Workshop Wednesday: The Power of Three

It was five years ago that I first posted about ‘The Power of Three’ in public speaking and training delivery – but it remains as true today as it was then – and as true as it was in the days of Aristotle.

While the ancient Greek orator’s ‘rule of three’ was about using three TYPES of argument (appeals to logic, emotion, and character) he also pointed to using ‘triples’ as ways to help the audience remember what you said.

It’s a handy hint that has stood the test of time – consider how easy it is to remember “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” – or “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Other examples include “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil” and even the ubiquitous skin-cancer slogan used in Australia “Slip Slop Slap” (Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat)

Actually, that last one is an interesting case study.

The campaign has since been modified to be “Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide” which adds “Seek shade and slide on sunglasses” – but the campaign is nowhere near as effective with the addition of the extra two memory-joggers. Is it because we can easily remember three things – but five starts to crowd other things out of our brains?

But in any case, if you wish to get an idea across to an audience, you can do worse than adopt the “Tell Them, Tell Them, Tell Them” mantra.

Lewis Carroll, in ‘Hunting For The Snark’ wrote “What I tell you three times is true.”

Now obviously, simply repeating something doesn’t make it the truth (otherwise the Internet would be an entirely different place!) – but what he wrote contains a kernel of wisdom for those who have to make informative presentations.

The Tell, Tell, Tell technique is tried and true –  whether you are teaching a class, or delivering a keynote address to a group of your peers.

The technique is this: Outline to your audience what you are going to tell them, deliver the information in detail, and then remind them of the key points of what you just said.

This has the impact of:

* priming the audience to be receptive,
* giving them the information they need to take away, and
* reinforcing your key points.

Audiences are most likely to remember the first thing you say or do (we make almost instant judgements based on first impressions) and the last thing you say (that’s just how we are wired!)

So if your first and last things point to the middle, where the meat of your information is stored, then you have a much better chance of them remembering it.

Which, you will notice, is exactly what I did with this blog post!


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