Why “The Rule of Three” Makes Magic & How to Use It

“The Rule of Three” is a writing principle suggesting that a trio of events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers. Audiences are more likely to remember information conveyed using “The Rule of Three.” This is because the three elements provide brevity and rhythm with the smallest amount of information needed to create a pattern. It makes an author or speaker appear knowledgeable while remaining both accessible and catchy.


Slogans, film titles, jokes, speaking techniques, and writing have been structured in threes, a tradition that grew out of oral storytelling. For example, “The Three Little Pigs,” “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and The Three Musketeers. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.

The Latin phrase “Omne trium perfectum” (Everything that comes in threes is perfect, or every set of three is complete.) conveys the same idea as “The Rule of Three.”

Most speakers know about the importance of using “The Rule (or Law) of Three,” but most of us are not aware of where it came from. We use this ancient mathematical law of proportion in ways we don’t even think about. Abraham Lincoln learned it in his one-room schoolhouse. Even Aristotle, in his Art of Rhetoric, referred to “three types of speeches” and “three forms of proof.”

Lewis Carroll, in addition to writing the Alice in Wonderland stories, was a mathematician at Oxford who referred to “The Rule of Three” more than once in his writings. In his “Mad Gardener’s Song” he writes:

He thought he saw a Garden-door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
“And all its mystery,” he said,
“Is clear as day to me.”

Irrespective of its mathematical overtones, the number three is truly magical. Speech coaches insist that people can most easily remember something if it is said three different times. Shakespeare used it with “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” Thomas Jefferson used it with “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

U.S. Marine Corp instructors teach that a Marine should limit his or her attention to three tasks or goals. Comedians often use the rule of three effectively. Their first comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third unexpectedly switches the pattern, which is funny.

What does it mean for you? Simply that focusing your message on no more than three significant points and repeating them in different ways throughout your presentation is certain to give your presentation maximum impact.  Let the classic “The Rule of Three” add power to your writing, storytelling, and presentations.

Why not have a conversation with Patricia Fripp to discuss how you can gain a competitive advantage by improving your presentations?Contact Patricia Fripp

“We consider the investment in Patricia a ‘must-have’ part of our events. She is part of the team. I’m honestly a bit reluctant to recommend Patricia publicly. We’d very much like to have her work exclusively with Nutanix. We are now leveraging Patricia in other areas outside of public events.

She is now coaching speakers for our high-visibility Executive Briefing Center. Not surprisingly, we’re receiving the same outstanding feedback from these presenters, too.”

– Greg Smith, Vice President, Product Marketing at Nutanix

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.

 
  1. Perhaps a better example of Carroll to use would be in The Hunting of the Snark: “What I tell you three times is true.” This advice also presages redundancy checking that is so common in modern computing.

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