The other day I was explaining the reasons why someone would want to track where their customers are coming from. I found myself thinking as I spoke (I love it when that happens ;)) that I had to have three good reasons, so that my listener
a. would understand
b. would be entertained
c. would be convinced.
So I gave her not one, but three reasons for tracking customer origination leads.
As you can see from the first paragraph, I naturally use at least three components to fully make a point. I’ve been noticing this trend lately as I write, and I’ve been wondering if it’s more than just my style. Why does the number three hold so much weight?
Drummed into my sophomoric brain in high school was the rule for writing a basic composition: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Not only is the composition divided into three parts, but the body always includes three paragraphs or supporting points that back up, explain, or describe what you promise in the intro. (Thank you, Sr. Karla, AP English teacher and SAT reviewer.)
The “Rule of Three” is a principle used throughout time in writing, speaking, and storytelling.
- Imagine Goldilocks encountering the house of The Two Bears…not quite so satisfying.
- Or if only Two Wise Men traveled from afar to visit the new-born king.
- Can you say which Two Stooges were the funniest? They’re incomplete without the third.
- What if the king had given the miller’s daughter just two nights to turn straw into gold. Suspense depends on the rule of three.
Three is complete.
- There are three virtues: Faith, hope and love.
- Life, Liberty, The Pursuit of Happiness.
- Peace, love and understanding.
- Live. Laugh. Love.
- Learn it, Know it, Use it.
- Eat, Pray, Love.
- A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou.
- Tolkien’s Trilogy.
- The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Three is stable.
We live in three dimensions, and we never feel like we’re on stable ground unless we have three points to start with, or rest against. A two-legged stool falls down. Physics demands three points to build the most basic structure. That’s why bridges and and buildings that must support great weight are often built with a series of triangles.
Three creates a pattern.
Three forms a satisfying pattern. The bare minimum of two components allows you to form a simple group. Two notes create a very simple rhythm. It’s only when you add a third, that you add a counterpoint to an otherwise dull repetition and you establish a pattern…or break it.
Three is dramatic.
Speechwriters use The Rule of Three to stir emotion in their listeners and to help people remember concepts:
- Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- I came, I saw, I conquered — Julius Caesar
- Government of the people, by the people and for the people. — Abraham Lincoln
- The iPad2 was “thinner, lighter, and faster.” — Steve Jobs
Three is memorable.
Besides sticky slogans and phrases, there’s this: People usually remember no more than three things. Aristotle wrote about this human tendency centuries ago, and it’s clear we haven’t changed much. Public service announcements, advice, and tips are best digested in threes.
- Stop. Drop. Roll.
- Stop. Look. Listen.
- Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
- Quick check for stroke: uneven smile, can’t raise both arms over your head, a slurred simple sentence.
- Three manners we first teach our kids: Please, Thank you, You’re Welcome.
If you want to leave your audience with something that actually changes lives, keep your main points to three. Don’t give them any more than the three most important concepts.
Three suggests progression.
In stories, you satisfy a reader or listener with a clear beginning, middle and end.People can readily follow three-part instructions:
- Ready. Aim. Fire.
- Lights. Camera. Action.
- First, Next, Last.
- Charts, graphs and projections are often separated into three groups: High, middle and low.
- Athletic accomplishments are showcased with three levels of status: Gold, sliver and bronze.
Three is a truly magical number where words are strung together.
Your blog is the perfect place to master it. If you want to evoke emotion, provide balance, persuade, entertain, communicate effectively, and make a lasting impression; remember the rule of three.