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Harnessing the Power of 3

Take a look at your last pitch deck, proposal, or presentation. How many items are covered? If the answer exceeds three, you’ve been communicating ineffectively. When it comes to optimal communication, societal and scientific evidence demonstrate that three is the only number we need to know. Below, a brief look at the what, why, and how of The Power of 3.

The Power of 3 is a technique that optimizes the understanding, retention, and overall effectiveness of written, verbal and visual communication. As the name suggests, the Power of 3 is all about grouping information – from number of agenda items or bullet points to visual elements – in clusters of three.

You don’t need to look far to see the Power of 3 in action: 123; abc; high, medium, low; gold, silver, bronze; small, medium, large; stop, look, listen; mind, body, spirit; reduce, reuse, recycle; tall, grande, venti… the list goes on. In a way, society is kind of built on threes; it’s ingrained into the way that we communicate and learn from the time we are children – just think back to the popular stories and nursery rhymes taught to us such as Goldilocks and the Three BearsThe Three Little Pigs, or “Three Blind Mice”.

To understand why the Power of 3 is so prevalent, we can turn to scientific research on working memory capacity (WMC). Our WMC refers to the limited capacity available for the retention and processing of information – a capacity that is especially important when it comes to attention, reasoning and decision-making. Many studies in psychology and neurobiology have indicated that our working memory capacity is limited to three representations at a given time. This means that our brains find it relatively easy to grasp things in groupings of three – any more, and our ability to focus, retain and engage becomes unstable.

The reason why three seems to be communication’s magic number may relate to the human brain’s intrinsic capacity for pattern recognition: three, after all, is the smallest number required to make a pattern. Our ability to process patterns is one of the most unique and important functions of the evolved brain, forming the basis for such features as language, intelligence, and imagination.

So, how should you implement the Power of 3? Here are a few ideas – three, to be exact – to get started:

  1. Agenda Items – From meetings to presentations, consolidate your agenda items to three. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut out important information, it just means reorganizing into three relevant sections – your coworkers, clients, and audiences will thank you.

  2. Proposals – Although most RFPs request information around many areas, structure your proposals around three key areas to optimize the outcome of your efforts. It’s a small thing that makes a big impact on the person reading your proposal.

  3. Visuals – A slide or page cluttered with eight images and five bullet points is both unpleasant to look at and confusing to take in. Streamline your visuals so that graphic and written elements do not exceed three. This will keep your audience engaged and ensure that your visuals support – rather than distract from – your message.

When it comes to effective communication, make three your new favourite number. As society and science illustrate, the Power of 3 is foundational to the way we speak, process, and understand information. To be more persuasive to prospects, clients, and audiences alike, harness the Power of 3.

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