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Want to sound like a leader? You need to know three things

You will find threes wherever you find good communication

Fancy yourself as a thought leader? There are three things you need to know... Shutterstock
Fancy yourself as a thought leader? There are three things you need to know...

Congratulations! You have the big job, a team that looks up to you and a vision. You also look just right: right clothes, right hair, right smile. 

You act like a leader, you look like a leader, now you just need to sound like a leader. How are you going to do that? 

In this column, and the ones that follow, I am going to tell you.

The techniques are old – thousands of years old – but they have stood the test of time. They work across languages and different cultures. And yet, they are largely forgotten. 

If you use them, you will sound more energised and more convincing. You will sound like you know where you are going and why you want to get there. You will sound like you have a good plan, and people love to follow a good plan.

Does that sound complicated? It isn’t really. One of the most effective of these ancient techniques is also one of the simplest. 

As the headline says, to sound like a leader you need to know three things. Those three things are: put things in threes, put things in threes and put things in threes. Words, phrases, ideas: it’s that simple.

You will find threes everywhere you find good communication, in the Arabian Gulf and beyond.

The tagline of the Neom website is “Made to Change”, its Treyam project is a “Treasure of Tomorrow” and when you click through on the website you are greeted by “This is Neom”.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy has three pillars, each described with three words: “A vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation.”

And the country’s tourism tagline? “Welcome to Arabia”.

In fact, look at other tourism taglines in the region. Egypt: “This is Egypt”; Abu Dhabi: “Find your place”; Jordan: “Kingdom of time”.

Or consider this. The slogan for the Qatar World Cup was “Now is All”. For the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico, the slogan is “We are 26”. 

And in 2030 the World Cup will be jointly hosted by Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Its slogan is “Yalla Vamos 2030”.

The 2034 World Cup will, of course, be in Saudi Arabia. Its slogan is yet to be confirmed. I have no idea what it will be, but will it be three words? Count on it.

Of course it is not just the Arabian Gulf that is hooked on threes. It is the whole planet. Global brands do it all the time. Samsung: “Together for Tomorrow”; McDonalds: “I’m lovin’ it”; Amazon: “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History”.

In 2015 Google decided its catchy “Don’t be evil” motto had to go and replaced it with “Do the right thing”. It hasn’t really caught on. I wonder why.

The order of your ‘three’ matters. Put the most important element last and the weakest one in the middle

Why do “threes” work so well? Unlike many of the techniques of rhetoric, which are now finding a solid base in modern neuroscience, nobody really knows. 

Some say it reflects the progression of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Others say that it is because you need three things to establish a pattern. Another theory is that it reflects the basic structure of a story: conflict, decision, resolution. 

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter. If you use four or more, it quickly feels like the point is being pushed too hard. But two? Not enough.

Of course, if you really want to make the most of your use of threes, you should know a few extra things. Three things, naturally.

First, there is always a way to make what you have to say fit into a three. If you have two points, split one of them into two elements and you now have a three. 

If you have four points, either combine two into one, drop one or say: “I have three points. Point one. Point two. Point three. And I should also add…”

Second, in your “three” it will sound better if your third element is also the longest. Look at the Amazon slogan again – the third element, “make history”, has the same number of syllables as the first two phrases combined.

Third, the order of your “three” matters. Put the most important element last and the least important, or weakest, one in the middle. Why? Because people generally forget the middle one and remember the last one. Look back at that Amazon slogan once more. The least important of the three? Have fun.

Threes. They are everywhere. They are easy to use. And they will help you sound like a leader.

Just do it.

Lech Mintowt-Czyz is a multi-award winning speechwriter who helps leaders with all their thought leadership needs through his company Speech Success: He used to be a journalist for British national newspapers the Daily Mail and The Times

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