Anytime you are communicating to people through the news media, it is crucial to narrow your message down to no more than three points. “Why three?” you and my clients ask. The answer is, “I don’t really know.”
I am certain of this though – if you try to communicate more than three ideas in an interview or even in a series of interviews, you will end up confusing audiences, readers and reporters. If you communicate 17 points, a reporter is likely to focus on two or three of your points anyway, probably ones that don’t even make sense unless people hear the first 10 that didn’t make it into the story.
So why not have just one or two points? That’s too monotonous and boring. The reporter or talk-show host will think you are a simpleton if you can only talk about one or two points. Hence, the beauty of three.
The most successful communicators of all time know and live by the rule of three. Presidential candidates are interviewed thousands of times during an election year. Books, documentaries and magazine covers are devoted to telling you everything you could possibly want to know about what a candidate will do once in office.
But savvy presidential candidates know that most people don’t vote on the basis of timber rights policy. As previously mentioned, when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he stuck to three main message points. As President, he would:
1. cut taxes 2. strengthen defense 3. balance the budget
You might not have agreed with his message. You might not think he took action on all three (budget balancing?). But it is undeniable that he had a clear and simple message that he stuck to, and the people who voted for him understood his message.
Quick – name the three main points made in Jimmy Carter’s 1980 campaign. I can’t do it either. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for President using these three main themes:
1. Change versus the status quo. 2. It’s the economy, stupid. 3. Don’t forget healthcare.
Is there any doubt that his message got through? True, there were many other messages swirling around Clinton during that campaign, but Clinton stuck to his key ideas using remarkable discipline.
Quick – name the three top three themes of the George Bush’s 1992 reelection campaign.
Again, I can’t either.
When communicating via the media, don’t get greedy. Stick to three message points.
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