Monroe’s Motivated Sequence: Five Steps to Persuasion


In this installment of the Viral Octopus knowledge series, we are going to talk about Monroe’s “Motivated Sequence” – a five-step method for persuading people to do something that’s been around for a long time. This effective template for communication is named after professor Alan Monroe of Purdue University who laid out the details in his book “Monroe’s Principles of Speech,” originally published in 1935. It is certainly not a new idea, but it is a great one, as relevant today as it was almost a century ago. While it is most often applied to public speaking, if you think about it, you apply these principles to any communication that aims to get someone to take action, and hence, to most marketing activities. Let’s take a look at these five Monroe’s Motivated Sequence topics, the steps to persuade someone to take action.   

Step One: Get Their Attention

You can’t persuade anyone if they are not receiving your message. And there is a lot of noise out there. It wasn’t so much of a struggle in Monroe’s day, but competition for people’s mental time today is fierce. Information flashes by and much of it is ignored. In the instant that someone first notices your message, you need to hook them somehow.  Something unexpected perhaps, or something urgent. This contemporary update is a just prequel to Monroe’s process. After you’ve done something to get noticed, you need to turn that into more than just fleeting attention. To do so, get your audience to identify with you, establish trust, and show authority.  You may be able to earn a listener’s attention by beginning a story. Storytelling helps us identify with each other and build a bond that can encourage people to hear us out. Telling a joke or citing a surprising statistic can also get people to relate to you a little more and take notice of what you are trying to tell them. Once you have a foot in the door, earn your audience’s trust. Give them a broad overview of what you intend to communicate so they can understand why your information may be interesting to them. Establish authority by presenting some data, statistics, or talking about your research and experience with the topic you are discussing.   

Step Two: Show Them There Is A Problem

Now that you have your audience’s attention, it is time to show them that there is a problem to be solved. Describe the current state of affairs and explain what is lacking and what must be changed. Be careful that you don’t jump ahead and start talking about a solution. This might take some discipline, but it is worth the effort. Clearly organized communication that persuades by steps beats rambling communication that jumps between subjects. Get their attention by describing the monster first and convincing them it is a real and direct threat. Then after they understand why they should be concerned you can tell them how to kill it.  If you have done your homework and you know your audience, you can explain how the problem affects them directly. Explain what can go wrong if they fail to act and continue to accept the status quo. If there is an opportunity to create a sense of urgency, seize it. Things that are good to do ‘eventually’ are often never done. Use a combination of anecdotes and statistics to explain the cost of inaction. My friend did not think monsters were a problem until he joined the 5% of monster skeptics that learn the hard way that you really need to check under the bed before you go to sleep, and long story short, now he has a prosthetic foot.   

Step Three: Show Them How To Solve The Problem

This will probably be the easy part. Having convinced the listener that you have something of interest for them and know what you are talking about and then shown them a problem that impacts them directly, you get to talk about the solution you want them to embrace. Explain how your solution works in detail. Try to identify discrete steps or aspects of your solution and organize your explanation clearly. Keep in mind that listeners can be unfocused at times. Make sure your presentation is simple and easy to follow. It’s ok to dive into details but remember the most important thing is to give a clear understanding of the big picture. Data and examples can help your audience grasp the value of your solution, but they need to understand what it is first. Now you have convinced your audience to listen, showed them a problem that affects them directly, and presented them with the solution that you want them to use. You might think you are done. But don’t quit yet. There are two more steps in Monroe’s Motivated Sequence that really help seal the deal

Step Four: Describe The Possible Futures

Now you will circle back, to some degree, since you may have already discussed the future. When you were discussing the problem, you explained to your audience the risks that they would expose themselves to if they choose not to take action. You showed them a vision of a future where they had failed to embrace the solution and suffered consequences. Do you revisit this perspective? Perhaps. Monroe posits three broad categories of approaches for this step, negative, positive, and contrasting.  With the negative approach, you simply return to negative future forecasting from step two and elaborate on the risks and costs that could be associated with not choosing to employ the recommended solution. The positive approach abandons the discussion of bad outcomes and focuses on the benefits and positive outcomes that can occur in the future if you choose to use the solution. Depending on the point you are trying to make, it can be more persuasive to focus on good outcomes to seek or bad outcomes to avoid. But in many cases, the best approach is a synthesis of the two, what Monroe calls the contrast approach. Present the risk of negative future outcomes if the solution is not adopted first and then show the likely positive future outcomes when the solution is embraced.   

Step Five: Specific Instructions For Action

Now we arrive at the finale. You have convinced them that you have something interesting to say, know what you are talking about, and can be trusted. Then you have shown them there is a real problem that could affect them. You’ve described a method they can use to solve or avoid that problem and you have shown them a future. Perhaps you just showed them what would happen if they did act or did not act, or perhaps you contrasted their outcomes in both scenarios. Either way, you have done your best to convince them to act. Try to make it as easy as possible. Remember, your customers will undertake a journey. You do not have to explain the entire thing right now. You just have to design a first step that is easy to explain and will naturally lead to the next step. If you can add some urgency to your final call to action, that can help ensure something really happens. If there is no particular urgency to your scenario, you can rely on a more generic appeal. For example…   Thanks for taking the time to read our quick Monroe’s Motivated Sequence outline of his five steps for persuading people These ideas only help if you apply them. Can you think of a way to apply this idea today before it slips away?

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