Writing an essay #3: creating a thesis statement
Stand and Deliver: conference speaking at CML

Five steps to action: Monroe's Motivated Sequence

When you plan a presentation or speech, what model do you use?  

Many people still cling to the old 'Tell 'em' principle.  You know the one.

  1. Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em.
  2. Tell 'em.
  3. Tell 'em you've told 'em.

It might work.  Sometimes.  Often, however, it fails. 

Why?  Repetition is not the problem; after all, repeating key elements is an essential part of any presentation.  Our audience is not reading but listening; we need to build their recall. 

No, the 'tell'em' principle fails for two other reasons.

First, it creates a structure that's built around the material.  And you should build your structure around the audience.

After all, what are the audience interested in?  You?  Your material?

Absolutely not.

There's only one thing your audience is interested in.


Structure the presentation to reflect the way they think, what worries them, what they most want - and it will interest them.

Secondly, 'tell 'em' fails because it lacks the crucial element of any successful presentation.


Your structure should take your audience on a journey, from where they are to where you want them to be.  And, at each step along the way, you should leave them wanting more.  Wanting, indeed, to take the next step.  

Your structure should be a sequence of cliffhangers.

That structure already exists.  It's called Monroe's Motivated Sequence.  It works because it focuses on the needs of the audience rather than the material, and it ratchets up the suspense.

Alan H Monroe, a Purdue College professor in the 1930s, realised that presentations must be structured around their audiences. 

MonroeAlthough individuals may vary to some extent, research has shown that most people seek consistency or balance among their cognitions.

When confronted with a problem that disturbs their normal orientation, they look for a solution; when they feel a want or need, they search for a way to satisfy it.

In short, when anything throws them into a condition of disorganization or dissonance, they are motivated to adjust their cognitions or values, or to alter their behavior so as to achieve a new state of balance.

 Monroe's sequence, in his words, reflects the audience's sense of dissonance and motivates them to adjust their values to achieve a new state of balance.

Step One: Get Attention

You may not need to fight to gain your audience’s attention.  They probably want to be there.  Indeed, they are paying attention to you because they need to be reminded of the significance of this event. 

Establish that you have something interesting to say.  (The audience may well be expecting that this ritual speech will say very little of interest!)

After the inevitable and necessary statements of welcome, thanks and etiquette, you could maintain attention by:

  • telling a humorous or dramatic story;
  • demonstrating the importance of your point;
  • posing a question;
  • arousing curiosity or suspense; or
  • using a quotation.

In your opening, you should also:

  • establish your credibility to be speaking at this event;
  • state your purpose; and
  • let the audience know what to expect.

Step Two: Establish the Need

Identify the needs being threatened.

Convince your audience that there's a problem.  What has created the need for this event?  What need in the audience has drawn them here? 

This is not the time for subtlety.  State the problem clearly, and emphasize its urgency.  You need to maintain the audience’s attention, and creating this sense of urgent need is a brilliant way to do that. Create imbalance, dissatisfaction, discomfort.  Create the need for resolution.

State that need in terms that the audience will recognize. 

  • Use statistics to back up your statements.
  • Talk about the consequences of maintaining the status quo and not making changes.
  • Show your audience how the problem directly affects them.

Step Three: Satisfy the Need

Towering-infernoPropose the solution.  That solution is, of course, the event itself, or some aspect of it.  How will this event address the problem you have outlined?  This is the heart of your speech.

The solution must be logical and clearly expressed.  The audience must be able to follow it; don’t get complicated and introduce masses of technical detail.

  • Outline the values that the event embodies.
  • Elaborate: give details to make sure the audience understands your position and solution.
  • Summarise your information from time to time.
  • Use examples, testimonials, and stories, as well as technical facts to bring your ideas to life.
  • Prepare counterarguments to anticipated objections.

Simple explanatory structures work best in this section.

  • pros and cons;
  • action and consequence;
  • process explanation.

Beware of simple numbered lists.  They are very common diplomatic speeches, particularly at this point.  Lists are inherently rather undramatic, and they can dissipate audience interest.  Lists of actions are better than lists of abstractions.

Step Four: Envisage the Future

You need to show the audience not just the logic of the solution, but how it will make their lives better.  You can use three methods to help the audience share your vision.

Positive method

Inspire the audience with a vision of a better future.

Describe what the situation will look like if this event succeeds.

Provide vivid, concrete descriptions. Select some situation that you are quite sure will arise in the future, and picture your audience actually enjoying the conditions which acceptance of your plan will create.

Negative method

Create concern about a future in which things do not improve.

Describe what the situation will look like if the event fails.  Focus on the dangers and difficulties caused by not acting.

Picture for your audience the danger or the unpleasantness that will result from failure to follow your advice. Select from the Need Step the most undesirable aspects of the present situation, and show how these conditions will continue if your proposal is rejected.

Contrast method

Screen-Shot-2013-03-05-at-1.09.17-AM-540x287Develop the negative picture first, and then reveal what could happen if your ideas are accepted.

Use the negative method first, visualizing the bad effects if the audience fails to follow your advice; then the positive method, visualizing the good effects of believing or doing as you recommend.

Use sensory information: what will these situations look, sound, taste, smell, or feel like?

Step Five: Inspire Action

Your final job is to inspire the audience to act.

One of the most effective techniques is to bring the audience back to the very start of the speech and indicate how the speech has moved the audience on.  This creates a satisfying shape and a sense of completion, solidarity and unity.

Tell the audience what they should do.  Keep it simple and express that action in inspiring terms.

At this point, you could use:

  • a challenge;
  • a quotation;
  • an illustration; or
  • a statement of the shared values your speech is expressing.

You must conclude with a final stirring appeal that reinforces your audience’s commitment act now. 

Calls to action should contain a strong appeal to the feelings.

Monroe's Motivated Sequence is tried and tested.  It works because it reflects the way humans think - and feel.  It sets up a set of questions and answers them.  It generates a set of dissatisfactions and then satisfies them.

I explore Monroe's Motivated Sequence on my course, Stand and Deliver.  Contact me if you'd like to discuss running the course.


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