How we can use the “rule of three” to connect and persuade
1: Pope Francis has spoken to some of the largest audiences in history. In July 2013, he spoke to more than 3 million people on the beach in Rio. Only to outdo himself two years later during his visit to the Philippines where he spoke to a crowd of 6 million people, Carmine Gallo shares in The Storyteller’s Secret.
No matter how large the audience, Francis often relies on one of the oldest and most powerful rules of storytelling: the rule of three. The technique is straight-forward: he introduces a list of three and then provides details on each point in the body of his talk.
“First of all, I will talk about three things: one, two, three, like old-timer Jesuits used to do, right? One, two, three!” Francis once told an audience as they laughed and cheered.
In his first talk after being elected pontiff, Francis summarized his faith in three bullets: journeying, building, and professing.
During his talk in Manila, he said, “God has created the world as a beautiful garden… man had disfigured that natural beauty with social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance, and corruption.
On Ash Wednesday 2015, he remarked: “Today’s Gospel indicates the elements of this spiritual journey: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”
2: So, why do we find “three” inherently satisfying? Carmine asks.
“For example, movie directors say, ‘lights, camera, action.’ Sprinters are conditioned to listen to the command, ‘Ready, set, go.’ What should you do if you caught fire? Hopefully you’d remember to ‘stop, drop, and roll.’ If you had to recall 18 steps, you’d be severely injured before you completed the progression,” Carmine observes.
Our minds think in patterns. Three is the lowest number of units that can establish a pattern or progression. And, it is relatively easy to remember three items.
“The rule of three makes any story more effective because audiences are more likely to recall the content. Great writers follow the rule. Thomas Jefferson changed the course of civilization with three ‘unalienable rights’: life, liberty, happiness.
“Our favorite children’s fables are grouped in threes: the three little pigs, the three bears, the three Musketeers, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, etc.,” Carmine writes.
We are wise to take note. Our clients don’t want to know all 200 features of our product or service. Better to explain three features they will care about the most. They don’t want 75 different marketing ideas; we’re smart to offer our three best ones.
3: When telling a story, we can utilize the Three-Act Story Structure which dates back to Aristotle. Almost twenty five hundred years later, most movies and television shows are structured into three acts. Act I is typically about the first 30-minutes of a two-hour movie and creates the setting for what is to happen. We meet our hero and the villain. There is often an “inciting incident” or attention-grabbing scene which disrupts the hero’s world.
Act II is the longest of the three acts, about 60 minutes. Characters are developed and obstacles must be overcome. There is conflict and tension. The bigger the challenges, the more satisfying the climax. Act III is the final 30-minutes where the hero and the villain square off and the story is resolved.
The Storyteller’s Secret?
Carmine tells us: “The world’s greatest storytellers stick to the rule of three because it accomplishes, well, three things: 1) It offers a simple template to structure your story. 2) It simplifies your story so your audience can remember its key messages. 3) It leads to the ultimate goal of persuasion—action!”
Reflection: How can I incorporate the rule of three into my next communication or presentation?
Action: Analyze the next movie or television show and break it down according to the three act structure.