Have you ever been at a conference or seminar when someone's come up to say hello, but you don't recognise them? You know from the way they start the conversation that you've met them before, but you don't remember their face.
It's occasionally happened to me. I've learnt to be upfront and declare that I'm terribly sorry but "I can't quite place you."
This is one reason why having a professional introducer at an event introducing the attendees, saying their name, job title and company is worthwhile. Guests aren't embarrassed when they don't remember a face because the professional introducer does the remembering for them!
BUT, what happens when not remembering a face is a continual problem. You could be suffering from Face Blindness, or Prosopagnosia.
Former UK Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has Face Blindness. Her daily life in Parliament involved coping with the embarrassment of not knowing who had just told her a piece of information? She comments...
"I would bump into one of our Members of Parliament in the corridor and he would tell me something, it was often something really quite important. Of course this was someone who at least in theory I knew rather well, and then I would take this snippet of intelligence back to the office and of course in politics the so and so doing the telling is just as important as what you're told."
The actor Stephen Fry also suffers from Face Blindness. "Not recognising faces is actually socially less acceptable, people actually don't forgive you. They think you're using a feeble excuse and they don't really get it. You hate yourself. You want to stab yourself. It's the most awful, stupid affliction."
The former political journalist Mary Ann Sieghart also suffers from the condition. In her fascinating documentary for BBC Radio 4 "Who Are You Anyway?" she describes the condition as not just embarrassing, but as "socially crippling."
It's not only those with a diagnosis of Prosopagnosia who find faces difficult at functions. People change their appearance: a change of dress, hairstyle or colour in women can be particularly confusing. A sea of men all with a similar dark suit and haircut can make it hard to distinguish one man from another if a previous meeting has been fleeting.
At my ideal event, no one ever needs to remember a name, a job title - or worry about someone's new job title or circumstances. No one wanders around a room looking for someone they've spoken to half an hour ago or yesterday, failing to spot them again because there are too many similar-looking people. Everyone is fully engaged and joining in, because they feel comfortable and confident that there is a resource in the room that they can tap into. That resource used to be called the host or hostess of the event and it was taken for granted that there would be one, connecting guests to each other. Now it's taken for granted that there won't be one! Time to bring back the role, and update the title to Professional Introducer.
Rachel Fay is a Professional Introducer at Events. You can contact her on 020 8743 1249 or firstname.lastname@example.org . To see more of her views and work go to http://rachelfay.co.uk/sectors/conferencesSuggest a correction