section of the frame.

  8. I like the idea of striking up a conversation about what’s going on right then to give you a moment to remember where you know them from. But don’t let it go too far before you admit you have blanked on their name. It happens to the best of us! I think you can make it funny by saying “I’m having a ‘senior moment’ and I have blanked on your name?” (Bob’s on the staircase.)

  9. This is the tactic I use when I find myself in this situation. I’ll say “Good to see you”, then I engage them by asking a question that gives them a chance to expound on that question. Asking “So what’s been going on since we last met?” has helped, or better yet, as you mentioned, a question predicated on the current situation, all the while giving my cranial archive search engine some time to work. Obviously, looking for any visual clues can’t hurt, as long as they’re not wearing someone else’s clothes!
    Great advice, Ivan!
    Normally I’d be concerned about Bob playing on the stairs, but considering his corporeal state, he’s probably safe.

  10. Dr. M., that happens to all of us. I agree that saying “who are you?” is the wrong approach. I usually just wing it and hope I am able to make it through the encounter without the person realizing that I don’t remember who he/she is. I like the “It’s good to see you” approach. If you don’t mind, I would like to share this Business Networking blog posting with the ECs in my Region. Danny

  11. Hi Ivan, This happens quite often I am afraid so depending where we are I normally ask the person for a business card after the initial opening – “Nice to see you again” accompanied with some small talk. Then I have the name and last name to help the old grey matter cope 🙂 Yep! Bob is on the stairs just peeking out above your head!

  12. What has worked pretty well for me on occasion in those awkward moments is to ask their name and when they give either their first or last name you can respond with a little laugh and say’ “Sorry Bob I meant your last name” Makes it seem like of course you remembered their first name. Or vice versa if they respond with their last name. If they say full name you can say I just couldn’t remember your last name bob sorry, senior moment for a second. Its never a fun moment when you can’t remember though and I appreciate the video.

  13. Hi Dr. Misner, When this happens to me I usually claim a “senior moment” if a short conversation does not bring recall. I do like your approach and will use it. BTW, I see Bob hanging around on the stairs!!

  14. Thank you, Ivan, for this video! (Bob is on the stairway railing.) What you present is a light way to NOT EMBARRASS THEM. I have always been direct in the past and it has bit me in the bum. I will say something like ‘I know I know you … BUT …’ and then proceed to guess/ask them out loud with them standing there feeling less than special where from — BNI, church, theatre group, maybe they were in the audience at one of the shows/events?! Oh, of course… you’re the son of one of the women I was on stage with that I met after Saturday evening’s performance … last April! Fumbling in the conversation is not cool for either of us. Honesty does not equal full disclosure of everything going on in my mind. Thanks for the video!!

  15. I can always tell when my husband doesn’t know someone’s name when we are out, because he doesn’t introduce me. I always rescue him by saying “excuse me, I haven’t met you before, I’m Frank’s wife Dawne” then the always introduce themselves and Frank can breathe a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to admit it didn’t remember their names.

  16. I get into that situation and can’t claim the senior moment either!! I usually start talking really enthusiastically and remind myself their name through the discussion we have. It’s worked well so far.
    Bob is right there on the stairs, laughing his head off at us trying to find him!

  17. Great suggestions!

    I really like your Bob story and how you apply Bob to networking & business. So often those small acknowledgements are overlooked and their importance is truly underestimated.

    Bob is on the staircase, second post from the top.

  18. Perfect timing Ivan – this just happened to me at lunch today!

    And hello to Bob on the stairway 🙂

    Barbara Abramson

  19. hi Ivan,
    I am a great fan of your and regularly and religiously reading all posts.
    For me in this situation, I follow your path. I initiates the talk and try to figure out the person. If really, I don’t the person, I don’t mind asking the person in a very diplomatic manner. It works.
    Bob is on the staircase

  20. I had this happened to me and it does help to strike up a conversation. Most of the times it has help to jog my memory. And Bob is in the railing slightly above you Ivan.

  21. I like your suggestion. My approach is entirely different. When I first meet people I let them know that I have a hard time recognizing people out of context, so if they ever see me at another time and place to please feel free to say hi and re-introduce themselves.

  22. If I am in the situation after starting the general conversation I would ask him whats his contact number and then for his full name (that conversation starting and ending depends on the situation)

    1. I would open my phone and say my phone book is crashed can I take your number and then I would ask can I have your full name. This is the trick I played several times it worked for me.


    2. I am sorry every time I forget to ask your complete name.

    Bob is on the staircase rail.On top of fourth step as seen in the video.


  23. Great suggestions. One other thing I have done is to give the quick hello nice to see you or thanks for coming as I make my way to a sign in sheet (like at t a BNI meeting) or to someone I know who may know the name of the person I am struggling to remember- I then circle back to them at the event (mostly networking events is what I am talking about) and now I have their name and (hopefully) now remember how I know them.

  24. This is a great idea!

    I also like the same question I like for when you meet someone for the first time:
    “How’s your week been?” – this way, you get a pretty good idea of what it is they do (or can do, with a couple more gently probing questions).

    If I am suddenly faced with introducing this person to the friend I’m with – let’s call my friend James – then I’ll just say, “Have you met James?” and leave them to do the name thing. No one ever finds this odd, and it’s got me out of a few pickles before!!

    Cheeky little Bob is hiding on the second bannister down from the top of the screen!

  25. What a great topic as it is so common (unfortunately). Love the “good to see you” opening as it could be the first or xth time. However after a few moments of no clues, I find a really sincere ‘please help me with your name, once again.’ works (or seems to). I also use the technique of finding someone I know to make introductions as Carol and one other suggested. Works well! TIP: when I arrive at an event where I may not know some names (but should), I try to catch a person I know and make an agreement that if either of us gets in the ‘forgetful’ situation, we do the half5NT intro to one another…it’s clue to ask the person’s name.

  26. Brilliant idea to say, “Good to see you,” rather than meet you. I also like the conversation starter.. I remember a face more easily than a name.

    Bob is at the top of the stairs, peering down. Top left of the screen.

  27. Your video blog is most helpful. Thank you for sharing. I have said “It’s nice to see you again”. Bob is on the stairs. Thank you. Looking forward to viewing your other video blogs.

  28. I see ‘BOB’ peeking out from one of the railings on the staircase. My response to someone I don’t recognize is usually: “Hey! How are you doing?” and then to try to engage them in conversation like, “what brings you here today?” and to keep up the questioning until I get the hint I need to make the connection.I like your advice to ‘not’ say that the person is not remembered, because being ‘memorable’ enough to be remembered is a very important ‘self esteem stroker’.

  29. Thanks Dr. Ivan for your sharing on a good topic, may be a subject on which we rarely find any material.
    If I come across such a situation, I also use a similar approach earlier suggested by Hanu Krishna.

    I take out my mobile, Ask him, “let me see if I have all your contact data updated. By the way, how do you spell your surname / first name ?”

    Most of the times, he tells me spelling, thinking that I knew his name, but forgot its spelling. How is this approach ?

  30. I do not leave a conversation without finding and saying the person’s name.

    I usually say, “May I ask your name again please?’
    They respond, and I repeat their name and add;
    ” I ‘d rather ask until I learn, and I am a slow learner”

    This usually elicits a light chuckle.

    I then make it a point to repeat their name, continue the conversation, and repeat their name as often as it is reasonable. I truly am making the effort to remember their name.

    Finally, I leave with a last repetition of their name and the earnest determination to remember it the next time. Invariably the response has been kind and bonding in a genuine manner.

    Hope it helps,

  31. Hi Ivan. I love your suggestions and find the training I have received from BNI invaluable!

    If I were in this situation I would say ‘remind me where we last met’ so that the other person would be focusing on remembering that situation rather than that I don’t remember who they are!

    Bob is hiding in the stair rail!

    All the best. Anna

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