The Rule of Three

There are certain things that just work. The rule of threes is one of them. Three is the smallest number of elements required to make a pattern and that makes them more memorable. If you use it, your communications will have a greater impact.

Three is simple enough for anybody to remember, so marketers use it to make memorable slogans. Good movies use three acts to set up, build, and then resolve their predicament. Photographers use it to compose photos. Comedians use it to tell jokes. Good speechwriters use it to construct their speeches. Keep it in mind whenever you do something you want to have maximum impact.

Multi-billion dollar marketing brands use three words to anchor their brand taglines in your head. Everybody is familiar with “Just Do It” or “Coke Is It.” If you are a marketing geek, look at packaging blahdity- blah-blah and you’ll see it in their phrasing like “heal dry skin” or “soothes minor aches and pains”.

Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Plays and movies setup their conflict in the first act. They build tension in the second act and resolve their predicament in the third act.

Photographers use the Rule of Three to split the screen into three sections vertically and horizontally. Then they put key elements at the intersection of those lines. This is why expert photographers rarely put their subject in the center of their image and instead put them off to the side.

Many of the most famous stories use it, especially if they come from oral traditions. For example, there are The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Musketeers or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Comedians use it to write humor. They set up their jokes, make people think they know where they are head, then deliver the punch line.
You build tension by presenting two similar items, then release it with the third item. That’s always a surprise. Take, for instance, a joke from the Dick Van Dyke Show: “Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee? Donut? Toupee?”

You can also use it to construct a better speech. Tell them what you are going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Limit your points to a maximum of three items if you want people to remember them.

When you start looking for it, you’ll see it all over the place. The triangle is the key to engineering all structures. Major religions have three key gods like God the Father, Son and whatever that other guy does. Hinduism has Brahma the Dreamer, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. We have three branches of government. The list goes on and on and on.

It’s a simple rule, and that’s what makes it incredibly powerful. Use it to make anything you communicate better.

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