Keep Your Meetings and Presentations to Three Main Points. “Only use two to five main points” is the advice preached by most speech writing experts; however, I disagree. I recommend you get more specific and not do two, not do five, but do three main points for speeches, meetings, and presentations. There is a big risk in doing two, four, or more. The words, “Now for my third and final point” is music to the ears of the audience members. If they were dozing off, they will perk up because they know the end is near, it’s almost time to eat, and they will think, “I can listen to one more.”
We, as a society, have an affinity to the number three. Third time is a charm. We do things in threes: we believe bad things happen in threes, we believe good things happen in threes, and we believe famous people die in groups of threes.
Since we like threes, people respond better to groups of threes, remember better when limited to three things, and are satisfied by three estimates. Stories are told, acted, or written in threes: a beginning, middle, and end; or, an introduction, body, and conclusion.
We are attracted to blonds, brunettes, and redheads. Our flag is red, white, and blue. In the cycle of life, we were born, we are living, and we will die; it is our past, present, and future.
When describing our day to a significant other, it is in threes again, we went to work, worked all day, and came home in our car from one of the big three—Chevrolet, Ford, or Chrysler. For a change of pace, we go out to dinner for Chinese, Mexican, or Italian. Our day is morning, afternoon, and night. They say that the All American meal is a hamburger, fries, and a Coke. I guess that depends on where you live; in the South it could be a slice of hook cheese, an RC Cola and a Moon pie.
And that is barely scratching the surface of threes. We live in a 3 dimensional world, we laugh at the 3 Stooges, Third Rock from the Sun, and Three’s Company; however, we also think three’s a crowd!
What is our fascination with threes? The number is everywhere, even in our values. Dr. Laura Schlessinger preaches about responsibility, commitment, and sacrifice. We cling to our attitudes, values, and beliefs. Churches ask us to pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to recognize our sins, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
Our bosses demand we be on time, work hard, and have fun (I don’t know how those go together). And, our spouses ask us to get our priorities straight: God, family, and our jobs.
I never noticed this “three things” phenomenon until I started teaching my third speech class, at my third school, in the third year of my teaching career. I would always prepare three topics for every speech class, teach three speech classes a quarter, and teach three quarters per school year. It’s a mystique, mystical. and mystifying.
Now, for my third and final point—from memory, observations, and experience, I am sure anyone reading this has already thought of at least three more things that come in threes. Three sentences to a paragraph, three paragraphs for the body of an essay, and three points to a speech—It’s mystical!
Copyright Rod Mattson February 2011
Mattson Communication Training