Three Great Things

Several years ago Pittsburgh welcomed world leaders by hosting the G-20 Global Leader Conference.  I attended a “Welcoming Guests to Pittsburgh” meeting hosted by Bill Flanagan, Vice-President of the Allegheny Conference, a local economic development organization.  Bill was coaching groups of us just in case we ran into diplomats, news reporters, or even Barack Obama should he make a trip over to Pamela’s Restaurant for his favorite pancakes.

Bill was describing how there were just three things we should tell folks about Pittsburgh—(1) how our history was rich with innovation and success, (2) how we’ve transformed our economic base from steel manufacturing to healthcare, education and energy and (3) how we are the world’s most livable city.

While I loved the message that Bill was sharing with us, I also appreciated that he’d gotten it down to just three key statements. I found that approach easy and memorable  and I’ve used that idea in my work and with my clients as a simplepersuason strategy. It seemed to me that highlighting 3 things is just about right to help people remember ideas and focus their attention. After all, there are three traffic lights, “3 strikes and you’re out” and the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” meaning “everything in threes is perfect”.

Well now there is some research to support this idea. In the Sunday New York Times, Susannah Jacobs writes about the persuasive power of the triplet. Two researchers from Georgetown and UCLA teamed up to examine undergraduate’s perceptions of advertising. Each message had a few as one description or as many as six of the products. The researchers noted that after the third word, listeners began to doubt the message, feeling as if the sender were trying a bit too hard. The perfect number of ideas…3!

The message for all of us is to keep your communication simple and your key ideas to three. You’ll find yourself more effective and persuasive. And if you ask me about Pittsburgh, I’ll have lots of great things to discuss about my adopted town, but I’ll try to get them down to 3.

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