I used to be a big believer in the series of three. Everybody told me things are more memorable in triads: 3 Little Pigs. 3 Musketeers. 3 Stooges. "Stop. Drop. And Roll."
The old rule of 3 is still valid—especially when comparing something like a 3-part strategy to a 10-point plan.
But if you know me, you know there's always a way to further simplify. And that's why I've become a huge believer in the series of 2.
2 things are just much easier to remember than 3. And it is much easier to categorize things in an "either/or" construct.
For example, my department at Edelman does many things, but here's how I explain it to new employees:
- We fish for people
- We teach people to fish
On a more detailed level, we do quite a bit more, of course, but everything we do fits into one of the above two categories.
I recently restructured my presentation training from 3 parts to 2. Initially, the seminar bucketed everything into CONTENT, FORMAT & DELIVERY. But now, everything that I teach about effective presentation falls into one of two categories:
The new 2-part construct still includes 3 hours of material, but now goes beyond mere categorization. If the attendees can't remember the dozens and dozens of techniques and tips at any moment, hopefully they will always remember the 2 overall goals when creating presentation materials: Everything in a presentation should strive for CLARITY and STICKINESS. And everything you put on a slide should address at least one of these 2 aims.
Audiences Remember More When Given Less
People always want something for their money. Therefore in business presentations, there is the constant urge to include more value by simply including more. And so you get lengthy and immediately forgettable bulleted lists in slides like this:
Traditional studies have shown that the brain can manage and remember up to 7 items at a time—this is one of the reasons phone numbers were initially capped at 7 digits. But studies on education have also shown that students learn more when presented with less. Think about that, because it's quite a radical idea. You will leave your audience with more by giving them less. And if we want to use the phone number example, note that the numbers are divided into TWO packages of numbers. You won't remember 3481372, but you will remember 348-1372. So, wouldn't this be much better if you're aiming for stickiness?
Steve Jobs Knew the Power of 2
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he found his old company selling dozens of different computer models. At a meeting attempting to sort the confused product line out, Jobs grabbed a marker and walked to the white board. He drew a simple 4 box grid: The columns were labeled "Consumer" and "Pro" and the rows were labeled "Notebook" and "Desktop." A consumer would only have a choice of 2 items at any given point in their decision-making. 15 years later, this is still essentially how Apple sells its computers. And if you've ever tried to choose a computer from Dell's mess of a website, you'll understand the power of Jobs's series of 2 selection scheme.
CEOs Want Fewer Choices
Last year we created a "Walking Deck" (more on that in a future post) for one of our executives to present to a major pharma CEO. CEOs are notorious for wanting simplified messages presented to them. You do not want to walk into their office with 15 options. (You want to ask them to make the decision between spending $100 million or $10 million based on your analysis and recommendations.) So here's the first page agenda presented to this CEO. Of course, each item has sub-items, but it was important to umbrella the entire meeting into just 2 items.
At the end of the day and over the course of the entire meeting, this CEO was only asked to make a decision on 2 things: Did he want to engage Edelman to:
- Increase engagement and access
- Provide measurable results