When I was a child, I loved the Schoolhouse Rock song Three is a Magic Number.

I learned my 3 times table to this song!

And I loved the examples:

  • The past and the present and the future.
  • The faith and hope and charity.
  • The heart and the brain and the body.

Turns out that the rule of three is a powerful way to structure your communication. 

Sticking to the rule of three ensures that people will remember what you say.

When you’re putting together your plan for a conversation or presentation, knowing that three is the most effective approach will help you organize your thoughts.

For project updates, it may sound like this, “We’re here today to talk about the Smith project. I’ve got three things to share/discuss: 1) where we are on the project, 2) what’s holding us up and 3) the plan for getting it completed.”

If you have more to share or discuss beyond the three main categories, put it into one of the three main categories or cover the additional topics at another meeting.

You may be thinking, “But I have 14 things to share!” That may be true but no one will remember 14 things.

Think about your audience and how you can make the most impact. You may manage to get all 14 things into your discussion but no one will remember them all.

They won’t remember more than three!

For your performance review, it may sound like this, “I’d like to talk about three things: 1) my accomplishments this year, 2) feedback that I’ve received from my peers and 3) my career goals.”

To be even more effective add, “Is there anything you’d like to add to this agenda?”

The bottom line

Using this rule will increase your credibility and make you seem more confident.

It’s also incredibly useful to always use the same structure. When you sit down to plan for any conversation, knowing that you will always have three buckets makes that blank page more manageable!




P.S. Want more examples of the Rule of Three?

  • In storytelling, you have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Three Bears and the Three Musketeers.
  • Three ghosts in A Christmas Carol: the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.
  • Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – Rights outlined in The Declaration of Independence.
  • The father, the son and the holy ghost in Christianity.
  • Stop, Drop and Roll fire safety message.
  • Jokes feature three stereotyped individuals—such as an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman; or a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead; or a rabbi, a priest and a monk.

So the list goes on and on!


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