Some of the most memorable things come in threes…
Following a little research around the ‘rule of three’, Kat made some really interesting, thought-provoking and useful observations. (See what she did there?)
The rule of three is a concept based on the idea that people will tend to remember stuff more easily when things are grouped into threes. It’s used in writing and presenting, predominantly, but also visualisation can lean heavily on groupings of three, for example in photography. *
Great things come in threes and our natural world provides us with many examples. There are three primary colours and human colour vision is, in most cases, trichromatic – our retinas are receptive to the three colours of green, red and blue, which then translates to all the spectrum of colours we see. The building blocks of our universe are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Space is three-dimensional and if you consider time, well, it’s divided up into three chunks; past, present and future! There are many more examples, why not see what you can come up with?
For us at Rambutan, the rule of three is a useful tool in our written and presentation work. The science behind it is that we process information using (among other things) pattern recognition, and three is the smallest number of elements required to form a pattern. This results in a more memorable ‘chunk’ of information, with a more engaging style.
Although I was unaware of a ‘label’ for the rule of three it seems that I’ve been using it without realising. It occurred to me that we are surrounded with examples: blood, sweat and tears; faith, hope and charity; shake, rattle and roll. Three is a powerful number which can put words, objects and ideas into nicely manageable, bite-sized and easily-digestible chunks; not too much information for the brain to process, not too little to miss getting the point across, just about the right amount for most people to cope with. For me personally, it’s about engaging the audience; making the message easy to remember by keeping it simple; it ‘flows’ more, it’s punchy and it has a better ‘feel’.
Have a think about it. I’m sure you can come up with hundreds of groups of three for getting the message across and making an impact: ‘me, myself and I’, ‘stop, look and listen’, ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’. There are many examples in films too: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sex, Lies and Videotape, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
In the spoken word, three is a powerful number. ‘Lords, ladies and gentlemen.’ Politicians use the rule of three to make an impact; for example Mark Anthony addressed the Roman populi “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”, and Winston Churchill was known for being extremely articulate and impactful, often using groupings of three; “Never before in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
Even comedians use the rule with their ‘comic triple’ joke structure of ‘set up’, ‘anticipation’, and ‘punchline’, where the general third point is the one to raise the laughs. Think about the classic ‘Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman’ jokes…
In Rambutan presentations we use the rule of three to drive key messages home. David sums it up nicely in his ‘top tips on how to gobsmack your audience’: tell your audience what you are going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them! And speaking of top tips, the design for each of these follow the same format of three key ‘points’ to each branch. Have a look, you’ll find a brand-new top tips in each newsletter we bring out. You can sign up for it here!
For your next presentation, how about trying out the power of three? And remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
* For those interested in the power of three as a visual aid, groups of three (in fact, odd numbers in general) look far more appealing than an even number. This is due to the way the brain processes an image; when confronted with even-numbered groups of something the brain will automatically try to break the image down into halves or even quarters. Look on a ‘photography tips’ website or forum and you will find details on the rule of ‘thirds’, which basically advises on breaking a composition up into thirds, but both horizontally as well as vertically.