Storytelling: Rule of 3

People remember at most three things. I can name three of Nearsoft’s values. Or three WorldBlu principles. Or a three word slogan.

Most often we only remember one thing, if we remember anything at all.

For Communications

Of course we “remember” more than three things at a time. In our bodies, in our unconscious, we remember. Life is memory.

For effective communication, however, three is the max. Three numbers. Three words. Three concepts. Three ideals.

When it comes to presentations, focus on one point, one thought you want to get across. Two is pushing it. And three is, well, the max.

Your Slide Deck

Should not be a “deck,” it should be,

  • Three slides
  • Three bullets/slide
  • Three words/bullet

Even better, do it with pictures. Zero bullet, zero words. One picture per slide. An animation or a roll up count as one slide, in my book.

This works regardless of how long your talk is or the size of your audience.

Make it a story in three acts.

Now with Emotion!

The thing about pictures is that they evoke feelings. The more heightened the feeling, the more people will remember what you said,

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Carl W. Buehner

What’s the Message?

You are the message. Slides are just props.

They serve to assure your audience that they are staying in sync with you. They should reduce your audience’s anxiety. “Wait, what is this? Did I miss a slide? OMG!”

If you are using it to help you through the presentation, then you’re doing it all wrong. You should know your presentation cold. If you get to the venue and the projector isn’t working, you should be able to carry on with the presentation without breaking a sweat (OK, you can get pissed off and sweat all you want).

You are the message. Slides are props. Any decent actor can do Hamlet in her street clothes and make us cry.

Group Gestalt

A while back, we got got together at Nearsoft and came up values that captured who we are. We ended with five.
From the start, nobody could remember all five. On occasion someone will come up with four of them, but the rest of us, normies can only remember three at most.

As individuals, that is.

If you ask a group of three or more Nearsoftians, then they’ll come up with all five. Like the “Liberté, Egalité, …” game, different people will remember different combinations.

Together, we remember them all.

“Audience” Means to Listen

So, obviously, we as individuals remember a lot more than three or five or 10 zillion things. As groups and communities, also, we remember as many things as we need. And that’s a lot more than three.
This is about a presentation. You are standing in front of a group of people trying to get a point across, something they will remember. This is where the Rule of 3 applies.

You can break the 3 slides rule, OK. Sometimes, it takes repetition to get a point across, particularly something new and different.

But don’t break the other two. Keep slides simple. Make them easy to grasp. Each must tell a story.

If you feel that people will need to review the material after the presentation, make a readable document and distribute it at the end via URL or paper or whatever. But not before (and shame on organizers that insist on doing this). If you do this, your audience will be reading it during your presentation instead of paying attention.

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