“The Rule of Three” is a writing principle suggesting that a trio of events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers.
Audiences are more likely to remember information conveyed using “The Rule of Three.” This is because the three elements provide brevity and rhythm with the smallest amount of information needed to create a pattern. It makes an author or speaker appear knowledgeable while remaining both accessible and catchy.
Slogans, film titles, jokes, speaking techniques, and writing have been structured in threes, a tradition that grew out of oral storytelling.
For example, the classic “The Three Little Pigs,” “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and The Three Musketeers. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.
The Latin phrase “Omne trium perfectum” (Everything that comes in threes is perfect, or every set of three is complete.) conveys the same idea as “The Rule of Three.”
Most speakers know about the importance of using “The Rule (or Law) of Three,” but most of us are not aware of where it came from. We use this ancient mathematical law of proportion in ways we don’t even think about. Abraham Lincoln learned it in his one-room schoolhouse. Even Aristotle, in his Art of Rhetoric, referred to “three types of speeches” and “three forms of proof.”
Lewis Carroll, in addition to writing the Alice in Wonderland stories, was a mathematician at Oxford who referred to “The Rule of Three” more than once in his writings. In his “Mad Gardener’s Song” he writes:
He thought he saw a Garden-door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
“And all its mystery,” he said,
“Is clear as day to me.”
Irrespective of its mathematical overtones, the number three is truly magical. Speech coaches insist that people can most easily remember something if it is said three different times. Shakespeare used it with “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” Thomas Jefferson used it with “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
U.S. Marine Corps instructors teach that a Marine should limit his or her attention to three tasks or goals. Comedians often use the rule of three effectively. Their first comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third unexpectedly switches the pattern, which is funny.
What does it mean for you?
Simply focusing your message on no more than three significant points and repeating them in different ways throughout your presentation is certain to give your presentation maximum impact. Let the classic “The Rule of Three” add power to your writing, storytelling, and presentations.
Why not have a conversation with Patricia Fripp to discuss how you can gain a competitive advantage by improving your presentations?
Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.
“Patricia, words cannot express the gratitude I have for your superb scripting and speech coaching for my important acceptance speech. Needless to say, everybody told me, ‘The speech was awesome!!!’ It was obvious the entire audience was blown away and greatly impacted. The enthusiasm came from those who knew me and those encountering me for the first time. To think, from our first call to a memorized speech in four days. Thank you for your talent, care, friendship, and support! It truly means the world!” Kristopher Francisco
Need help for you or your team on improving important conversations and presentations? The Fripp Customized Approach will work for you. Contact Fripp today!
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
Although Lewis Carroll certainly knew about saying things in threes, but the Double Rule of Three actually is a technique of practical arithmetic, made clear as day by the following link to an old text:
Perhaps a better example of Carroll to use would be in The Hunting of the Snark: “What I tell you three times is true.” This advice also presages redundancy checking that is so common in modern computing.