Improve Your Speech Writing with The Rule of Three

The Rule of Three can make you more persuasive, memorable and entertaining

Part 1: The Rule of Three
Part 2: Improve Your Speech Writing with The Rule of Three
Part 3: The Three Question-Rule

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is a skill like any other, and the Rule of Three is a simple tool that you can start using immediately to improve your speeches, reports and other communications.

1. Importance

Have you ever listened to an uninspired speech, read a forgettable report, or watched a boring TV advertisement? Thousands of hours, millions of dollars and inestimable amounts of emotional labour were spent preparing these messages; messages which did not inspire, were not memorable and have not changed you for the better (or worse).

When you communicate, you should aim to change your audience in some way: inform them, inspire them, or amuse them. Creating a message with no such impact is much like digging a hole and then filling it in again, a complete waste of time.

Would you like to make an impact, push the world forwards a little, and shake things up? If not, then you needn’t read any further – you might as well spare yourself the effort and go build sandcastles at the beach with all of the other children… but if you would like to change things, the Rule of Three is a simple technique that you can use to help you make your communications more persuasive, memorable and entertaining.

Steve Jobs has used the Rule of Three in all of his presentations dating back to the 1970s.

2. Improve your Speech Writing

You can use the Rule of Three to structure your next speech.

The outline of an effective speech will have three sections: an introduction, body and conclusion. You probably knew this already because this is the same way that we were taught to structure an essay in high school. What you may not have realised is that this structure is based on the Rule of Three: introduction, body and conclusion. The repetition is powerful because it can make your message more persuasive, memorable and entertaining.

Your core message can also be backed with three points. There is something powerful in the way that the Rule of Three allows you to introduce your message, emphasise it, and then make it memorable. If you have more than three supporting points then you can just use your top three. Fewer than 3 points will not give you quite the same amount of punch, and more than 3 risks putting your audience to sleep.

Using the Rule of Three to organise your speech outline and supporting points will give you a speech structure that looks something like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body:
    • Point 1 (e.g. give a supporting point or tell a story that illustrates your point)
    • Point 2
    • Point 3
  3. Conclusion

This is such a simple, elegant and effective structure, and you can use it to structure your next speech.

The Rule of Three can also be used at the micro-speech level to create memorable triads of words, phrases and sentences. This technique has been used in famous speeches throughout history. Here are three examples:

  1. Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar: Mark Antony begins his famous speech with “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.”
  2. James Lowther, 1st Viscount Ullswater: “There are three golden rules for Parliamentary speakers: Stand up. Speak up. Shut up.”
  3. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: Lincoln uses a number of triads in the Gettysburg Address: “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground”; “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

3. Conclusion

You can use the Rule of Three to help you create speeches with impact. The outline of your speech can be broken into three sections; each of your core messages can be supported by three points; you can also compose memorable triads of words, phrases and sentences.

The Rule of Three

Omne Trium Perfectum – everything that comes in threes is perfect

Part 1: The Rule of Three
Part 2: Improve Your Speech Writing with The Rule of Three
Part 3: The Three Question Rule

OKAY, you may be thinking, what’s so special about the number 3?

Good question.

The “Rule of Three” is the name given to that magical law of nature whereby things that come in threes appear to be just right. In ancient times, the Roman’s understood this rule and referred to it with the Latin maxim “omne trium perfectum” which means “everything that comes in threes is perfect”. And today we have English sayings such as “third time lucky” and “third time’s a charm”, which seem to reflect the same idea.

Information presented in groups of three will stick in the head of your audience better than any other grouping of information. Why is this? The most plausible explanation is that since people are generally good at pattern recognition and three is the smallest number of points required to create a pattern, information presented in threes forms a pattern which can be more easily remembered. As a result, information presented in a group of three is more memorable that information presented in groups of say, two or five.

The US Marines believe in the Rule of Three, and use it to structure their organisation and ensure that everyone’s job remains manageable. “In a nutshell, the rule is this: each marine has three things to worry about. In terms of organizational structure, the “rule of three” means a corporal has a three-person fire team; a sergeant has a squad of three fire teams; a lieutenant and a staff sergeant have a platoon of three squads; and so on, up to generals.” (Inc.com).

There is something magical about the number three.