Effective Communication: The Rule of Three

Staff Writer

Heard of the rule of three?

The rule of three states that concepts or ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable, and more memorable. Three is also the smallest number to make a pattern, a pattern that is remembered.

It’s no coincidence that there are “Three Blind Mice” or “Three Amigos” or “Three Little Pigs”. Most stories have three parts; a beginning, middle and end. In music, films, books the magic number pops up all the time in three word titles – “Men in Black”, “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Saturday Night Fever”.

Even the comedians use threes – “An Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman walk into a bar……”

Why Three?

Contemporary scientists have put the number of items we can easily recall in short-term memory closer to three or four “chunks” of information; however it seems us humans can best process three ideas or concepts very easily. We tend to remember things in threes.

Communicating Effectively with Three

Perhaps you’ve heard the old piece of advice for structuring a speech.  That old genius Aristotle said, "Tell them what you going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them" – Dale Carnegie shortened it a bit "Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said."

For experienced or novice presenters that’s great advice to keep you on track.

As a coach, I strongly recommend to my clients the use of the ‘Rule of Three’ in all areas of their communications: marketing, pitches, and presentations

What Did Steve Jobs Do?

The late Steve Jobs used three in his presentations as well. In 2011 when he introduced the iPad2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster”, those three adjectives so accurately described the new device, that thousands of newspaper headlines and blogs ran those same three words.

“The Rule of Three” is a powerful communications tool and if it works for Aristotle, Dale Carnegie and Steve Jobs and other great communicators, why not use the concept yourself?

Remember the slogan for Mars Bar? “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” (three concepts) or how about Nike’s “Just Do It!” (three words).

Stephen Pead is a media industry veteran of 30 years with significant experience in sales, sales management and general management. He is based in Sydney and specialises in providing high performance media training for salespeople and sales managers via his company Sales Solutions.

Find him on LinkedIn.

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