What is the Rule of Three?

One is an acident. Two is a coincidence. But three is a pattern. The Public Speaker explains the magic behind the number 3.

Lisa B. Marshall,
April 3, 2012

The rule of three is a very general rule in speaking, in writing, and in music that states that concepts or ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable, and more memorable.

It's no accident that the number 3 is pervasive in well-known stories: the 3 little pigs, the 3 musketeers, or the 3 wise men.

It's also no accident that you are likely familiar with these 3-part quotes:

  • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

  • Sex, Drugs, & Rock n' Roll

  • Truth, Justice, and the American Way (of course, these are the causes for which Superman fights).

The rule of 3 is why good stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and why video games, films, and literature are often written as 3 connected works in the form of a trilogy. 

My improv coach, Kristin Schier, explained the rule of 3 this way: "The first time you say something, it's an incident. The second time you say something, it's a coincidence. But the third time you say something, it becomes a pattern."

In fact, she’s right, 3 is the smallest number of elements you need to create (or break) a pattern. That's probably why it often takes children 3 days to break their bad habits. Just ask Mighty Mommy

So the bottom line is that when giving a presentation or making any sort of speech, it's a good idea to group your arguments into threes. This will help them to be more memorable and more effective.

Three image courtesy of Shutterstock