THREE is a powerful number that we can use to improve our communication. 3 makes things easier to understand and easier to recall. 3 is balanced and substantive, but not overwhelming. Consider the power of 3 in your communication, whether you’re categorizing, listing, highlighting, influencing, ranking or creating a framework. Make 3 your default.
Examples of the Power of 3
- Everyday speech
- We count up to 3 (1-2-3 GO!), we count down from 3 (3-2-1 cheese!)
- Good things – and bad things – come in 3s
- Pop culture
- The 3 Little Pigs, Goldilocks & the 3 Bears,…
- Trilogies: Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Godfather,…
- Three’s Company, the 3 Stooges, Aladdin’s 3 wishes
- Our planet is the 3rd from the sun.
- We perceive things in 3 dimensions – 3D
- We perceive time in 3 tenses – the past, present and future
- Our eyes are trichromatic
- 3 primary and 3 secondary colours
- Artists divide their canvasses into 3×3 grids
- The triple deity (trinity) exists in several religions
- There are 27 books in the New Testament, 3x3x3
- Tri-athletes, triple axels, 3-pointers, hat-tricks, triple crown, 3 strikes and you’re out!
- Gold, silver, and bronze medals
Image from Canva
3s are everywhere.
Benefits & Advantages of the Number 3
3 is balanced
- Consider how a stool or a tripod balance on 3 legs
- Triangles are the most stable shape, and therefore are used by engineers and architects
3 is substantive
- Three is thorough. Three is more than “a couple.”
- 3 is more convincing. 3 can be a trend.
3 is not overwhelming
- Using 3s helps us minimize the cognitive load for our audience. We can readily conceive and recall 3s.
- 3s make things easier to understand
- 3s are easy to remember
WHEN to Use the Power of 3 in Your Communication
You can use the power of 3s when you’re categorizing, listing, highlighting, influencing, ranking, or creating a framework. Use 3s when you’re:
- telling a story
- presenting thought leadership
- making a sales pitch
- wielding influence
- outlining your book
- creating a meeting agenda
Make 3 your default.
- THINK AGAIN by Adam Grant
- TALK LIKE TED by Carmine Gallo
- NYTimes “1, 2, 3”
- Schoolhouse Rock “3 is a magic number”:
- Threes in the Bible
- Fermat prime: Fn = 2n + 1, where n=1, then F1 = 21 + 1 = 3
- Mersenne prime: Mn = 2n – 1, where n=2, then 22 – 1 = 3
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk
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There’s something MAGICAL about the number 3.
Is 3 a powerful number? I think so. And by the end of this episode, you might agree with us. If nothing else, you will probably be convinced to consider 3 as your default in many communication contexts.
Are you ready? 1-2-3 – go!
Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!).
Today we’re focusing on The Power of 3. In this episode, you’re going to learn WHY the #3 in particular, is so powerful, EXAMPLES of where this is illustrated, and how YOU can use the number 3 to improve your own communication.
At Talk About Talk, we’re relentlessly focused on improving our communication skills. Specifically, our goal is to accelerate the career advancement of ambitious executives by elevating their communication effectiveness. We talk about communication skills topics like networking, overcoming imposter syndrome, and personal branding. You can access Talk About Talk across a variety of media or resources, all from the talkabouttalk.com website. There’s online corporate workshops, 1-on-1 coaching with me, online courses, the free weekly communication-skills newsletter, and, of course, this bi-weekly podcast. You can choose what works for you! And you can find it all on the website.
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OK – Welcome to Talk About Talk episode number 93! Yeah, ninety-3. That was kind of an accident. But — a good one.
I came up with the idea for this episode at the end of last year, when I was debriefing with one of my wonderful coaching clients. I asked him to summarize 3 of the most important communication skills learnings we covered over the past several months. One of the things he mentioned was the power of 3! His most vivid example was when he was preparing for a huge webinar that he was hosting. We structured it so that he included 3 guest speakers or panelists, and he focused on 3 key learnings. It went extremely well, and the power of 3 stuck with him. He uses it all the time now, and with great success.
Now I’m hoping the same can happen for you.
I’ve done some research and thinking about the number 3 that I’m going to share with you. We’re going to cover 3 (yes, OF COURSE 3!) things:
- Examples around us of the power of 3
- The benefits or advantages of the number 3
- Where we can use the power of 3 in our communication.
So, as I always say, as you’re listening to this episode, you can also keep doing whatever you’re doing – driving or walking or sitting on the couch. Whatever. You don’t have to take notes because I do that for you.
Are you ready? OK. Here we go.
Examples around us of the POWER of 3
3s are EVERYWHERE. If you start looking, you might be shocked.
But let’s start way back… How far back depends on how old you are. Do you remember English class, say in grade 4, maybe grade 5 or 6? You advanced from learning to print letters, then to words, then sentences, and now you’re with the big kids. And you’re starting on essays. Oooohhh. DO you remember the classic outline for your essay? 5 paragraphs:
- 1st, the Introduction
- Then 3 paragraphs to illustrate your point. Yes, 3.
- Then the last paragraph is conclusion.
As a default, our basic essays have 3 supporting paragraphs. Don’t forget this, we’re gonna come back to this point at the end.
Where else might we find examples of the power of 3? You don’t have to look hard. I found examples in pop culture, in math, in science, art, religion, and sports, … Can you think of any examples of 3?
Lemme start with examples of 3s in our everyday life and in pop culture.
In our everyday life, we count to 3 a LOT. We use 3s to lead up to something. As in one-two-3 GO!
And when we want everyone to sing happy birthday in unison, what do we say? (“1-2-3-happy birthday…ok I’ll stop there.”) or when we want everyone to smile for the camera. 1-2-3-cheese!
Or when we’re counting down to a race –3, two, one,
Now I got your attention.
In our pop-culture there’s the superstition that the 3rd time we try something, OF COURSE we’ll succeed. We hear the phrase “Third time’s a charm.” Then again, there’s also the fact that –as they say– bad luck “comes in 3s”.
Speaking of luck, in Chinese culture 3s a lucky number because it sounds like the word for “alive”. And this resonates EVEN MORE for the Chinese bc the number 4 sounds like the word for “death”!
Let’s talk pop culture. Consider all the famous trilogies. There’s the original Star Wars trilogy. The Lord of the Rings. And the Godfather trilogy. And on and on.
Of course there’s The 3 Amigos. And the classic TV show “3’s Company.” The 3 Stooges. Here’s one for the Boomers: There’s “Marcia, Jan and Cindy, and there’s Greg, Peter and Bobby.” (If you don’t know those names, — don’t worry about it.)
How many wishes did Aladdin grant? You know, the genie? 3 wishes, of course. And 3s even show up in fairy tales. Think the 3 little pigs, Goldilocks and the 3 bears.
I could go on, but I’m gonna shift gears and — nerd out for a minute. Bear with me. You’ll either LOVE this or you’ll laugh at me. I’m Ok either way..
Let’s talk 3s in MATH.
3 is the smallest odd prime number.
- Not only that, but its the first Fermat prime. That’s (22n + 1).
- Its also the first Mersenne prime as in (2n − 1).
- Check the footnotes in the shownotes for this episode
- You might not remember all these prime numbers. But you probably do remember pi. Pi as in 3 that magic number, yes MAGIC number that helps us calculate the circumference and area of a circle and the volume of a sphere. What is pi? Pi is 3.1415926535… or 3.14. Or… (you got it!) 3!
Also, there’s a math rule about dividing whole numbers by 3. Do you remember? A number is divisible by 3 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 3. So for example one thousand eight hundred thirty, or 1-8-3-0 is divisible by 3, bc 1+8+3+0 is divisible by 3. Got it? That’s magic!
In geometry, the most stable shape is the triangle. A triangle has 3 edges and 3 corners or vertices. And since it’s the most stable physical shape, engineers and architects use triangles in their designs. Who said geometry was useless?
Also in geometry, 3 is the minimum number of non-collinear points needed to determine a plane and a circle. (yah, it took me a second to draw that one in my head, but it’s true. Now its all coming back to me.)
Am I annoying you yet? Let’s move on to science. This is where 3 gets …cool.
Let’s start with the fact that Our planet Earth is the 3rd planet from the sun. True!
Then there’s the science of time. We perceive time as being in the past, present or the future. 3 tenses.
There are also 3 dimensions, right? Physically, we measure things in terms of length, width and height. And our eyes can sense 3 dimensions.. As in… 3D.
And speaking of our eyes, humans are trichromatic. Our eyes, our retina contain 3 types of color receptors.
And in art class we learned there are 3 primary colors (red, blue, yellow) AND 3 secondary colours (purple, orange and green).
Speaking of art class, that reminds me, my favourite art teachers, Steve Rose and Sue Ennis, they both talk about the magic of 3 on our canvas. Dividing the canvas into thirds. Considering the 3×3. Using those grid lines to help you determine where to put the horizon line…
And 3s work in interior design too. My friend, interior decorator Jenn Purkis shared this with me a few years ago: This isn’t science per se, but it’s a great tip. Her tip is to decorate with odd numbers like 1 or 3 or 5. And it’s often 3. How many vases – or books – or candles – or cushions – should you have in a display? 3! Of course.
Now let’s move on to RELIGION. I’m almost done here, don’t worry. But this is fascinating. I’m going to cover RELIGION, then sports, then we’ll move on.
If you google “The power of 3” one of the first things to come up, inevitably, is the holy trinity, the father son and holy ghost in Christianity. In the bible there’s also the 3 wisemen and the 3 angels that are mentioned by name (Michael, Gabriel and Lucifer). There are all sorts of 3s associated with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. And then there’s the fact that there are 27 books in the New Testament, which is 3 x 3 x 3, or 3 cubed.
I started to wonder, is this “magic of 3” business a Christian thing?
Apparently not. For starters, many other religions have something similar to the holy trinity. A triple deity. Including, for example, Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists.
In the Jewish tradition of the Kabbalah, the soul consists of 3 parts, what we would call “repose,” “breath,” and “spirit” or “wind.”
Again, you get the idea. 3s are everywhere in religion. AND SPORTS.
Any TRI-athletes out there?
3 is a common and coveted number in many sports. 3 is the number of points associated with a football field goal, a basketball 3-pointer, and an impressive hockey hat-trick.
- There’s a triple axel in figure skating
- There’s the Triple crown in horse racing, and many other sports too.
- And of course, there’s “3 strikes and you’re out.”
In the Olympics – and frankly in many sporting events (and even non-sporting events where things are rated and ranked,) we award the top 3 medalists – gold silver and bronze.
That seems like a good place to stop.
We’ve covered plenty of EXAMPLES now in our everyday language, pop culture, math, science, art, religion and sports. I hope you found that fun.
Our next Q is, WHY 3?
The BENEFITS of 3
Well, let’s start with the fact that 3 is BALANCED. Back to the triangle I mentioned. Think about a tripod or a stool. Yah, it’s no accident tripods and stools balance so well on 3 legs. And if you’ve ever sat on a chair or at a table with four legs that aren’t perfectly balanced, (you know, that annoying wobbly table?) then you know exactly what I mean.
So 3 is balanced. 3 is also substantial. 3 is more than “a couple.” 3 is much more compelling than two. They say 3 makes a trend. Remember that essay writing you did in primary school? 3 supporting paragraphs, right?
In other words, 3 is substantial. But at the same time, 3 isn’t overwhelming. If you go beyond 3? I dunno about you, but I have to take notes. Seriously, Ill take out my phone and start typing. My working memory ain’t that great. Keep it to 3 max, please.
So 3 is balanced. It’s substantial, but it’s not overwhelming.
Have you heard the term cognitive load? This is a term from psychology, yes cognitive psychology, that can further help us understand why 3 is so powerful.
Cognitive load refers to exactly what you might think it is. Simply put, it’s the mental resources or working memory we use. And there are 3 types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane.
- Intrinsic cognitive load is just about the effort required to think about a certain topic. Like string theory has higher intrinsic cognitive load than, say a podcast focused on the number 3. ((Eh-hem.)) Intrinsic cognitive load is less relevant here, except if perhaps we identify high intrinsic cognitive load in a particular context, and we decide therefore that we need a mechanism to simply things. Like say, the #3.
- extraneous cognitive load refers to the way information or tasks are presented to a learner. When you’re presenting or communicating, using the power of 3s can help a lot. 3’s are not overwhelming, and yet, 3 can be substantial. The #3 can help you with extraneous cognitive load, presenting things in a way that makes things easier for the people you’re talking with.
- Last, germane cognitive load refers to the effort associated with remembering something. This is about recall. Making your message memorable. And we know we can all remember 3 things, right?
That’s it. Using the power of 3s can help alleviate cognitive load. Using 3s makes whatever you’re communicating easier to understand and easier to remember.
I included this little cognitive psychology lecture to provide you with some real evidence that 3s are powerful. If you care to review, I encourage you to check out the shownotes.
Now, moving on. Moving on to The BIG Q: when can we incorporate the POWER of 3 in our communication?
WHEN TO USE 3 AS YOUR DEFAULT
Let’s start by going back to the paragraph-writing I spoke about at the beginning. Remember, you’re in grade 4 or 5 and it’s English class. YOU teacher tells you to write a 5 paragraph essay. That was such a BIG DEAL for us back then. But really, it’s just an introduction, a conclusion, and 3 supporting paragraphs.
As an entrepreneur who cranks out a lot of content – in podcast episodes, email newsletters, workshops and courses, I have to tell you that 3 is my default. Whenever I wonder “how many…?” I start with 3. And I encourage you to do the same.
Whether you’re telling a story, making a sales pitch, presenting your thought leadership, wielding influence, creating a meeting agenda, writing your book outline, — whether it’s verbal or written communication, and whether it’s serendipitous or planned, make 3 your default.
Will it always work? Of course not, no. Sometimes the right number is 1 or 2. Or maybe 3 isnt enough. But often 3 is exactly right.
And don’t forget about the 3×3. Sometimes 3 isnt nearly enough. But 3 groups of 3 is.
Let me tell you about something I noticed. I told this story in a recent episode. I was looking at the table of contents for a book that I often reference called Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo. “Talk Like Ted” as in TedTALKS. Carmine Gallo is also a communication expert. And you can bet that he carefully, strategically organized his book too. When I was looking at the table of contents of his book, I noticed that the chapters are grouped into 3 categories, and in each of the categories there are 3 chapters. It’s not an accident. Communicating in 3s works.
Just before I recorded this episode, I ran upstairs to check another of my favorite books, sitting on my night table. It’s THINK AGAIN by Adam Grant. GUESS WHAT? There are many chapters, but they’re grouped into 3 categories: Individual re-thinking, Interpersonal re-thinking, and Collective re-thinking. Further evidence that people who think about these things, like Adam Grant, use the power of 3. (BTW, I’ll leave a link to both of these books in the show notes.)
So creating an outline for your next book is a good example of when we can use the power of 3. Maybe you’re not quite ready to write a book yet? well:
- We can all use the power of 3s when we’re categorizing.
- Also when we’re listing things, or when we’re highlighting things, like 3 main takeaways.
- Or when we’re influencing. “Here are the 3 reasons why.”
- or when we’re ranking things, like I did with the recent TOP 3s TAT episode
- OR when you’re creating a framework – like I did with the popular TAT episode on 3-point self introduction framework,
Whether you’re categorizing, listing, highlighting, influencing, ranking, or creating a framework. Just make 3 your default. Go it?
Now the summary. I’m going to make this brief. I promise. Just 3 main points!
- Examples around us of the power of 3
- The benefits or advantages of the number 3
- Where we can use the power of 3 in our communication.
The first is that there are examples all around us of the power of 3. In our everyday speech in pop culture, in mathematics, in science. In art. In religion. And in sports. 3s are everywhere.
The second point. Is that there are many reasons that 3s are all around us. There are benefits or advantages of the number 3. 3 is balanced. It’s substantive, but it’s not overwhelming. And using 3s in our communication can help us minimize the cognitive load of the audience that we’re communicating with. Using 3s in our communication makes things easier to understand and easier to remember.
The third and last point is a list of examples of when we can use the power of 3 in our communication. Whether you’re telling a story, making a sales pitch, presenting your thought leadership, wielding influence, creating a meeting agenda, writing your book outline, whether it’s verbal, written, and whether it’s serendipitous or planned, make 3 your default. We can use the power of 3s when we’re categorizing, listing, highlighting, influencing, ranking or when we’re creating a framework. Make 3 your default.
And that’s it for this episode, episode #93 on The Power of 3.
Now, I’m hoping you’ll go to the talkabouttalk.com website and do 3 things. Are you ready?
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THANKS for LISTENING. Talk soon!
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