Chances are you’ve heard of “The Three Bears” fairy tale, and while the details of the story might have blurred over time, you’ll never forget the general storyline. In short, the allegory instructs children not to mess with other people’s stuff. It’s memorable because it employs the powerful communication principle of “the rule of three,” which suggests that an audience is more likely to consume information if it is [presented] in groups of three.
A recent example of someone that uses allegory and the “rule of three” successfully is Jack Ma. He is the founder of e-commerce company, Alibaba.
I was particularly impressed by this New York Times profile on Ma, which shows his ability to simply and clearly communicate the business vision of his technology company, in non-technical terms.
For example, in the video which is embedded in the article, Ma explains the company’s situation when it was founded:
“The ignorant are never afraid. We had three things going for us:
We had no money, we didn’t understand the technology, and we never planned.”
Following “the rule of three”, Ma grabs the audience’s attention and gets them hungry to hear the positive attributes that made Alibaba successful (which, he explains, include: not being afraid, working incredibly hard and using quick-thinking “Chinese brains” to compete). As a former teacher, his talent as a communicator magnified his courage, his ambition and his strategic savvy.
Ma shows another striking communication tool in his ability to use analogy, or a brief allegory, to orchestrate a point. In this FOX News article, Ma discussed defeating eBay in China:
“Ebay is a shark in the ocean. We are a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we will lose. But if we fight in the river, we will win.”
The imagery Ma uses grabs the audience’s attention and inspires belief. A key component of what makes him such an effective leader is his ability to use classic rhetorical devices like analogy and the “rule of three” to help the audience understand and relate to his vision.
Who are your favorite communicators and why? Let us know in the comments below.