Say it in Threes



One of the most effective and easiest devices in speechmaking to achieve clarity of purpose is the use of the triadic approach. This technique of speaking is to simply say something in a series of three. Consider three points, three qualities, three reasons, three whatever.  The effectiveness of saying something in threes can be judged by the following well known examples.

“For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory” (The Lord’s prayer)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence)

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” (Winston Churchill, on the battle of Britain)

By grouping thoughts in three-fold fashion, these quotations attract attention, create rhythm and facilitate remembrance. They sound like a musical triad, a chord of three tones, all agreeable, related and pleasing to the ear. Did you notice, I just used a triad?

Strengthening your message

In the above example from Winston Churchill, he could have said, “We owe much to the soldiers that died for our country” and that would have probably been sufficient to convey his message of gratitude, nevertheless, Churchill was known for his preparation and dedication to use the exact words to convey his message. He was known for his oratorical skills. That’s why, to this day, what he said in the 1930’s is still remembered. As Jim Rohn once said, “you can stay up all night and not come up with such a great quote, you can only learn from it and use your creative juices to come up with your own triad.”

Pleasing the ear

Here is another of Churchill’s quotes, a triad, pleasing to the ear. “Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them.” The words just seem to flow. Here are a few more modern examples. “We want TV to be lively, entertaining and informative.” And from a source closer to home, “We have wastefully frittered away resources, opportunities and time with divided counsel, faint hearts and ineffective leadership.

A way of thinking

Based on a good, better, best hypothesis, a one-word phrase or clause may be enough to generate a little interest, two would be stronger, and three would allow you to reach the highest point of rhetorical intensity. Presenting three strong points impresses more than six weaker ones. Three is a series arranged in order of increasing importance, the triad isn’t merely for rhetorical effect, it is also a way of thinking. It helps you think and develop ideas. For example, in preparing a talk you can answer the questions. Why is it a problem? What caused it? How can it be solved? Answers to these questions should stimulate thinking, crystallise ideas and provide your material and your outline.


Organising the talk

A popular sequence that speakers use is to talk about past, present and future. An opening, body and conclusion. A talk must start somewhere, go somewhere and end somewhere. “A whole is that which has beginning, middle and end.” So said Aristotle. You can also incorporate alliteration by using triads, Ed Forman from Dallas does this beautifully when he begins his talk by saying, “Life is for laughing loving and living, not for whining worrying and working.”

It’s Magic      

Like magic the number three seems irresistible. The ancient Greeks supposed the world was ruled by three gods and speculated on three stages of man’s technological development. The Hindu Trimurti is comprised of three gods. Christians believe in the Trinity by which God exists in three persons. Faith hope and love are the three Christian graces. Three wise men paid homage to the new born Jesus and brought Him three gifts, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Three dimensions form the physical world, earth sea and air. Even as children we remember that Baa Baa Black Sheep had three bags full of wool. As adults we talk about Tom Dick and Harry, we say they are tall dark and handsome, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Even in music, Three Coins in the Fountain. The Americans shout three cheers for the Red White and Blue.

And in humour

This man doesn’t chase after women because he is moral, modest and old!”

Mark Twain said “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like and do what you’d rather not.”

And Henry Adams, “One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many and three are hardly possible.”

So, if you seriously want to give better speeches, why not try the triad? It’s one of the most useful devices to help you improve your communication skills.

Toastmasters is for “Better listening, better thinking and better speaking”

And from me, “Think and grow Wealthy, Healthy and Wise”

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