How do I make people remember me? How do I stick?
This is one of the most common questions I receive from listeners to the show. Men and women all over the world — from salespeople on the road to authors in pitch meetings, young people on first dates to veterans returning to the workforce — want to understand how to make a lasting impression. No matter who we are or what we do, we all want to be able to enter a room and make ourselves unforgettable.
But we’ve all heard the standard advice by now. Be engaging! Say something interesting! Dress uniquely! Maybe an old-timey hat and a novelty pin that says CERTIFIED WEIRDO! When you follow up by email, mention that interesting thing you said! Refer to yourself as the person with the CERTIFIED WEIRDO pin! Also, be attractive. And funny. And interesting. But not weird interesting. Cool interesting. And care about other people. But don’t care too much. And ingratiate yourself with strangers but be true to yourself and be sure to offer value but not too much value and be generous but not needy and —
And it doesn’t work. Not by itself, anyway. Appearance and technique definitely do play some role in being memorable — I mean, you’ll probably remember the guy in the old-timey hat with the funny pin more than the guy in the cotton dockers and white shirt — but if there isn’t real substance behind that appearance or technique, then the impression will only last so long.
The truth is, if that superficial stuff actually worked, we wouldn’t be sitting here wondering how to be unforgettable. We’d just go out and buy the hat and the pin and life would be one long parade of flawless impressions. But we know there’s more to being memorable than that.
So what does make us unforgettable?
The answer is a handful of core principles that tap into who we really are in a way that creates a lasting impression with other people. It took me years to discover that these foundational ideas — more than looks, more than assets, more than techniques — are the qualities that make you unforgettable. In this article, we’ll explore each one, and see how they work in practice.
Starting with the most foundational principle of all.
The one competitive advantage you have in life — the one competitive advantage we all have, paradoxically — is the ability to be truly ourselves. Skills, expertise, talent, and opinions can all be possessed by multiple people. But the ability to be authentically you: that is a singular gift.
Which is precisely what makes it so powerful.
When we meet a truly authentic person — in other words, someone who isn’t trying to be anything other than what they are — we instinctively respond. We find ourselves confronting a simple honesty that’s increasingly rare these days: a person who’s committed to owning and sharing the truest version of themselves. And because it’s so rare, our response is even stronger. We know we’re in the presence of a uniquely secure, confident person.
Interestingly, an authentic person doesn’t have to be definitionally attractive, or sexy, or cool, or “correct” to make an impression. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.
When someone authentically owns the less-than-perfect parts of themselves — the parts that make them seem uneasy or self-conscious or bizarre — those qualities tend to transform, as if by magic, into their opposite. They become endearing. They become impressive. Not because those qualities automatically attract other people, but because the authenticity governing those qualities is so compelling.
It’s also infectious. When we meet someone who’s being the truest version of themselves, we tend to feel that we can be the truest version of ourselves. Their authenticity invites and gives permission to our authenticity. Our artifice falls away, our social personas begin to drop, and our real selves — unconditioned by expectation or protocol or convention or what we think is “appropriate” — begin to come out. Which, of course, is one of the greatest feelings in life. We all want nothing more than to simply be ourselves.
Authenticity, plain and simple, is inherently attractive.
It’s also refreshing, grounded, and often funny, which is what makes it so memorable.
When we encounter it, we notice a quality that we all aspire to, and that we don’t get to see very often. That alone makes a profound impression — especially in settings that don’t usually reward authenticity, like the workplace or first dates.
In fact, authenticity is often more memorable in those contexts. We’re not used to keeping it real at work, so an authentic colleague often comes across as brave, secure, and valuable. We’re not supposed to be completely honest about our insecurities on first dates, so an authentic partner often comes across as self-aware, honest, human. Authentic people tend to stick out — and stick around in our memory.
But what we remember isn’t just the person. We also remember ourselves.
We remember how their authenticity sparked our own authenticity — how we felt more real, more connected, in their presence. We remember the people we were when we were with them. We know how rare and powerful that experience is, and we want to experience it again.
So the first step in becoming unforgettable is committing to authenticity — responsibly, organically, and in the right places and amounts, of course — as much as possible. No other quality will make you more memorable than the simple act of being yourself.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t improve. It also doesn’t mean that we should walk around sharing every strange and intimate part of ourselves every single moment of our lives.
Cultivating authenticity simply means acknowledging and owning what makes you you. That quality is inimitable, compelling, and liberating. It frees you up to live your life fully, and then frees other people up to live theirs as well. That quality is a true gift. And we don’t tend to forget true gifts very easily.
Authenticity is also a necessary portal to the next key quality we’re going to explore. It’s also a crucial layer to all the others.
If authenticity is the state of being our true selves, then vulnerability is the act of sharing our true selves with another person. The two go hand in hand. And when we find ourselves in the presence of both — someone who’s being their authentic selves and sharing that authenticity with us — the experience tends to leave an impression.
The reason is that vulnerability is deeply human.
It’s a quality we’re wired to respond to, and it’s a quality we all aspire to have (or, more often, a quality we all wish we had the bravery to have). Vulnerability is the openness that allows for connection, trust, empathy and rapport to grow. It’s the raw material of great relationships, and the way we share our authentic selves with other people.
We crave that intimacy. And since we rarely get it, we tend to remember it when we do.
But vulnerability is a tricky quality. Unlike authenticity, it requires more calibration and stronger intention to work in our favor. A friend who bawls during a wedding toast or a candidate who confesses their insecurities in a job interview is definitely being vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean we’ll remember them for the right reasons. Not all vulnerability is created equal.
So how can we embrace vulnerability in a way that makes us unforgettable in positive ways?
First, we have to commit to authentic vulnerability.
Authentic vulnerability means offering a true part of yourself without any specific expectation or goal in mind.
It means sharing aspects of your life and personality because you want to, not because someone or something made you — whether it’s an event, an authority, a requirement, or a social protocol.
It means being emotionally exposed in a way that can be risky, uncertain and sometimes even scary — and all the more so because you’re not trying to be vulnerable.
Trying to be vulnerable generally falls into strategic vulnerability — a self-conscious effort to open up and be authentic in a way that generally fails at both. This is the brand of vulnerability you find in conference breakout sessions, dinner party conversation exercises and office team-building retreats. As we’ve talked about on the show, it’s a manufactured facsimile of true vulnerability, and it never really works.
The key to unforgettable vulnerability is to engage in that vulnerability for the right reasons.
If we open up to achieve something specific, be seen a certain way, win someone’s approval or sympathy, or even be more memorable, then we’re not truly being vulnerable. We’re being clever, and we’re using vulnerability as a means to an end. We all know when we’re in the presence of inauthentic vulnerability — we can feel it — and it never leaves much of an impression. (Except to the extent that we all remember how annoying it was, and how it really didn’t work.)
But if we open up in order to be more connected, to be ourselves, to be authentic with other people — purely for its own sake — then we tend to create a more lasting impression.
Second, we have to remember that vulnerability has its time and place.
Like the overly emotional wedding toast or the dangerously honest job interview, vulnerability can backfire. Despite the dominant wisdom to “be vulnerable as much and as often as possible,” the truth is that vulnerability has its time and place. Deploy it in the wrong setting, and it can damage the impression you make. You might be memorable, but you’ll be memorable for the wrong reasons.
Fortunately, the solution to this pitfall is very simple.
First, we have to cultivate enough self-awareness to know when our vulnerability is appropriate. That comes down to understanding our own motivations and having a strong grasp of our surroundings. Unselfaware people tend to overindulge their vulnerability, thinking that constant transparency is always productive. People with more self-awareness calibrate their vulnerability, knowing that their degree of openness depends on context.
Second, we have to stay connected to the people and situations around us. We must read other people’s social cues, understand interpersonal dynamics, and recognize when a situation calls for more or less vulnerability. This other-awareness is a function of emotional intelligence, and it’s a habit we can learn to cultivate throughout our lives.
If we want to be more memorable, then we have to learn how to embrace vulnerability. That openness is a powerful quality that sparks curiosity, empathy and intimacy. But we can’t embrace it all the time in the same amounts. We have to embrace it intelligently, sensitively, so that we don’t overindulge that vulnerability in the wrong contexts.
Of course, we can share more than just ourselves with other people. And understanding how and when to share more broadly brings us to our next principle.
As I talk about constantly on the show, generosity is one of the core engines of social capital. It’s a mindset and a habit that generates value, cements relationships, and propels ideas, people and projects forward.
It’s also one of the best ways to be memorable.
This principle might seem so self-evident as to be unnecessary, but I’m always struck by how often people overlook it. While they try to master their appearance and technique, they forget that the most profound way to stand out is to give someone just what they need, right when they need it. Of all the principles in this piece, this one might be the profound.
Why does generosity stand out?
First — and most obviously — because (genuine) generosity is in short supply these days.
In a world where most favors are ultimately self-interested, and offers to help turn out to be quid pro quo agreements in disguise, an act of true generosity without any immediate expectation of return stands out. We remember those moments, because they’re simple, meaningful, and rare.
Second, an act of meaningful generosity provides something that the other person wants or needs — which makes it deeply personal.
These wants and needs — personal, professional, emotional, recreational — create opportunities for fulfillment (when we get them) and connection (when we find someone who can help us get them). When someone helps resolve one of our needs, that person instantly and permanently gets linked up with that fulfillment. The person and the act of generosity become one and the same. And we don’t easily forget an act of generosity.
But generosity can take many forms. We can be generous with our time, our labor, or our ideas. We can be generous with our emotions, philosophies or insights. We can be generous with our connections, relationships or experiences. So which of these creates a lasting impression?
Unforgettable acts of generosity are those that provide what someone else needs, when they need it, in the way that they need it at that moment.
In other words, memorable generosity is about them, not us. Which means that a big part of generosity is simply taking the time and interest in other people’s lives and experiences. We have to know what people need and why they need it in order to help them achieve it.
In many contexts, this can be quite explicit. Talking to a colleague struggling with the job search, you might ask, “So tell me this: What do you think you need right now?” Faced with that question, people will often tell you precisely what they need. “I need someone to take another look at my resume,” “I need some advice on first interviews,” “I need an introduction to the hiring manager at such-and-such company.” If these are things you can help with, then you’re already on your way to providing really meaningful help.
In other contexts — say, with new friends or prospective business partners — you can’t or won’t want to be as explicit. Here, you have to intuit the hidden need from your conversation. A new friend who just moved to your city says it’s been hard to meet people. Next week, you might invite them to drinks with your friends. A talented vendor says they’ve been trying to expand their business in another vertical. That week, you might introduce them to a few prospective clients you know could use the help.
Either way, you’re discerning people’s needs, then finding solutions to meet those needs.
That, in a nutshell, is the lifeblood of networking. It’s also the raw energy of relationship-building. And as a result, it’s one of the best ways to be memorable.
Because while we might forget about that Person We Met At That Thing Last Year, we’ll never forget that Person We Met At That Thing Who Then Introduced Us To That Amazing Vendor Who Made All the Difference. Without generosity, we’re just another face, another name. With generosity, we’re a human, a relationship. And we don’t forget relationships. We treasure them, and continue to treasure them the more they grow.
But here’s where things get interesting. Because as important as it is to share with other people, the flipside of generosity is also key: knowing how to not give too much away.
An old principle of psychology says that while humans are very comfortable with ignorance, they hate feeling deprived of information.
In other words, tell someone very little or nothing about a story, and they won’t care. But tell them half the story, and they’ll feel compelled to know the rest.
To see how this principle works in action, imagine you meet a guy at a party. When you ask what he does, he tells you he works in sales. He tells you he buys and sells large used products. He tells you he had a few jobs before that. Then he asks you what you do. In all likelihood, you won’t care all that much about this conversation, and I doubt you’d remember it.
Now imagine you meet the exact same guy at that party, but this time, when you ask what he does, he tells you he buys and sells damaged jet engines. He tells you all about the engineering of turbines and the financials of his business. He tells you that he used to sell plastics, then fuselage components, then maintenance services, before jumping into selling engines. He tells you what his day-to-day is like, where his company is heading, why he does what he does. Then he asks you what you do. While you might find all this unusual and interesting, I still doubt you’d remember this conversation next week.
Finally, imagine you meet the exact same guy at that party. You ask him what he does. This time, he says, “I buy and sell dead stuff.” He doesn’t say anything else. Now you’re wondering: What does that mean? So you ask him. “Dead things as in, what? Appliances? Taxidermy?” And so he tells you: “Machines, actually.” Now you’re wondering. “Oh, what kind of machines?” you ask. “Engines,” he replies. “When airplanes retire their old engines, I buy them, repair them, and resell them.” Now you have new questions: Why? How in the world did you get into that? Is that a fun job to have? And this time, when he asks what you do, you probably feel more keen to tell him, because now I’m willing to bet you’re much more interested.
Same guy. Same party. Same job. But in each scenario, he presented the information in a vastly different way, creating a vastly different effect.
This is the power of intelligently controlling information.
Give too little, and you fail to pique someone’s interest. Why? Because you haven’t created any new questions in their mind.
Give too much, and you also fail to pique their interest. Why? Because you’ve answered all their questions in advance.
But give the right amount, and you pique the perfect amount of interest. Why? Because you’ve created questions, invited the other person to explore them, then answered them in a way that creates new ones.
Understanding how to generate curiosity in the people you meet is one of the most powerful ways to make a lasting impression.
And it all comes down to information. How much you give, how much you withhold, and how much you reveal in the right amounts over time.
But let’s be super clear: we’re not just talking about some clever attraction hack. I’m not saying you should cultivate an air of weirdness in order to intrigue people. I’m not suggesting you should talk about your life in vague and confusing ways to beguile them, or that you should dress or look or talk a certain way to make them think you’re more interesting than you are.
That’s not hooking meaningful intrigue; that’s creating false mystery. False mystery might work in some cases for a very short period of time, but it will never sustain someone’s interest over the long term — certainly not in a productive, authentic way.
Cultivating intrigue for intrigue’s sake is a small-minded, short-sighted strategy.
It’s also a bankrupt one. It usually betrays a lack of true substance, and it always runs out eventually, leaving other people to eventually discover that there wasn’t anything to be intrigued about in the first place. Once we realize that about somebody, we quickly forget them.
The jet engine example is the opposite. In that story, we have a guy who has an interesting job, who understands his industry inside and out, and who knows that people might or might not be interested in all the details of his professional life right away.
So what does he do? He answers the question with just enough information to reward the other person’s interest. In so doing, he creates new questions — What kind of dead stuff? — which the person can then choose to ask him. He answers those questions — machines, jet engines — which in turn creates new questions, which the person is free to ask, and which he’s happy to answer — just not all at once. In so doing, he’s not just hooking the other person’s intrigue and cultivating interest. He’s also being respectful by not bombarding them with his life story all at once.
Is there a deliberate strategy to this approach? Absolutely. Does it require some pecision, some understanding of human nature? For sure.
But what makes this approach so powerful is that it’s not designed to deceive or hide, as so many attempts at mystery are. Instead, it’s designed to intrigue, attract and connect in a grounded, patient, respectful way, by parsing out authentic information in pieces.
People don’t tend to remember what they don’t care about. They also don’t tend to remember what they weren’t given a chance to care about.
Hooking intrigue is about creating that chance, and then rewarding that care with honest revelations. When you create intrigue and then pay it off at the right moments, you create a compelling need to understand that gets rewarded. That in turn gets coded much more strongly in people’s memories, which creates a lasting impression. This is what the best movies, books and comedy routines do. They make you curious, and then they reward that curiosity.
So as you work on becoming more memorable, start to play with the way you share details about your life. Consider what information to share and when. Learn how much information is interesting and how much is unnecessary. Give people part but not at all of what they want, and observe how they respond. Pay off their intrigue when you receive it, and be open to having the same experience with them. The exchange of mutual curiosity is called attraction, in the broadest sense of the term. It’s also a key to being unforgettable.
But to really understand how this principle works, we have to widen our lens a little bit, and think about how our impressions interact with our environments.
Seeing a bright pink Lamborghini racing down an empty country road would create a vivid memory in your mind. But seeing a bright pink Lamborghini inching through an exotic car show in a big city probably wouldn’t turn your head.
Similarly, you’d probably remembering witnessing someone have a meltdown on the subway. But if you saw the same person break down in a group therapy session, it probably wouldn’t stand out in your mind.
What we find memorable depends on context.
So we can’t really talk about being unforgettable without talking about the time and place in which people meet us. Our surroundings are an integral part of the impressions we make.
The most unforgettable people understand this principle. They know that a well-timed joke in a serious setting can set them apart. They know that an act of kindness in a tense moment can make a huge impact. They know that making a funny or dramatic or impressive entrance can create an instant memory.
They know that being memorable means being different.
But just like vulnerability, this principle cuts both ways. We can stand out from our surroundings in a way that creates a lasting positive impression, or we can stand out in a way that creates a lasting negative one. We can come across as funny, spontaneous and witty, or we can come across as brash, random, and disrespectful.
The difference between these two impressions often comes down to the contrast between ourselves and our surroundings.
Once again, the key to avoiding this pitfall is a strong dose of self-awareness.
We need to understand ourselves to know how our words and actions will play in a given context. An edgy joke at a funeral — will that come across as witty or inappropriate? An offhand remark in a meeting — will that come across as spontaneous or insubordinate? These are questions only you can answer, given your identity, your style, and your surroundings. But you have to ask them.
It’s also crucial to remember that you will never make an impression for all the right reasons 100 percent of the time. Sometimes you’ll fail to make an impression for reasons you don’t understand. Sometimes you’ll be unforgettable for the wrong reasons. And sometimes you’ll be unforgettable for reasons you didn’t expect.
To become truly unforgettable, you have to take risks, you have to make mistakes, and you have to learn from them as you calibrate the impression you make.
Not every joke will land. Not every remark will endear people to you. Not every entrance will make you stand out. In the huge constellation of variables that determines how memorable you are, there will always be factors that surprise you, confound you, help you or hurt you. It’s your job to continue working on how you share yourself with the world, and learn as much as possible along the way. It’s a dynamic and ongoing process. And it won’t always lead to the exact impression you want to make.
Which brings us to our final — and maybe our most important — principle.
At the end of the day, you can’t fully control how other people see you.
We can — and should! — work on being more memorable, but we can’t make people remember us.
We can — and should! — try to be memorable for the right reasons, but we can’t guarantee that people won’t remember us for different ones.
All we can do is work on our side of the equation as much as possible, and relinquish control over how other people — the world at large — decide to see us. Trying to control that side of the equation is a hopeless task, although many of us are still determined to try.
Which brings us right back to where we started: authenticity. Because ultimately, the only winning strategy we have for being more memorable is to be ourselves — and nothing more.