Three's The Charm

Business-Man-Holding-Up-Three-Fingers By Susan Tomai 

At Oratorio Media and Presentation Training, we believe that if you have more than three messages, you have too many messages.

Indeed, the rule of threes has a long and distinguished history. The Three Wise Men in the Gospel of Matthew. Jefferson’s Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Steve Jobs in 2007 introducing the first iPhone as a trio of revolutionary product categories: new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. The genie in the bottle and his three wishes. The Three Musketeers, Three Blind Mice, Moe/Larry/Curly.

And so on. Need we say more? There’s something about presenting information in threes that resonates with audiences. So after 25 years of media training and presentation training the best and brightest in business and government, we continue to whittle all key information into three high-level, easily understood messages. On rare occasions there may be only two key messages, and of course all messages can have multiple supporting points - examples, stats, stories - but in general, more than three messages cause the audience’s attention to begin to wander. So don’t squander your three wishes – tell the genie your presentation will stick to three key messages.

“I’m Talking and I Can’t Stop” or “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ending”

images By Susan Tomai 

There are few experiences in life as excruciating as being forced to endure a speaker who doesn’t know how to stop talking.  We hear “in conclusion,” then two minutes later it’s “in closing,” and three minutes after that “finally,” then a minute later it’s “my final thought to you today is,” by which point you’re about ready to say “just finish the darn speech already!” before jumping out the nearest window.

Speakers should carefully craft and deliver their closing remarks, and then simply stop. Here’s how: at the end of your presentation, briefly reiterate your key points - I repeat, briefly - then tell your audience what to do with the information you just delivered. The final step is to leave them with something powerful and memorable - perhaps a quote, a strong visual, or a story – and then say “Thank you.” Wasn’t that easy? Your audiences will thank you for it, and they’ll remember your key points.

The “Panel Trap” - or - “Do It For the Children”

By Susan Tomai If you’re a parent, you’ve seen this movie before: as your spouse lectures the kids, you hang onto every word, for appearance’s sake. You do it for the kids - so do the same for your colleagues.


The next time you deliver a presentation as part of a team, or sit on a panel with a co-worker, be aware of any facial expressions, gestures or body language that tell the audience “I’m bored.” Pulling out your iPhone, staring blankly up at the ceiling or chatting with the person next to you - no.  When another person is speaking (especially one of your colleagues), maintain your professionalism and look at the speaker as though everything being said is fascinating, even if you’ve heard it a million times. It will help the speaker’s self-confidence and send a properly respectful message to the rest of the audience.

I once saw two staff members spinning their pens on the table helicopter-style, each one completely unaware of the other - while their CEO was speaking. It was hilarious – but man, what a terrible message to send to the audience.

The Talking Heads Were A Great Band, But Don’t Be One on TV

talking-head-icon By Susan Tomai 

In my days as a TV news producer, I could be found early every morning in the control room - that sacred domain with its wall of TV monitors displaying all of the competitors’ morning shows.  And my job was not only to make sure we were putting on a great show every day – I also had to keep an eye on the competition’s celebrity “gets,” exclusive stories and great visuals.  The goal was to make our show more interesting, more topical, more visual, and at times more outrageous - which meant no producer wanted a boring talking-head spokesperson.

The screens that always caught my eye - and therefore the audience’s attention - were those that featured lively, animated spokespeople. These on-camera performers used strong, descriptive gestures. They spoke passionately, they told stories, they used props.  The audience paid attention – and we in the control room liked the results in the ratings. So if you’re interviewed on TV, don’t be a talking head.

Don't Bury The Lead

1361963006DontBuryTheLead By Susan Tomai 

I never cease to be amazed by how often a spokesperson misses an important opportunity at the beginning of a TV interview. It often goes like this:

JOURNALIST: "We're joined on the program tonight by Jane W, spokesperson for the XYZ Corporation."

SPOKESPERSON: "Thank you for having me."

Not good enough. The well-prepared spokesperson graciously but firmly takes control of the interview from the get-go. Like this:

JOURNALIST: "We're joined on the program tonight by Jane W, spokesperson for the XYZ Corporation."

SPOKESPERSON: "Thank you for having me. You know Jim, it's important for the audience to know about XYZ's service to the community. At XYZ, we strive to..."

And so on. The spokesperson doesn't wait for the first question - she hits the ground running with a pre-determined opening message that successfully sets the stage for the rest of the interview, and she holds on to the ball rather than handing it over to the interviewer.

Remember that in a live interview, you don't have much time to make your points, and you want to make them as frequently as credibly possible. That's why it's important to start doing so right from the beginning.