Rule of three is the idea that using three components in anything yields a better understanding and easier remembrance, and is more attractive to an audience compared to using less or more than three components. In the context of communication and persuasion, it can be used in various ways, such as dividing it into three by structure, themes, stages, perspectives, and points.
We will first consider what the rule of three is, then we will move on to why you should use it and how it can be applied in the context of communication and persuasion. We will end with a few examples of its application.
What is the rule of three?
It is based on the assumption that when any ideas are presented in threes, they are more easily remembered, more captivating, and more effective in their purpose. The rule is then a guideline to use no less or more than three components in any context at all.
A few examples where the rule of three is commonly seen include the Serenity Prayer, the “Just Do It” slogan of Nike, and the “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” as stated by Lincoln.
It can be applied in various contexts, including writing, presenting, marketing, teaching, and so on. However, we will focus on the domains of communication and persuasion in this article, which are closely related to public speaking.
If you’re interested in finding out how it can be used in speech writing, head over to this article.
What are the 3 rules?
It is easy to confuse “the rule of three” as having “three rules”. However, there is only one rule in this system, which is to use three components for whatever we present.
Why use the rule of three?
- The minimum number of elements needed to generate a pattern is three, and the human brain is predisposed to seeing patterns so it helps the elements stand out.
- Anything less than three is too less to introduce complexity. E.g., a story has a beginning, a main plot, and an end. Similarly, a presentation tends to have an introduction, main content, and conclusion. Anything less than that would not be sufficient.
- Anything more than three would be more difficult to remember and somewhat more complex. Our memory is limited so when we tell it to remember 5 items, it will obviously struggle more than it would for three items. This is also why it is recommended that you divide a topic with many components into major topics/themes and subcategorize them instead of putting it all together.
How can the rule of three be applied to communication?
This can be done in various ways depending on whether it is used in a sentence or a speech. A sentence may be simply divided into three components, while a speech could have a three-part structure, three themes, three stages, or three perspectives.
How to use the rule of three in a sentence or phrase?
You can simply break it down into three components. A sample structure would be “The joint efforts of A, B, and C.” You could also make up phrases with three elements. This could look like ”A, B, and C”. For example, “Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.”
How to use the rule of three in a speech?
Just like a story, you could divide it into a clear beginning, main idea, and end. This makes it quite easy for the audience to focus on the main idea.
You could divide it into themes. So, for example, if you’re talking about the possible issues at work, you can categorize them into those related to the work environment, supervisor, and the nature of work. Not only does this allow for easier understanding for the listener, but it also provides you with a mental framework that increases your understanding through this grouping.
You could divide it into stages that happen in chronological order. Without a structure such as this, we might end up putting a lot of unnecessary details into a story. When we challenge ourselves to summarize it into three points, we will come up with the most relevant points and also make sure it is understood.
You could divide it into perspectives. For example, one could be your personal feelings, one could be what others might feel about the issue, and one could be a middle ground of it.
Rule of three communication examples
Explaining an argument that has already taken place using a three-part structure
- Beginning: Provide the context of the people involved and their goals.
- Main idea: Discuss the major points put forth by both parties and a critical evaluation of them. (Related: check out 11 effective strategies to resolve conflict.)
- End: Convey the results of the argument.
Explaining the impact of a physical disease using three themes
- Physical symptoms lead to discomfort.
- Reduced capacity to function leads to distress.
- The label of a disease leads to either isolation or social support.
Explaining what happened in an attempted robbery using three stages
- First, the person entered the house through the window.
- The person picked up the thing closest to the entrance- an old painting. But this made some sound and alerted the guards.
- The guards restrained him and he was handed over to the police.
Explaining a difference in opinion from three perspectives
- A believes that things should remain as they always have even if there’s an issue now because they have served him well in the past. This requires no expenditure.
- B believes that things should keep changing whenever there are issues with the current system. This requires large expenditure.
- C believes that things should change only after an assessment shows significant benefits but otherwise, things should remain as they are. This requires moderate expenditure.
How can the rule of three be applied to persuasion
How to use the rule of three in marketing/pitches?
For persuasion, you could divide it into points and examples to support your argument.
Three Advantages over Competitors
You could also explain a competitor’s argument/characteristic and pair it with how you have an advantage over that.
Three Steps to Solving an Issue
You could state a problem, provide a solution, and state a favourable outcome that makes the audience more likely to be convinced of what you’re marketing.
Three components of a slogan
You could make up a slogan that best describes your product. This is quite similar to emphasizing the benefits but this does it in a much briefer format, with only one word used for each key characteristic. For example, “Fast, Effective, and Reliable.”
Rule of three persuasion examples
Explaining the benefits of volunteering (an action) using three key points
- Feelings of connection by working together with others in a community
- Sense of fulfilment by helping those in need.
- Personal growth through learning experiences.
Explaining the benefits of a mobile phone (product) using three key points
- Access to information
Explaining the problem with a potential policy using three key points
- Customer dissatisfaction
- Lower revenue
- Employee turnover
We delved into the definition, benefits, and applicability of the rule of three. We also discussed various examples of its use. Communication is an essential tool in our life so we often look for ways to enhance it. I hope this article was of help to you.
Public speaking is a skill that can be improved through knowledge and practice. Coaching covers both of these domains so do check it out!