The Power of Threes

Or, how to one-up Winston Churchill

Welcome to The Story is the Strategy, a newsletter about becoming an uncommonly good communicator. My mission is to help you significantly increase your professional impact by sharing your ideas more effectively. Learn more here.

💡 This Week’s Idea

The Power of Threes. 

At the height of the Second World War, speaking in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill uttered one of history’s great lines. It’s the perfect encapsulation of British defiance and a stiff upper lip in the face of an overwhelming Nazi threat:

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Beautiful. Except... 

No one remembers it the way he said it. The phrase in common use today, and what everyone thinks he said, is “blood, sweat and tears.” The toil got dropped at some point. We’ve collectively edited one of the greatest communicators in history - and we actually made his prose more memorable! 

That’s the Power of Threes.

As Richard Dowis writes in The Lost Art of the Great Speech, “There’s something mystical about the number three. It’s as if two is not enough and four are too many… the human ear has a peculiar affinity for triplets. Writers with a good ear for cadence use triads regularly.”

Ideas grouped in threes resonate more. They add drama and rhythm to your prose. And they convey just the right amount of information to drive a point home. (See what I did there?)   

Putting It to Work. 

Once you start looking, you’ll see threes everywhere - famous passages in the bible, catchy paragraphs in popular nonfiction, neat turns of phrase in blog posts - everywhere.

And just as a musical triad (aka a chord) pleases the ear, writing in threes will be deeply satisfying to your audience. It’s a powerful little trick to help people remember your points.

Best of all, harnessing the power of threes to communicate your ideas more effectively is really simple:

  • When you give examples to demonstrate a point, choose three. Dave is a kind friend, a loyal colleague and a caring parent. 

  • When you provide data points to identify a trend, offer three. The ebike market is the most promising segment in consumer retail. Ebike sales have grown 150% in the last 18 months, buyers are 40% more affluent than average and margins are 50% higher than on conventional bikes.

  • When you set out a vision for your team, make sure it has three parts. Our product team is going to be the best at discovering pain points, figuring out solutions and making them work for all of our users around the globe.

(Those bullet points, by the way, are an example of anaphora AND threes. Doubling up for the win.)

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