Nail your point – Speak in threes. Speak in threes. Speak in threes.

Here’s one of the most powerful techniques you can use in your talks:

Speak in threes.
Speak in threes.
Speak in threes.

In fact it’s so effective, I urge you to reserve its full power for your main point. (Otherwise, you risk people remembering the wrong part of your message!)

If you’re not sure what I mean by “speak in threes”, here are 2 examples of catchy phrases that use this technique, which you’ve probably heard many times:

“Location, location, location”

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”

In both cases, notice that they’re phrases containing just 2 or 3 syllables but which are repeated 3 times in a row.

Let’s look at a real-life example…

Shortly, I’ll show you exactly why phrases like that are so memorable and repeatable – or in other words, why they’re so viral. But first, let’s look at a real-life example of how you might speak in threes

Imagine you’re the captain of a cruise ship with about 4000 people onboard, and almost 200 of your passengers and crew catch gastroenteritis. In your daily loudspeaker announcements to the whole ship, how might you speak in threes to promote hygiene and help contain the outbreak?

I ask because I just got back from a New Zealand cruise aboard Explorer of the Seas (Australia’s biggest cruise ship), and just a month earlier, the ship had had a gastro outbreak. On our cruise, each day at noon, the captain spoke to everyone over the loudspeaker system. He talked about the ship’s heading, the sea conditions and the weather forecast (a bit like airline captains do).

Each time though, he also asked us to remember the importance of hygiene, always ending his announcement by saying the same 3 syllables, 3 times:

“Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.”

That phrase seemed so powerful and memorable

That phrase seemed so powerful and memorable, it got me thinking about exactly why that was. In your own public speaking, what tips can you learn from the captain’s message (and from the other 2 examples above) to drive home your main point?

When I considered that question, I thought of 3 tips you can use with your main point:

  • Make it terse
  • The terser (shorter) your point, the better

    The terser (shorter) your point, the better it’ll stick in people’s minds and roll off their tongues.

    How terse? Ideally, make it just 3 syllables, which gives you a highly memorable and repeatable main point. (If it’s not 3 syllables, don’t worry: Just by making your main point as terse as you can, you’ll really help listeners to recall it.)

  • Make it tripled
  • Audiences love content presented in threes

    Tripling your main point means saying it 3 times in a row, to make it stand out and give it more weight. (That’s another reason you want it to be terse – so you don’t tie your tongue in knots trying to repeat it!)

    P.S. Thanks to John Zimmer for letting me know that this rhetorical device, where you triple a word or phrase, is formally called epizeuxis.

    You might think tripling your main point will irritate your audience, but I maintain that if it’s terse, they won’t mind. And in fact, people love content presented in 3s so much that such speaking techniques are widely known as simply the “Rule of 3”.

  • Make it timely
  • Say your main point at strategic times in your talk, & at least twice

    By “timely”, I mean saying your main point at strategic times in your talk, and at least twice. (That way, you signal that it’s more crucial than all the other things you say in your talk!) As well as the timing, the repetition also helps to reinforce your main point, so people are more likely to remember it.

    If you’re wondering, here’s what I mean by “strategic times”:

    • The crucial time to drive home your main point is at your talk’s end, when you ask people to act – just like the ship’s captain did above.
    • If your talk’s structure allows, also mention your main point near the start, because things you say near the start (or end) tend to stick in people’s minds.
    • The crucial time to drive home your main point is at the end

    • When you end each section of your talk, restating your main point (before you begin your next topic) sounds very natural and professional.
    • Another great time to mention your main point is when you answer audience questions, so you reframe people’s thinking in terms of your main point.

 

More examples

To help you see how to apply those 3 tips to your own situation, here are more examples

  • If you’re speaking to a group of computer users about using an unfamiliar piece of software, you might say:

    “Remember, before using find-and-replace: Save your file, save your file, save your file!”

  • When speaking to new managers about finding time in their busy schedules, your key point might be:

    “Delegate, delegate, delegate!”

  • If you’re speaking to a class full of young people about exam study skills, you could say:

    “The key to success is this: Start early. Start early. Start early.”

What example would fit your situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
 

The bottom line

To sum up then, here’s one of the most effective ways you can make your main point crystal clear and catchy:

Speak in threes.
Speak in threes.
Speak in threes.

Over to you

  • What memorable phrases can you share that meet any of the 3 criteria presented in this post?

    • Terse
    • Tripled
    • Timely
  • When do you think is a good time to repeat your main point?

Please leave a comment below.
 

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