What is common between The Godfather, Matrix and Star Wars? Ever wondered why our childhood stories are 3 blind mice, 3 little pigs and The Golden Goose, with three brothers? And all the stories have a beginning, middle and an end. As kids, we we taught A, B, C and 1, 2, 3. The wise men in the Bible are 3 carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Olympic medals are given out in Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Do these ring a bell in your mind? Can you find the common factor in all the above examples? The element of 3 is common in all the above things. The power of three rules are lives more than we care to notice. The rule of three is a writing principle that says that things that come in three are “inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.” This rule is effectively used in many other spheres of life. And we will see how we can use it to make our communication better using the power of this rule.
Let us answer this question first. Studies show that 3 is an ideal number for the mind to easily remember things. The human short term memory can retain 3 things easily in one go. 2 don’t say enough and 4 is too many to remember, so 3 it should be. It makes your point or sentence emphatic, effective and memorable. Three makes for a beautiful pattern. The first time you say something, it’s an incident. The second time you say something, it’s a co-incidence. The third time you say something, it becomes a pattern.
Rose, Lily and Joanne
The 3rd element says it’s a list of names. Or rose, lily or lotus – lotus makes it a flower. Only when you add a third element does it complete the list and makes the meaning clear. Grouping things in threes provides a greater impact – and makes the list easier to remember.
Examples of rule of three
We strive to be among top three achievers. Since no one remembers beyond that. Nike’s tagline – Just do it – is unforgettable. Sales leads are divided as Hot, Medium and cold. The kid’s game has no more than 3 elements – rock, paper, scissors. Dale carnegie’s golden principles for communicating effectively – Tell them what you are going to tell, tell them, then tell them what you just told – using repetition effectively. And when Steve Jobs announced that the new ipad is “thinner, slimmer and faster”, the quote was used by press across the world to describe the new device. There are 3 kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics, said Mark Twain. Notice the way he has tweaked the last element in the pattern to induce humour.
Most catch phrases and world famous speeches have used this power and have gotten themselves etched in our memories forever. Starting from world leaders, who seemed to be as good in their communication as in state craft, who left behind a legacy of this rule of three. Be it the French motto of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Or inalienable rights voiced in the US declaration of independence – Life, Liberty and pursuit of happiness. Or the definition of democracy itself – of the people, by the people, for the people.
In more recent times, Steve Jobs’ love for three is well known. He presented products in threes. And they came with 16, 32 and 64 GB to choose from.
Obama’s inaugural speech, to choose one of his impactful pieces, used this rule effectively to inspire an entire nation. Some examples include:
“struggled and sacrificed and worked”
“birth or wealth or faction”
“we must pick ourselves up,
dust ourselves off,
and begin again the work of remaking America”
How do we use it in our lives?
You have already some examples in which the rule of three is used in our lives. Let’s look at some more:
1. Use triads of words and phrases: The memorable pieces of famous speeches, as we saw above, all follow this pattern. This pattern works best for persuasive speeches, say, sales pitch or getting your team to buy-in. Insert the three rule into your talk to appeal to our inherent love for the number and make also make an impact on the group.
2. Review your professional assets: Take a look at your company brochures, logo, business cards and website. If there are more than 3 elements, the design is probably too cluttered for your customer to remember or recall. Limit the number of elements, colours, fonts to three.
3. Follow the rule in your speech outlines: We know from our childhood experiences that stories are best told in 3 parts. Plan your presentation to have 3 clear elements. Divide it into introduction, middle and end. Notice that if any of these is missing, it breaks the thought process and will leave your audience guessing. You can plan your speech around problem, solution, challenges ahead. Or, for simpler things, tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you just told them. Or include three stories to illustrate your three main points.
I have followed the rule of three while writing this post. The post has three sections and the last section leaves you with 3 tips to use the rule in your life. Drop in your comments about this and let me know if this works. I’d love to hear your views on this.