The Rule of Three for making Better Presentations

Celebrities to CEOs, they all use it. What is it?

Akshay
Akshay
Jun 9, 2020 · 7 min read
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

This article will teach you three things about ‘The Rule of Three
a) What is this rule?
b) Why should you use it?
c) How to use it in your Corporate Presentations?

Background

I have been working as a full-time Consultant for the past two years. Making Powerpoint presentations is a part of my job, or rather, it is ‘the’ job. Before this, I have been a full-time MBA student specialized in Marketing and Systems. And guess what, I was making presentations there too, almost every day for two years. When I joined work, I got like two weeks of ‘Chill’ period where I had to just onboard: means meeting your manager, getting to know your colleagues, getting in sync with the culture of the company and all of that stuff. At the end of it, my manager asked me to work on a pitch deck for the client and I was like, “Dude, I got this. I am born for this.

I was very happy the whole time I was working on the deck, I felt like the two years of my MBA prepared me just for this. I finished the presentation by afternoon and sent it to my manager via mail, and waited for that appreciation mail on the same thread. Tik…Tok…Tik…Tok…Tik…Tok…

The mail finally came, but not the one I expected. I was asked to set up a 1–1 with him. I knew something was up, it did not look good.

The meeting went like,

Him: Thanks for working on the presentation

Me: Yeah no problem, I hope it was okay

Him: Yeah it was okay… but you know, there is a lot of room for improvement

Me: Oh okay. Sure yeah. Please let me know so that I can make it better.

Blah…Blah..Blah…

The point is that I thought I was prepared, and I was wrong. Corporate presentations are nothing like they teach in college. I researched a lot on this topic, I looked for all the methods out there and went through numerous Slideshare presentations and various other articles to find something solid, that I can practice in my job.

Currently, I contribute to one of the learning programs that our organization has where I teach the newbies the ‘Art of making a sticky presentation’. From the feedback that I have received so far, it is a helpful program, something I never received when I joined.

What changed? How did I become a contributor who is confident enough to teach people the art of making a good presentation?

I found the ‘Rule of Three’. I also learned that everyone from celebrities to CEO’s use this simple technique to impress the audience. I was intrigued, I knew I had to test it. I did, and it changed everything.

What is ‘The Rule of Three’?

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2. Friends, Romans, Countrymen

3.Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

What do you observe about the three phrases listed above? Each of them is segregated into three parts. Once you read phrases like these, it is highly unlikely that you will ever forget them, because it sticks to your mind like chewing gum.

The examples are everywhere from Shakespeare to Oscar speeches. What is it about the number three?

Rule of three is a principle that states that a trio of anything registers better in your brains than any other numbers. Scientifically I was not able to pull up any studies that could validate this. But practically it is so evident.

It is a rule used everywhere by everyone: The three-act structure of screenwriting in Hollywood, in Humour, in Speeches, in Product launches, in writing and Quotes.

Three Famous Examples for The Rule of Three

1. Steve Jobs introducing the First ever iPhone

Any Apple fanatic would remember how this went, not because he/she is an Apple fanatic but probably because of the way Jobs presented it. It was iconic.

“An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator,” Jobs said on stage
“Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device.”

He teased the audience a bit with his presentation but made sure everyone who left that room remembers it forever. Just putting that verbatim out there does not do justice to the original feel one would get after watching it from the legend himself. So I would suggest everyone who had missed this iconic product launch to go to Youtube and watch the video for yourself.

2. Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar Speech

Mathew is a phenomenal actor as well as a terrific speaker. His voice can do magic, it can move you in ways you cannot imagine. I moved to tears watching his Oscar speech, and calling it phenomenal would be an understatement. I remember watching the awards that year, I was almost sure that he would win it.

“There’s three things, to my account, that I need each day: One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase,” McConaughey said after reciving his oscar for his act on Dallas Buyers Club

That is not entire speech, but that is how he structured his speech, into three parts. There is a reason why I could list this down as an example because I remembered it after all these years. Mathew’s voice and charisma were accentuated by the way he structured his beautiful and moving speech. Again, please watch it for yourself to feel it.

3. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech

To be frank, King did not need any rules to make the audience go crazy: the voice, the charism and the authority were enough. He would be easily one of the best speakers we have ever seen. But even he has used the Rule of Three, either knowingly or unknowingly.

“…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I have a dream speech is a lengthy one, the above one is just a part of it towards the ending. He had used other techniques through the speech, but this is the part where he has clubbed certain elements into a trio as I have highlighted in the text above: Black and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.

The examples are plenty and are spread across Literature, Comedy, Novels, Scripts and Speeches.

How do you apply ‘The Rule of Three’ in your presentations?

Like I have mentioned at the beginning of the article, finding this rule has changed the game for me. I started applying this rule religiously for most of my presentations.

So how do you do it?

Once you are being tasked with making a presentation, ask yourself three things:

  1. What is the problem statement?
  2. What is the end goal?
  3. Who is my audience?

Once you ask yourself these questions, you will be able to paint a picture in your mind on how to go about it.

Create an Agenda slide and list down the three important sections the presentation will have. For now, let’s call it The Start, the Middle and the End.

The start: This is where you list down the problem statement, or give a brief description about the topic.This can go up to 2 slides.The Middle: This is the juicy part, the meat of it. This is where you explain the details. If there is a problem statement, then you would want to go to the sepcifics of it in this section.This can go up to 4 slides and above, based on the scope.The End: This is where you conclude you findings or results. This has to be brief and precise.Similar to the Start section, this can also go up to 2 slides.

The start’, ‘The Middle’ and ‘The End’ might sound vague to you. But have you ever tried this approach so far in your presentations? It might sound simple, but once you are able to break down your content into three parts, you will see the magic. More often than not, we try to complicate things. Let’s for once try to simplify it.

Postscript

The best thing about the Rule of Three is its versatility. It can be applied to pretty much everything, even in life. You can break down your days into three parts for effective planning. If you are a teacher, you can structure your material for each class into three lessons. If you are a writer, you can think of dividing the content into three sections. If you are a speaker, you can think of structuring your speech with three key takeaways.

I hope all of you would enjoy this article, practice this rule, and share this idea with others.

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Akshay

Written by

Akshay

Research Consultant. Dreamer. Reader. I try to write better each day. Movie fanatic- if I am to pick a favourite, it would be ‘Boyhood’ by Richard Linklater

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

Akshay

Written by

Akshay

Research Consultant. Dreamer. Reader. I try to write better each day. Movie fanatic- if I am to pick a favourite, it would be ‘Boyhood’ by Richard Linklater

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

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