The Key to Keynote: 3

I’ve had my blog for two months now, but this is my first post including something related to my fascination with the number three, especially as it pertains to effective communication. It definitely won’t be the last. In fact, I’ll probably write about three so much over time, that I’ll end up adding a 3-category some day to collect all of them in one place. 


Whether conscious or unconscious, we’re all aware of the Power of Three. It shows up in religion, colors, photography, suba diving, math, economics, Olympic medals, fairy tales, and military structure and strategy. Three just sticks. Our brain organizes and remembers three really well. Get to four, and it starts to break down. Studies have even been done scanning brain wave patterns to prove it. The uniqueness, power, and applications are boundless.


Three is especially prevalent in written and oral communication, such as speeches, books, plays, and comedy. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Three Blind Mice. A priest, a rabbi, and a duck walk into a bar. The list of examples is endless.

And this power, or key, applies to Keynote - and Power Point or Google Doc - presentations as well. Before I speak to using three in Keynote, I want to say that I believe there are two types of Keynote presentations. Those that are for presentations, as an aid to someone speaking in front of a room full of people, and those for reading, such as an attachment to an email. For presentation Keynotes, I completely agree with the camp that says to use pictures and never bullet points. I cringe, knowing 10-60 minutes of pure torture is to come, on page one or two of any Keynote supported speech when it’s full of text. 


On the other hand, great presentation Keynotes don’t - and shouldn’t - make a ton of sense on their own. A public speaker wants the audience to pay attention to what s/he is saying. The purpose of a presentation Keynote is reinforce or visualize an idea. But when I’m getting a Keynote as an attachment or other stand alone document, I don’t mind written text. In fact I appreciate it. It’s really the only way to tell the story without the narration of the public speaker. I fully expect to see some bullet points in such a presentation. 


But sometimes it just makes more sense, or there is a necessity, to have one Keynote for presentations and attachments. For these types of Keynotes, it’s o.k. to have some bullet points. But as a steadfast rule, never, ever use more than three to a page. Otherwise, the audiences brains’ will not retain the information, remember your point, or be as convinced as effectively as possible. And I’ll pile on and say I often try and find a third bullet when I originally come up with only two, because I get up to three opportunities to drive a point home, and I want to - literally - drive a point home. 


So, next time you’re doing a Keynote, and you’re using bullet points, limit it to three items per page. Going further, I always format my hybrid Keynotes in a pyramid like fashion, with the presentation topic supported by three pillars, and then I make another slide for each pillar, showing three sub-support pillars for each pillar. Just with these two layers, you have 12 support pillars for your theme, topic, or thesis, all organized in digestible, rememberable, and impactful sequence of three. 


Experiment with using the power of three in a conversation with a family member, friend or co-worker. See if you get your point or position across better. Then go ahead and incorporate three item groupings into your next Keynote presentation. I say you’ll audience retention will be higher as a result.



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