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Storytelling Techniques For Public Speakers : The Three Rules Of Three

Once you have a structure for your story, its time to start refining exactly how you are going to tell it.  Again, we can learn from the vast history of oral tradition and storytelling the techniques which make speeches easy for the speaker to remember and easy for the audience to take in.  the first set of techniques I’mm going to pass on, I have come to call the three rules of three.

Three is a magic number.  Give someone two things, and they are unlikely to see the pattern – or at least the pattern you want them to see.  Give them four things and there is too much to take in – something will be forgotton – there is space for bordom.  No, three is where its at, which it comes to storytelling.  Thats why there were three bears.  And three wishes.  And three men in a boat.

You can use this to your advantage

Rule 1:  the first rule of three is repetition, repetition, repetition.  If you want something to stick in the mind say it three times.  Three?  Yes three.  Tony Blair – the former british prime minister –  got elected with his soundbite stressing the importance of “Education education education” (he then proceeded to introduce university fees.).  When you want to make a point, if you can repeat that pont another two times, you cam make it memorable, memorable memorable.  Of course you don’t alway have to say the same words to make ideas stick.  You can use different words and get good results.  Varied words, making the same point, work just as well.

Rule 2: Make the third thing different.  This is what I consider to be the goldilocks rule.  Or the englishman, irishman, scotsman rule (another rule of three based joke – this is why the welsh are always removed from this particular branch of humour).  This rule is people come to expect you to say things in threes.  They expect you to say the same thing three times.  But saying something different the third time is totally unexpected.

“Sarah was a good mother.   She did everything she could for her children.  She made them breakfast before school.  She listened to them read every evening.  And she sent them to bed early so they didn’t hear her sobbing about how she had given up the freedom of being childless every evening”

Note that the second rule of three works well with the first rule of three.  breaking the story above down into 3 sections, morning, afternoon and evening gives people a pattern they can follow – a pattern they expect to repeat.  But then making the first two things things we expect every good mother to do, but the third to be a question as to whether sarah really ever wanted to be a mother adds an extra element of shock.  Which grabs the attention of the audience, and elicits an emotional reaction.

Rule 3:  If you have some points to make, consider making 3 of them.  People are good with threes, so if you have some number of points to make about a subject – some number of things you want the audience to do after the presentation, some number of reasons to back up a statement, some number of new rules to be introduced, try to make there be three things.  (in particular this is a very handy tip when it comes to making impromptu speeches in meetings, start by saying something like “This is a really good idea for three reasons,” then come up with three things to say about why its a great idea.  It will put you on the spot, but it will lodge your support in your audiences mind, and you’ll find they usually give you time to finish making all three points – which is good, because in meetings people judge how useful you are not by the quality of your ideas, but by how long you talk for)

Is it surprising there are three rules of three.  Could I have come up with more?  Possibly.  but with three of them, you’ll remember them and put them into use when constructing your speech.