The Rule of 3 (Not 2, not 4)

Clayton Shold

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When arranging flowers, balloon bouquets, or business presentations, do you use the rule of three? With flowers and balloons, optically we prefer odd numbered or non-symmetric arrangements. Impress your friends with this tip, don’t make a balloon bouquet out of two or four balloons, stick with three!

Before I get to business presentations, I want to relate a cute baseball story to provide greater context for the rule of three.

Many years ago I coached T-ball with a fellow who was 6’10". At 5’7" it is safe to say I really looked up to this person. We were coaching five year old kids and this was their foray into baseball.

At one of our early practices, Bill saw me providing instruction on how to hit the ball off the “tee". He asked me what I was doing. My many years of baseball behind me, I guess I looked at him a bit dumbfounded. I explained I was providing direction on hitting the ball. One of my life lessons was about to begin.

Bill said, “Clayton, you can only tell the kids three things. It is all they will remember … if you are lucky!" Bill also suggested I’d be more successful if I related each point to something the kids could visualize or were clues to help them. Lastly he told me consistency and repetition is good.

So step one became how to set up in the batter’s box. I suggested their feet became tree trunks with roots going into the ground so they didn’t move. Our “code" when they approached the batters box became ROOTS! Second was to watch the bat hit the ball. Our code was to take our first two fingers and point to our eyes, as a reminder to WATCH the bat hit the ball. Sounded simple enough, and with practice most did. Lastly they had to remember to run. That is where the parents were quick to help coach by yelling from the stands RUN RUN when the hit was made. Our first batter in our first game hit the ball and ran … straight out to second base and kept going! We learned a lot that year!

Bill later explained to me, not only kids, but adults have short memories. Tell them one thing they’ll remember it, tell them two and you are still safe, tell them three and they may remember it but don’t go past three. He called this the rule of three.

How do you leverage the rule of three in business?

  • First, prioritize the three most important points you want to communicate.
  • Second, relate each point to something familiar to your audience, capture their interest and attention.
  • Third, be consistent and repeat the three points to reinforce your message.

    Think about your next presentation. What are the three most critical points you want to message? Do you begin and end by reinforcing them? If you are using PowerPoint, limit your bullets to three per slide. This forces you to think in threes and prioritize your communication. Lastly, how do your points relate to your audience? Are they a call to action? Why are they important? How will they benefit your audience? A wise person once recommended, “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Then finish by reminding them what you told them!"

    Start practising the rule of three. You will be surprised how well it will work for thee!

    Clayton Shold shares his experience at SalesDialogue Systems Inc. a company committed to assisting sales professionals better understand how their internal conversations affects sales success. Learn more at

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