It takes three to tango

Already in the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle formulated his theory on the three persuasive appeals: ethos, pathos and logos. Since then, Aristotle’s rhetoric has become one of the foundations of public speaking and, as such, an equilibrated mix of the 3 ingredients should be considered a prerequisite for any well told story.

In an article on the GMK10 pages, a fragment from the movie Braveheart illustrates how Scottish hero William Wallace is appealing to Aristotle’s elements.

Humans like structure and lists. But their capability to recall the things you tell them is often limited to a few items. Two points don’t say enough, while four are often too many to remember. So three it should be.

As already stated and illustrated in my November 7th blog post about Obama and the rule of three, series of 3 have been used by famous speakers like Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama.

In his book about “the presentation secrets of Steve Jobs”, Carmine Gallo attributes a complete chapter to the rule of three, calling it “one of the most powerful principles of persuasion”.

“So few communicators incorporate the rule of three in their presentations that you will stand apart simply by doing so. The rule of three—it works for the marines, it works for Jobs, and it will work for you.”

For more reading about the rule of three, you may also check out blog posts by Brian Clark and Andrew Dlugan.

And finally, there is another three-tuple you should always keep in mind as a presenter. Wise words by American writer, lecturer and public speaking teacher Dale Carnegie:

“There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

The thin red line

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised the United Nations General Assembly by drawing a red line on a sheet of paper, to make a statement about Iran’s nuclear program (watch the video on YouTube). Some bad tongues even say he needed this “special effect” to re-catch the audience’s attention after a rather boring speech by his Slovenian colleague.

This reminds me of another memorable example of a public speaker who conjured office stationery to make a point during a presentation.

In his MacWorld 2008 keynote, the late Steve Jobs presented the world’s thinnest notebook, the MacBook Air.  The Apple CEO introduced the new product with a photo of an envelope, told the audience that the MacBook was “so thin that it even fits inside one of those envelopes you see floating around the office,” and then pulled up and opened a real envelope that contained the new, ultra-thin laptop computer. (watch the video on YouTube).

Sometimes there’s a thin line between a good and a great presenter. Steve Jobs has always been on the right side of it. I don’t want to make any (politically correct or incorrect) statement here about the content of Mr. Netanyahu’s UN address or about his overall capabilities as a public speaker (he is neither on my list of favorite foreign politicians nor on my list of favorite speakers), but yesterday’s performance made him cross that line too.