Rule of Three
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
speakers know about the importance of using "The
Rule (or Law) of Three." 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," although he also divided ideas
into two parts and four parts as well. Lewis Carroll,
renowned for the Alice in Wonderland stories,
referred to The Rule of Three more than once in
his writings. In his Mad Gardener's Song he wrote:
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."
in The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll wrote:
have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.
and Memorable Speeches
to say, 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. ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen")
Thomas Jefferson used it. ("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.
And the Jay Lenos of the comedy world frequently
follow this formula. (The first comment names
the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the
third unexpectedly switches the pattern, which
Idea-Bank.com* is filled with examples of
The Rule of Three expressed in quotations. On
the Query page, we typed in: "three things"
and were told that the Quotations file would yield
73 different quotations using that phrase.
Points for Powerful Presentations
So where has all this been leading us? 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 the maximum impact.
Using The Rule of Three is powerful!
you consider this overly dogmatic, some authorities
suggest that The Rule of Three is more commonly
followed in Western culture and that The Rule
of Four is typical in other cultures. Dr. Jerry
Tarver, retired professor of speech communications
emeritus at the University of Richmond and a noted
speechwriting instructor, points out that there
are many famous examples of "fours"
and "twos" in famous declarations (FDR's
"Four Freedoms" and Churchill's "blood,
toil, tears and sweat"). A good example of
"twos" is Patrick Henry's famous "Give
me liberty or give me death!"
dictum that "a foolish consistency is the
hobgoblin of little minds" is probably applicable
here but we still think The Rule of Three is a
powerful technique in fashioning memorable human
Fripp CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based
executive speech coach and award-winning professional
speaker. She is the author of Get What You Want!,
Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It!, and Past-President
of the National Speakers Association. Patricia
Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Mailing Address: 27 Hugo Street, San Francisco,