Why A Public Speaker’s Favorite Number Is 3

by drjim on November 13, 2012

A public speaker's favorite number is the number 3…


A public speaker’s favorite number is the number 3…
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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to create and deliver a speech with very little time to prepare for it. Sure, if we had all of the time in the world we could craft a fantastically worded speech and then practice, practice, practice until we were able to deliver it perfectly. However, when fate does not give you much time to prepare, effective public speakers know to turn to their old friend for help – the number 3.

The Power Of Three

When time is short, you are going to need to be able to quickly determine what you want your speech to look like. I’m sure that we all have favorite speeches that have stayed with us over time. However, now is not the time to try to reproduce those speeches: you need something that is going to work for you quickly.

This would be a good time for you to remember one of the rules of three: every speech has an opening, a middle, and a closing. What this means is that all you need to do is to create content for each one of these sections and you’ll have yourself a speech.

If you had more time, then you could create a speech with more sections and more subtle interactions between the different sections. However, when time is short this simple 3-part structure will do just fine.

Use the introduction to describe what your speech is going to be about. Try to include a single sentence in the introduction that clearly states the purpose of the speech. In the body of the speech you are going to want to deliver the information that your audience is looking for. Finally, you are going to want to review the information that you’ve covered and the conclusions that you’ve drawn in, what else, but the conclusion.

How To Use Three In Your Next Speech

The power of three goes far beyond just determining the number of sections that you can use in your next speech. It can also help you to craft a speech that will be remembered by your audience.

The human mind has a limit on the number of different items that it can retain and absorb at any given time. It turns out that three is pretty much our limit. Think back to the last speech where a presenter shared with you their “10 step process for…”. Can you remember all 10 steps? However, we do a good job of remembering things when they are presented to us in groups of three: red, white, and blue. Burger, drink, and fries. Etc.

Although you may protest and say that you’ve got more than three points that you want to make in your next speech, I would ask you to give it some thought. More often than not, you can boil the information that you want to share down to just a few points – and that’s what your audience is going to be able to remember.

What All Of This Means For You

I’d like to be able to tell you that every time you are asked to give a speech, you’ll be given enough time to prepare for it. However, as we all know, that simply is not the case. All too often you’ll find yourself under the gun and required to create and deliver an effective speech in too little time.

When this happens to you next time, you can use a speaker’s favorite number, 3, to solve your problem. You can start by creating a speech that has three parts: an opening, a body, and a closing. Once you’ve done that, you can make sure that you focus your speech on three main points. By taking both of these steps, you’ll be able to quickly create a speech that will be both effective and remembered by your audience.

The really good public speakers know that they can’t always have as much time as they want when they are asked to give a speech. Instead, they can use the power of 3 to create very good speeches. Use this rule next time you’re asked to give a speech and show just how flexible you are!

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there would ever be a case where having four main points would be clearer than having just three?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Giving a speech in a business environment, specifically to a group of senior managers, can be one of the most difficult speeches that any of us will ever be called on to give. However, even this type of speech can be done smoothly and will allow you to be seen as an effective communicator if only you take the time to follow the following suggestions.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

TJ November 14, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Thanks for this advice. Being a student, I know the situation far too well of having to put together a speech at the last minute. Do you have any other specific tips for students that have not yet seen the environment of a professional work force?

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson November 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

TJ: The single rule that will guide students towards giving the best speech possible is to always think of your audience first. What are they really going to want to get out of the speech that they will be sitting through? Keep this in mind and you can’t go wrong!

Reply

Chris Deanovic November 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm

The power of three is everywhere in life. It works and when you write a speech you should live by it. Just think about..The Three Stooges, Three’s Company, Peter Paul and Mary, The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, Three of a Kind, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three Strikes, Three Outs. I am sure there are more so learn to write with this in mind and you will increase your effectiveness.

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 23, 2012 at 10:04 am

Chris: Good point. It get even more interesting when you consider the fact that we have 5 fingers and so you’d think that 5 was the magic number; however, 3 seems to have won!

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Leonard Mashao December 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Very interesting indeed, even in facilitation they say “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them & tell them what you told them, thats 3.

I am also thinking Lewin’s change management model “unfreeze the status quo, movement and refreeze”. 3 is the real number!

Thanks Jim for sharing your great & simple thought.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson December 7, 2012 at 11:39 am

Leonard: you make some very good references! Of course, the big motivation for using 3 is simply that none of us can remember more than 3 things at any given time!

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Annette Lynch December 12, 2012 at 12:10 am

Great tip Jim, I agree with 3 – and that less is more. Some people want to pack too much information into their talks – to give value – but the overwhelm means people leave getting nothing.
I once did a talk using acronym Champion Minds (13 points – yikes) – At end though, I made sure audience chose the 3 they needed to focus on and remember so that they got what they needed.
I have subsequently stuck to, and advise, 3 main points – even if there are sub-points these are easier to remember when you ‘chunk’ them into the 3 main points.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson December 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Annette: Great point! When you think about the fact that the reason that we’re giving the speech in the first place is to accomplish a single goal, the idea of keeping to “3″ makes a lot of sense…

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