Have you ever noticed how many things come in threes? There are three blind mice, three little pigs, three Musketeers, and three Stooges. Donald Duck has three nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie. Goldilocks meets three bears. King Lear has three daughters. Scrooge is visited by three ghosts. Children learn to stop, drop and roll. They learn their ABCs.
We seem to rely a lot on things that come in threes. We’ve been doing that for a long time. The Romans even used to have a saying, omne trium perfectum: all that is three is perfect.
There’s probably a reason they said so—items grouped in threes tend to stay with us. An attorney once observed that juries can remember as many as three points; if you give them more, they tend to forget them all. If someone repeats a list of numbers to you, you’re more likely to remember them if you break them down by groups of three as you listen. Try to memorize them in one long sequence and you’ll probably fail.
Items grouped in threes are balanced. They are ordered. They are simple. That’s why “three” has power. Speakers can use that power to good effect.
Try it. Tell your audience that there are three important things to remember about your subject and hold up three fingers to emphasize the number. Then shift to one finger to indicate you’re about to describe the first one. If they’re taking notes, they’ll begin writing at that moment. They know three points are easy to nail. But if you tell your audience there are ten important things to remember while spreading all ten fingers out, you’ll get a much less enthusiastic response. There may still be some note takers, but there will be fewer of them and they will not be eager. We dread long lists. We like sets of three.
So consider fashioning your content around the number three. You’ll find your audience retains the three points your present long after your presentation is over.