The Power of 3
By Karen O’Donnell
(Example of Competent Communicator Speech, Stage 7 – “Research Your Topic”, Competent Communicator Manual)
As this meeting marks the 3rd anniversary of our club, I decided to check out the relevance of the number 3. It turns out that in fact it gets many references and so I wanted to mention some of these to you. I would like to draw your attention to some generalisations on this powerful number 3 and then some references which would be of interest to us Toastmasters.
It is reasonable to ask what’s so special about three? How do we use it and why is it so popular in our culture ?
This triad symbol (above ) is used for a group of three and is of universal significance. Many triad symbols throughout history are variations of this basic image. Some of its uses are to symbolise:
- Body/mind/spirit in a circle of synthesis;
- past/present/future enclosed in the ring of eternity;
- art/science/religion bound in a circle of culture.
There is something magical about the Power of 3…In Irish folklore, if you catch a leprechaun and let him go he will grant you 3 wishes. Oak, ash, and thorn were called the faery triad of trees. Where they grow together, it is still said that faeries live. Red, Blue and yellow – the 3 primary colours from which it is possible to obtain all the colours; In our culture we have been encouraged to live and act in faith/hope/charity.
So what is it about this number 3 that is so significant? Well it all comes down to the way people process information. We like patterns, rhythm and ease of memory. We have become proficient at pattern recognition, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. For example; in a sequence of numbers – 2,4,8 – the difference between the numbers is not the same. Yet, a similarity is that each is double the previous number. That is the pattern in the sequence. You would not be able to
determine a specific pattern from only seeing two of those numbers.
Just as three is the smallest number needed to create a pattern, it’s also the smallest number needed for a rhythm to emerge. Counting to three is common in situations where a group of people wish to perform an action in synchrony: Now, on the count of three, everybody pull! Assuming the counter is proceeding at a uniform rate, the first two counts are necessary to establish the rhythm, and the count of “three” is predicted based on the timing of the “one” and “two” before it. So 1, 2 and…. We can know where the 3 is and can carry out the action together.
For ease of memory, help people remember your key message by stating it at least three times during your speech. The first time listeners hear your message it might be new and strange. By the third time they hear your message it starts to feel familiar to them.
Three is the magic number for communicating. When we hear a list of three things it resonates well in our brain. We see this in book or movie titles:-
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape
- Eat, Pray Love.
Childrens’ books also show this power of 3 in titles, such as The 3 Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, and the 3 musketeers.
And of course the well known slogan, location, location, location.
Let’s not forget the importance of The Power of 3 in speech. Some famous speeches use this very effectively. ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ first 3 words by Mark Antony in Julius Ceasar. That opening commands your attention.
‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’
This repetition brings strength to President Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg address.
“We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America“ ..words by Barack Obama, Inaugural Speech.
What is the relevance of the Power of 3 to a Toastmaster? In Toastmasters, speechwriting is, of course, part of our culture. To be a great speaker you strive to do three things :
1. to connect with your audience
2. to make them feel as if you are addressing them personally
3. to get our point across in such a way as our audience understands it
The Power of 3 is the basic structure of stories: beginning, middle, end – We meet this in Toastmasters at stage 3 where the main objective is to ensure a beginning, body and conclusion.
Triads in speech is where ideas, adjectives and points are grouped in threes. Expressed in this way, thoughts have a pleasant rhythm, are dramatic and become more memorable.
To use the power of three in giving a speech we use the 3 tells: First, tell the audience what you’re going to tell them. Second, tell them. Third, tell them what you told them.
Toastmasters, I would like you to have fun with this. Listen to the occurrence of this Power of 3 in society in general, and also to consider this Powerful tool when crafting your speech content.
In conclusion, this power of 3 is of universal significance and when used in speech writing, it creates a more engaging outcome to your speech.