The Master Communicator Blog

Transform your presentations with the rule of three

Some of the most memorable lines from speechwriting use the rule of threes to emphasize ideas and increase retention by taking advantage of the way our brains cling to patterns. You can harness the power of three for your speeches and presentations with three simple techniques.
February 7, 2022

Recently, I wrote about how to use the rule of thirds in composing and framing your video image and how that impacts your credibility. Three is a powerful number that guides how our brains process information. It holds a special place in the way great speeches and presentations have been written and delivered.

The rule of three is a widespread organizing principle for just about everything in our world. In physics, we have Newton’s three laws of motion. In music, we have the concept of triads and three-part harmony. Most stories, whether in theater, folk tales, or movies, follow the three-act structure of a beginning, a middle and an end.

The knack for pattern recognition is hard-wired into our brains, which seem to work best when thinking in trios. If you want something to stay in people’s heads, put it into a tri-part sequence. The possibilities run from the banal to the sublime:

🌼Snap crackle pop.

🌼Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

🌼Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Once you’re aware of the rule you’ll start to see and hear it everywhere: Blood sweat and tears. Lights, camera, action. The Three Stooges. Three Little Pigs. Just Do It (Nike). Turn to Cold (Tide). Taste the Feeling (Coke). The list is endless.

Take the tricolon, a rhetorical device using a series of three words, phrases or sentences in a parallel structure, length, or rhythm that produces sticky phrases. For example, “We cannot desecrate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground,” from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

In pop culture, one iconic film scene has been memorialized in memes as The Phone Speech. Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken 1 speaks a warning to his daughter’s captor: “ I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Simplicity is that makes the rule of three so powerful, satisfying, and persuasive.

“One won’t do, two isn’t quite enough,” as James Bond author Ian Fleming noted in Goldfinger. He wrote: “Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”

Here are three ways to use the rule of three in your next speech or presentation:

1. Structure the core of your presentation into three parts.

🌼Beginning, middle, end.

🌼Opportunity, solution, benefit.

🌼Problem, solution, action.

2. Use three bullets to support a main idea.

According to Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute: “The mojo of three offers a greater sense of completeness than four or more.”  

🌼One bullet is a power statement.

🌼Two bullets are for comparison and contrast.

🌼Three bullets offer completeness, wholeness, and roundness

3. Feature three agenda items or supporting ideas for your speech.

Organize your content into three units to help your audience follow along, understand your idea, and buy into your point of view. Announcing that you have “three solutions to share with you today,” sparks attention.  Meetings you lead will be more gratifying. People will want to attend your presentations knowing that they will leave with a trio of valuable ideas worthy of their time.

Legendary author and lecturer Dale Carnegie said about presentation structure: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.”

Now that you know a bit more about the rule of three and how it can help you be a better speaker and presenter, you can begin to put it into practice to bring structure and clarity to your business communication.

Implementing the rule of three is as easy as ABC. It requires a shift in your mindset to identify what is truly essential. Yet, it can have a huge impact on the way you are perceived and whether people want to listen to what you have to say.

Rosemary Ravinal

Business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to elevate their public speaking impact, executive presence, and media interview skills come to me for personalized attention and measurable results. I am recognized as America’s Premier Bilingual Public Speaking Coach after decades as a corporate spokesperson and media personality in the U.S. mainstream, Hispanic and Latin American markets. My company’s services are available for individuals, teams, in-person and online, and in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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