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Are You Using the Rule of Three in Your Communication?

Are you using the rule of three in your communication?

Maybe you’ve never even heard of the rule of three until now, or maybe it is a completely familiar term. What you need to know is that it is a technique that can work to your benefit when communicating with others and that it is very easy to learn. And today, I’m going to teach it to you.

Humans communicate with each-other in a lot of ways – through speech, writing and even body language. The fact remains that when it comes to sending a message to somebody else, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. But it is possible to consciously apply a few techniques to improve your communication skills that will have a big impact on your interactions. One of the most effective techniques used by speech experts, marketing experts and even TV personalities is the Rule of Three. This technique can not only help you communicate better, but also consequently help your confidence with public speaking. This rhetorical tool is just a simple, learnable art of communication.

What is the Rule of Three?

The rule of three is a very general in theory – it states that ideas and information presented in threes are far more interesting, enjoyable and memorable for the listener. We can see the pervasive use of the number three in literature, films and even video games. Speeches and addresses of great people, right from Martin Luther to Steve Jobs and even Barack Obama are exquisite examples of how the rule of three can and has been used by others. Improv experts have even pointed out that three happens to be the smallest number needed to make or break a pattern. “The first time you say something, it’s an incident, the second time you say something, it’s a co-incidence, but the third time you say something, it becomes a pattern.” — improv coach Kristin Schier.

rule of three

How Can You Apply It?

The Rule of Three can of course be applied in three simple ways:

#1: Divide Your Speech Into 3 Parts

When addressing a group of people, no matter how small that group might be, always make sure there are three parts to your address – a beginning, middle and end. The beginning should roughly include what you are about to tell them, in that you give them a brief overview of what’s coming. The middle of the speech should be the main crux of your interaction, while the ending should be a summary of what you told the audience. This way you divide the speech into distinct sections which have a dedicated preview and conclusion to your interaction. This is, of course, the advice for the rookies. More advanced speakers who are comfortable with the rule of three also choose to add additional elements to these three parts as well – further breaking down the speech into say nine parts. It is up to you as a speaker to effectively get the message across and you can add as many elements as you wish to, however remember that the interaction needs to be simple and should not become complicated in a bid to add more elements to the speech.

#2: Organizing the middle of speech and writing into 3 Parts

The middle of the speech, as discussed earlier, is the crux of your interaction. This is where you present your ideas, it is the core of your communication. By extension, both oral communication and written communication can be divided into three parts but the middle can also be further organized into a 3 part structure. The simplest way of achieving this structure is to provide three main ideas in the middle of your speech/writing, and support each main idea with facts and examples which can be drawn from analogies, statistics, questions, stories etc. Where your skill as a communicator comes in is to decide which three ideas out of the many you may have in mind should constitute the crux of your message. They should be intelligently chosen so as to have maximum impact on the target audience. Remember that if you do have more than three ideas to present, then tie them together into broader categories. At the same time, you have the freedom to break down each of those larger concepts into smaller chunks of three. This method of division will help you make your points more direct and sharp and you will be able to catch the listener’s attention for longer.

rule of three

#3: Using the Rule of Three in Phrases and Sentences

To take your knowledge and understanding of the rule of three even further, try using it in phrases and sentences. When using a particular phrase in your speech or writing to present different ideas, use it thrice which each distinct idea for maximum impact.

For example, if the phrase you plan to use is “it’s no wonder”, then this is how you can do it – “it’s no wonder that trilogies are so popular in literature and fiction; it’s no wonder that famous slogans are presented in three words, it’s no wonder that stories are divided between a beginning, arc and climax.” 

Here we have used the chosen phrase to present three ideas. Together with the main idea, the phrase makes a full thesis, and using three such sentences in your speech and writing is an effective use of the rule of three. At the same time, you are able to present three different points of view without worrying about loss of focus and attention of the listener/reader. To make this technique effective, don’t get too fancy;  use simple vocabulary that gets the point across.

While the rule of three is a helpful technique that betters communication, it’s not something you need to use all the time. Sometimes you can choose to break the rule as well, but only after you are sure of an alternative technique or method of presenting the same set of ideas. A good place to start practicing the rule is to look back at the last speech or presentation you gave in either verbal or written form. Analyze it and see where you could have incorporated this rhythm. The success of the rule of three ultimately rests on your ability to adapt it to your goals and ideas. 

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