Presentation Skills 3: The Rule of Three

This is one of the oldest of all the presentation techniques – known about since the time of Aristotle.

People tend to remember lists of three things. Structure your presentation around threes and it will become more memorable.

The Rule of Three – We remember three things.

The rule of three is one of the oldest in the book – Aristotle wrote about it in his book Rhetoric. Put simply it is that people tend to easily remember three things.

Remember as a kid when your mum sent you down to the shop to buy a number of things. But when you got to the shop all you could remember were three things. This is the rule of three

Odds are that people will only remember three things from your presentation

What will they be?

1. The audience are likely to remember only three things from your presentation – plan in advance what these will be.

Believe it or not, the chances are, people will only remember three things from your presentation. So before you start writing your presentation, plan what your three key messages will be. Once you have these messages, structure the main part of your presentation around these three key themes and look at how they could be better illustrated.

2. There are three parts to your presentation

The beginning, the middle and the end. Start to plan out what you will do in these three parts. The beginning is ideal for an attention grabber or for an ice breaker. The end is great to wrap things up or to end with a grand finale.

3. Use lists of three wherever you can in your presentation

Lists of three have been used from early times up to the present day. They are particularly used by politicians and advertisers who know the value of using the rule of three to sell their ideas.

Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar**
Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” – William Shakespeare
“Our priorities are Education, Education, Education” – Tony Blair
A Mars a day helps you to work, rest and play – Advertising slogan
Stop, look and listen – Public safety announcement

A classic example of the rule of three was Winston Churchill’s famous Blood, Sweat and Tears speech. He is widely attributed as saying I can promise you nothing but blood sweat and tears. What he actually said was “I can promise you Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears”. Because of the rule of three we simply remember it as Blood sweat and tears.

There are lots of other examples of the rule of three on this link

4. In Presentations “Less is More”

If you have four points to get across – cut one out. They won’t remember it anyway. In presentations less really is more. No one ever complained of a presentation being too short.

Presentation Essentials

Three Presentation Essentials

  • Use visual aids where you can
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
  • The audience will only remember three messages

So there you have the presentation essentials. I suggest that you print out this little box and stick it in your work book for future reference.

** Technically the quote is – Veni (I came), Vidi (I saw), Vici (I crushed them) which is falsely tied to Gaul and Britanny Conquest by Julius Caesar, but was pronounced before the Senate after the crushing of a small revolt in what is now Turkey…


Published On: 20th Apr 2009

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  1. I get the point but find it slightly humorous and ironic that you give four reasons as to why people remember things in three. Why not take your own advice and keep the list to three?

    David 13 Sep at 10:44 pm
  2. nice

    Aubrey 7 Oct at 2:39 pm
  3. great.usefull.simple

    Anonymous 30 Jun at 5:43 am
  4. Interesting, useful

    Mary Bishop 15 Oct at 2:17 pm
  5. highly informative with excellent examples

    seifu 11 Apr at 3:13 am
  6. Why do people tend to remember three things?

    Kyle gwapa 4 Oct at 5:48 am