Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What if you forget someone's name?

Why is April McLean wearing a birthday cake on her head? Keep reading…

It’s happened to you before, hasn’t it? You recognize the face, move to say hello, and…the person’s name just falls right out of your head. Forgetting an acquaintance’s name can be embarrassing, but we’ve all done it—and sometimes we manage to have a pleasant interaction without having to admit it (only later to remember, “Oh yes, THAT’S her name…”).

But what if you’re about to introduce someone and you forget someone’s name? The horror!

You might think you can get away with smiling brightly at Mystery Name and glossing over her name entirely: “Oh, hello! I wanted you to meet my friend, John Smith.” (And then you fervently hope that Mystery Name will solve the problem by introducing herself.)

And truthfully, maybe you can get away with it—it’s unlikely either friend would call you out on your foggy memory, after all. But in order to introduce someone properly, you should know and say aloud both names.

If you forget someone’s name, make eye contact, smile, and say, “Please tell me your name.” Making eye contact and smiling is of utmost importance: the key to surviving this awkward situation is to focus on the person, not yourself and your faulty memory. Don’t dwell on your forgetfulness, but immediately launch into the introduction: “Ms. Jane Smith, I would like to introduce to you Mr. John Smith.”

Another birthday hat—this time, on the head of one of Debra Lassiter's students…

Yes, you say, “I would like to introduce to you Ms. Jane Smith.” If you have trouble saying “to you” (not “you to”), look at the photos above, and remember that you sing, “Happy birthday to you.” This is an effective memory aid for all ages. April McLean (in the top photo) uses the hat to train adults who become certified children’s etiquette consultants through our company, The Etiquette & Leadership Institute. Debra Lassiter (standing next to students in the second photo) uses the same trick when teaching young people in our etiquette school, Perfectly Polished .

Now: what if you are the one whose name has been forgotten? Try to catch that natural pause in the conversation and simply say, “Hello, my name is Jane Smith. I’m so glad to see you again, John.”

The most important thing to remember is to focus on the introduction and the person to whom you are speaking. Saying, “I forgot your name,” or “I’m sorry,” puts the focus on you, not the person on which it belongs, and merely prolongs the embarrassment.

Don’t be too hard on yourself—even the most socially savvy person has forgotten someone’s name before!

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