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Call it a classic hit. Back by popular demand. Or, if you must, a summer rerun.
This issue is always fresh though.
In fact, it came up in a workshop last week: how to make a presentation more compelling, how to capture attention, and how to keep it long enough to make your point, at a time when people are rushed, distracted, and eager to move on to the next thing.
I had some suggestions, as you might guess. One was to use the Power of Three.
You have something to say—that’s why you’re speaking or writing or Zooming in the first place.
How do you make sure your important message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other? It’s tricky, isn’t it?
People are busy. Attention spans are short. Competition for mindshare is intense.
And here you are, hoping to inform, influence, and inspire them. There’s a lot you can do to make your message more magnetic in person, on the phone, or in writing.
One easy way to increase your impact: The Magic of Three
You might tell us about people: Three guys walked into a bar. Or the actions people take: Stop, drop, and roll. Or lofty concepts: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
No matter the subject, a series of three has more impact than two or six or 17.
Triads have a certain rhythm that makes them memorable. And you’ve been absorbing that pattern as long as you can remember. Think back to Three Blind Mice. Three Little Pigs. Goldilocks and the (what else?) Three Bears.
If you were ever a boy, throw in the Three Stooges. (Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk)
At Sunday School, you learned about the Three Wise Men, not to mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or maybe you grew up with Judaism’s Three Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Or the Hindu Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva).
Why do trios, triplets, and the Trinity work?
It’s all about the way we process information—we learn early to recognize patterns. The experts say the Rule of Three is based on the smallest number of anything that can create a pattern.
So, it’s the rhythm and the brevity that make groups of three meaningful and memorable. You could, after all, have
- Friends and Romans.
- Winken, Blinken, Nod, and McGillicuddy.
- Faith, Hope, Charity, Purity, Love, Generosity, Piety …
But we’d be hard-pressed to remember those groupings. Other numbers just don’t stick the way a set of three does.
In fact, we’ve all heard about Winston Churchill’s famous “blood, sweat, and tears” speech to the House of Commons shortly after he became Britain’s Prime Minister.
Except Churchill actually said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Even when there are four, we remember three.
How can you use the Rule of Three?
Structure your content in three parts.
- The traditional structure for a drama is Situation-Complication-Results.
- Case studies include the Problem, the Solution, and the Outcome.
- 12-Steppers tell their story: What it was like…What happened…What it’s like now.
You might use bullet points to make your writing easier to read. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye and more memorable than even numbers. And the most memorable is three.
You could include the number three in your title: “Three Ways to Make Your Writing More Memorable.” Or you might just list the topics you’ll cover: “Speaking with Power, Presence, and Pizzazz.” Extra points for alliteration if you use it sparingly.
Whether your title includes the word “three” or simply mentions three things, you’ll find that triplets draw people in.
Practice makes perfect
When I work with clients on content for a talk, I always encourage creative types to give their message more impact by using the Magic of Three. It’s the Rule of Three for those who are more analytical.
They’re the same thing, of course. 3 = 3. Words matter though. And people are more receptive when we speak their language.
Whether you think of it as magic or a rule, sometimes it feels awkward at first. You may have two of something in mind; coming up with a third one feels like a reach. Okay, two out of three ain’t bad.
But it’s worth stretching for that third element as you consider how best to get your point across. Because you want what you say to be heard, understood, and remembered.
It won’t be long before you find that sets of three come naturally to you when you’re writing or speaking.
Omne trium perfectum. Everything that comes in threes is perfect.
Now, on the count of three … weigh in with a comment in three parts.