The Power of Three

 In Blog

Three is a magic number. Why three? It resonates. It sticks. It feels right rhythmically.

Stop, look and listen
Blood, sweat and tears
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

We’ve been programmed to assimilate patterns of three from childhood. It even appears in our stories: The Three Musketeers, The Three Little Pigs, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Rule of Three states that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The audience is more likely to consume information if it is spoken or written in groups of threes.

From slogans (“Go, fight, win!”) to films and TV shows, many things are structured in threes (The Three Stooges, Sex, Lies and Video Tape, The Hunger Games Trilogy, etc.)

The world of entertainment functions on the Rule of Three. Aristotle said that every play has three acts: a beginning, middle, and an end. Prolific Hollywood screenwriter Stephen J. Cannell states that, “Every great movie, book or play that has stood the test of time has a solid three-act structure.”

The Rule of Three in comedy is used to 1) set up a topic, 2) establish a pattern, and then 3) break the pattern with a punch line. It is also called a comic triple. Comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the 3rd element.

Example: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in the neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” -Jon Stewart

Most radio shows are more cohesive with three characters. KVJ (Kevin, Virginia & Jason), The Bert Show (Bert, Jeff & Kristen) are examples. The name of the WMMR morning show might be Preston and Steve, but try to imagine the show without Kathy Romano.

Tap into the Power of Three:

  • Apply the three “R’s” to your storytelling. Risk, Reveal, Resolution. Start your story with what’s at risk or the hook headline to immediately engage the audience. Reveal the content of the story, and take your audience on a journey. Then offer the resolution or the conclusion of your tale.
  • Features such as entertainment and news segments work better when grouped in threes (e.g., “Three Things You Need to Know”). It’s difficult to maintain people’s attention beyond three stories.
  • Interactive games also tend to work better with three questions rather than four or five. A, B or C in multiple choice questions keeps it simple and easy to follow for a contestant and the audience.
  • When you’re doing a presentation, shrink bigger ideas down into three sub-sections to make your presentation more memorable. Even clerics use the Rule of Three structure in what they call The Three Part Sermon.
  • Use the Rule of Three when giving feedback to employees by grouping your notes into “three things you’re doing well” and “three things to work on.” At RLC, we often use the Rule of Three in our coaching process by giving shows three things they are doing well and three action points to improve the show.

The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” translates to everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete. Hail to the Rule of Three!


Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks/Flickr

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