Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Rule of Three

I saw a speaker recently who violated one of the simplest, but most important rules of speech making, the "rule of three".

When giving a speech you should always try to organize your information into three "main points" to cover in the body of your speech. Your main points are simply the major subdivisions of the body of your speech. They are the three aspects of your topic you will be focusing on. The textbooks say anywhere from 2-5 is acceptable and that is true. Two to five is acceptable...but three is ideal.

Getting back to the speaker. She was a FEMA representative talking to a group of business owners in a location that was particularly hard hit by Super-Storm Sandy. Her goal was to share the programs and support that was available to help businesses and homeowners recover from the storm damage. She had about a dozen pamphlets and handouts to provide to us, explaining various programs.

Her choice to organize her talk was to go through and explain each piece of information individually, essentially giving her 12 -15 main points. Of course her available speaking time was short so she would have less than a minute to discuss each one--and if you have any familiarity with FEMA you know it is impossible to explain one of their programs in a minute!

Of course since she was doomed to not have the time to explain all of the programs, she should not even have tried. Rather, had I advised her, I would have suggested she cover three main points. First, the types of programs FEMA offers (not every single program just the general types). Second, the assistance available via the aforementioned types. And third, where to start if you were interested in availing yourself in one of these programs, including what to expect in regards to timelines, etc.

These three points would have set the audience up well to approach her after the presentation with some idea as to the type of program they were interested in and she could have provided the appropriate literature for that person. Instead they got a small taste of 12 or more programs which they could not remember or distinguish and had to explain their whole story to her so she could advise. And as a result the line to speak with her at the end of the program was long and slow moving. She actually, in her small way, added to the complexity and confusion of dealing with FEMA!

This was so unfortunate because she was an attractive, intelligent and well-informed representative. It's just that the structure of her speech was poorly planned. A quick-fix would have allowed her to move through her presentation more gracefully (she was rushed and frustrated by the time constraints prohibiting her from fully explaining each program) and accomplished her goal more effectively and efficiently.

Ironically, when we had gone around the room at the beginning of the program and introduced ourselves and I said I was a public speaking consultant, she asked me to critique her presentation. However, the long, slow moving line to talk to her, and the need for me to get to another engagement prevented us from speaking. I subsequently emailed her and told her I had some valuable, helpful information for her--and a free initial consultation--but my emails were never replied to. I would have offered the advice I wrote about here for free, but...

There is a lesson here. Public speaking help is like a breath mint. If someone offers it, you probably need it. I truly wish I would have had the chance to help this woman. She seemed really nice and extremely competent. Her job is too important to do less than effectively.

Remember the rule of three and your talks will be easier to give, easier to understand, and easier for your audience to remember.

That's all for today folks.

Until next time, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes' consulting work see Semiosphere Consulting.