The Power of “Three”​ in Public Speaking — Own the Crowd

Wes O'Donnell
8 min readJan 20, 2020

The following article is an excerpt from Wes O’Donnell’s new book “Own the Crowd” currently available at bookstores nationwide.

Marketers, advertisers and speechwriters understand the power of the number three. If you absolutely, positively want something to stick in audiences’ heads, put it in a sequence of three.

It’s no accident that the number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales and legends.

Three is a “magic” number, historically. Besides the fact that it is the first odd-numbered prime number which gives it the power of indivisibility, many of the world’s oldest religions weave three into the very fabric of their worship: Christianity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…

Or in Hinduism, offering prayers to three rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati whose confluence is known to be ‘Triveni Sangam’ and sacred. The number 3 is also a symbolic depiction of Ohm in Hinduism.

Psychologically, our brains have become adept at pattern recognition as a key survival mechanism. The process of pattern recognition involves matching the information received from your senses, with information already stored in the brain.

Take a look at these numbers:

1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28…

Can you guess what comes next?

That’s right, 31. But how did you arrive at the answer? Your brain picked up on the pattern that this particular sequence is simply adding 3 to get the next number in the sequence.

Patterns allow our brains to make an order from chaos in the natural world and make predictions and rules about what will happen next. Because of this deep-seated physiological trait, speakers can take advantage of patterns to make specific points that stay with the audience long after the speech has ended.

Perhaps the most obvious use of three for speakers is Aristotle’s famous three-act structure:

Act 1 — Situation

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights