The Rule of Three in Presentations

Later this week I will be leading a training session on improving your presentation skills called,”Make Your Presentations Sing!”  As part of my research I have come across several references to “The Rule of Three.” 

According to the “Presentation Helper” website, this “is based on the technique that people tend to remember three things.  On oratory it comes up all the time.”  Some examples:

1) “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” – William Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar”

2) “Blood, sweat and tears” – General Patton

3) The good, the bad and the ugly” – Film title

And, of course, we all know that the guiding principle for success in real estate is, “Location, Location, Location.”  So the Rule of Three is not to be taken lightly.  It does appear that there is a natural rhythm or cadence that helps the ear to naturally accept 3 points.  As Granville Toogood writes in “The Articulate Executive,”

“Summarize your key point or key points.  One or three, but not two or four, because the ear likes the odd number (two anticipates three, and four is too many to remember”).

So if you want the audience to remember your message, put it into a list of three – that is if you simply can not reduce your message to one point!  In this case make it one point with three subpoints to reinforce your message.  Some additional examples:

1) “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – from the American Declaration of Independence

2) “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” – Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

3) “Never before in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many, to so few.” – Sir Winston Churchill

I would never bet against Churchill or Lincoln when it comes to delivering a memorable message.  If three points work so elegantly for President Lincoln and Sir Winston… well, that will work for me – and for you, whether you are the audience or the speaker.  Use the Rule of Three to your advantage and your audience will remember you and your message.  Ignore it at your peril.  So start pruning the points on your PowerPoint slides immediately!

If you are still not convinced of the power of The Rule of Three, then tune into Comedy Central or listen to almost any comedian.  Here's a quotation from Alison Davis' Insights blog:

As John Kinde writes on his website,, the rule of three is particularly useful in comedy writing because “a funny line . . . is like a train wreck. You know where the train has been, you think you know where it’s going, but then you’re surprised when it goes off track.” So the rule of three sets up the joke and makes it memorable. Like the tee-shirt that reads, “World Class Cities: Paris. Rome. Fargo” The third thing is the kicker that creates the joke.

So, to sum up, here are three things to remember about the rule of three: It creates simplicity, aids recall and makes your job easier. What could be better?

I never try to “top” a good joke, so let me end my post right here.

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