“Can you summarize it?” asked the public radio host. (That’s a great question, by the way, to ask yourself—daily.)

The host was interviewing two Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, about their book, “Designing Your Life.”

At first, the authors resisted. Look, they said, we’re academics. We don’t really do “summaries.” But then they listed the main points about how to build a satisfying life:

1) Get curious.

2) Talk to people.

3) Try stuff.

Notice, not so much the content, as the form: it’s a list of three. Three is the magic number, if you want to make your key points stick.

There’s even a rule.  The “rule of three,” says Wikipedia, makes your message “both simple and catchy.”

Let’s try another book, “In Defense of Food,” a bestseller on nutrition.  Author Michael Pollan offers this digest:

1) Eat food.

2) Not too much.

3) Mostly plants.

(It’s amazing, don’t you think, that you can summarize an entire book with three points.  Imagine what you can do with your next email.)

And—for a third example—consider my book, “You’ve Got 8 Seconds.” If you want to get heard, get remembered & get results (a trio of “gets”), use these strategies:

1) Say it with focus.

2) Say it with variety.

3) Say it with presence.

There’s something about three. 1) Goldilocks and the 3 Bears; 2) The 3 Little Pigs; 3) The 3 Stooges.

You can also use triples in humor.  The first two items in a list establish a pattern; the third breaks the pattern and surprises.

Here’s an example from one of my columns, “Me and My Delusions.”

“I have this recurrent dream where I’m an important leader.  Sometimes I’m a Fortune 500 CEO, sometimes a big city mayor, sometimes a highly respected chimpanzee.

“And all the employees, citizens and monkeys give me their labor, their votes, and their bananas.” (From “Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor;” editor, Michael Rosen).

Tip:  The next time you’re creating a PowerPoint slide with a lot of bullets, remember: It’s not Goldilocks and the 300 bears.  That’s just way too many bears.

© Copyright 2018 Paul Hellman.  All rights reserved.

P.S.  To read more:

You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World is the #1 Amazon Best Seller in business communication (kindle edition, as of 5/19).  Also in print and audio. Translated into five languages.

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