Be Funny and Clear by Using the Rule of Three

If the most important word in speaking is ‘you,’ the most important number in speaking is three. The Rule of 3 manifests in many ways. It helps make your speech more humorous, clearer, and more memorable.

Use it For Humor

Let’s start with the humor. The Rule of Three applies when you have three examples that you mention back to back to back, and the third provides a twist. For example, when I talk about writing down your perfect day, I say the following:

“I did this years ago and everything I wrote down has come to pass. I wrote down, I wanted to be a professional speaker— I’m a professional speaker! I said I wanted to own my own business – I own my own business. I said I wanted a white Mercedes Benz convertible – I have a white Honda Accord. I’m getting there.”

As you can see, the third example is the twist, and that makes it funny. The interesting thing is this; I’ve actually tried four examples before, thinking it would build up the twist even more, but guess what happened? It fell flat. It just doesn’t work as well. There’s something magical about the Rule of 3. So use three examples, not four, two or five.

Use it For Clarity

Now let’s move on to clarity and making your message memorable. I used to give a one-hour workshop in which I gave my audience 7 Secrets to Speaking Success. It was an okay program, but do you know what took it to a much higher level? I changed the program, and instead of offering seven secrets, I offered three sections. For example, instead of saying, “You’re going to pick up seven strategies,” I said the following:

“If you look at your handout, you’ll see you will first pickup strategies on how you can breathe life into a speech and make your audience come alive. Then you’ll pick up tools on how you can bring the audience to you and keep them engaged at all times, and hopefully awake. And third, you’ll pick up tools on how you can build a message that sticks, so that people will rehire you time and time again.”

Do you see the three sections? Instead of having seven spots on my handout for them to fill out, I simply put the following three sections:

  1. Breathe life into your speech
  2. Bring the audience to you
  3. Build a message that sticks

I don’t know why it makes such a difference, and frankly I just don’t care. The bottom line is that it works. Today my audience grasps my message much easier and deeper than they did when I had seven points.

Use it to Make Your Message Stick

Here is the most interesting part. Today I actually give many more than seven pointers in my speech! However, because my audience can fit all of the pointers I give them into the three sections – Breathe Life, Bring Your Audience In, and Build a Message That Sticks – they get the message much clearer, and for some reason it sticks with them better.

Anytime you want to make nine points in a speech (which is probably a speech of at least 90 minutes), separate those points into three sections of three points each. If you have 27 points to make in a day-long workshop, separate them into three sections of nine points each, if possible. Whatever you do, find a way to use the Rule of Three. It flat out works! People remember best in threes.

One caveat:

In a 5-7 minute speech, using the Rule of 3 for humor is fine. However, in terms of points, refrain from trying to make more than one because that’s all the time you have to support and illustrate it. Trying to make 3 points in 5-7 minutes is futile.

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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