I hope all of your writing projects are going well this June. It’s been a few months since I last published a post here, and I’m happy to finally be back.
While I was away, I was making a new video, and I just uploaded it to YouTube:
You can click on the CC button for subtitles. In this video, I look at a persuasive speech outline called the Motivated Sequence created by psychologist Alan H. Monroe.
I first learned this structure when I was competing in a speech and debate league back in high school. It was extremely effective at grabbing the attention of the audience and inspiring them to action.
Since then, I’ve continued to use it for articles and essays and have taught it to many writing students who were working on persuasive essays and speeches. And I’ve been wanting to share it here on the blog for quite a while! I hope you find it helpful.
If you enjoy the video, be sure to give it a thumbs up on YouTube and subscribe to the channel. This lets me know that you found the video helpful and also encourages YouTube to share it with more people on the platform. Thank you!
**RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS VIDEO**:
- 📚 Principles of Speech eBook by Alan H. Monroe: https://archive.org/details/principlesofspeemonr
- 📚 Paperback copy on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3xQEyDL (affiliate link)
- 🎙Full Text of “I Have a Dream”: https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety
- 📝 2015 study on Attention Span: https://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
- 🎥 My Video about Four Powerful Persuasive Techniques: https://youtu.be/h2Zx6oBolZY
- 📬 My email newsletter, The Inkwell: https://nicolebianchi.com/newsletter/
Here’s a transcript of the video:
Psychologist Alan H. Monroe developed the five-step motivated sequence in the 1930s while he was a speech professor at Purdue University. Monroe designed this structure so that by following each of the steps you develop a solid argument that refutes any objections and also inspires your audience to take action.
Many persuasive pieces just leave the audience hanging and don’t give them a pathway forward to making a positive change in the world. With the motivated sequence, on the other hand, you take your audience on a journey and give them a solution to the problem you’re presenting with actions they can take, no matter how big or small.
Here are the five steps of the motivated sequence:
If you think back to middle school and the classic five paragraph essays your teachers would assign, you can imagine each of these steps of the motivated sequence as one of those paragraphs. For example, the attention step is your introduction, then you have three body paragraphs, and then conclude with the action step.
Most likely, however, you’ll be writing a much longer essay or speech. Each of the steps then might encompass several paragraphs, and you can think of them as sections. Some of them might be longer, others shorter, depending on the topic you’re writing about. For example, your introduction might only be one paragraph or it could be three.
But, essentially, no matter how much time you spend on each step, you want to follow each of them in order so that you lead your audience into a certain frame of mind and persuade them of your position.
Now, the motivated sequence is a fantastic structure for outlining your own persuasive speeches, and it’s also a fantastic structure to use to analyze great speeches in history and literature and see what made them so powerful.
So let’s break down each of these steps, and I’ll show you how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech follows this structure. I’ll be using quotes from Monroe’s book Principles of Speech to explain how to use the motivated sequence.
1. The Attention Step
Obviously, this step is all about grabbing your audience’s attention. Do you remember the famous line Mark Antony delivers at the beginning of his speech in the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar?
He says, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
It’s a fantastic reminder that we need to grab the attention of our audience before we launch into our argument.
In fact, a 2015 study found you only have eight seconds to grab a person’s attention before they lose concentration. Here are several ways you can grab your audience’s attention: a rhetorical question, a startling statement, a humorous anecdote, or a story.
Or you can just dive right in and state the subject or problem if you know your audience already has a vital interest in what you will be talking about.
That’s why when choosing how to open your speech, it’s important to consider your topic and your audience. A joke, for example, might be perfect for a light-hearted topic but not for a more somber one.
Once you’ve presented the topic you’re arguing about, clearly state your position so the audience knows what to expect in the rest of your piece.
For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about how an empty lot in your neighborhood should be turned into a park. Here’s what your attention step might look like. Open with a quote from a news story about the empty lot to grab the audience’s attention. Present your thesis statement that summarizes your argument that it should be turned into a park.
Let’s look at the attention step in the “I Have a Dream Speech.” Here’s the opening line:
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
That line grabs the attention of the audience, telling them that they are participating in a historic moment.
2. The Need Step
Once you’ve grabbed your audience’s attention and presented the topic you’re going to be arguing about, it’s time to convince the audience that this is a serious problem that needs to be solved.
In a persuasive piece, there are two different needs you could be arguing for: one, to urge a change to the status quo (point out what’s wrong with the present conditions) or, two, to demand preservation of the status quo (point out the danger of change).
Your speech arguing to turn an empty lot into a park would be an example of urging change to the status quo.
Here are four elements that Monroe says will help you write a powerful need step:
- Statement: “Point out the importance of the subject and the need to be better informed about it.”
- Illustration: “Tell of one or more incidents to illustrate the need.”
- Reinforcement: “Employ as many additional facts, examples, quotations, etc., as are required to make the need more convincing and impressive.”
- Pointing: “Show the direct relation of the subject to the well-being and success of your audience.”
Here’s a quote from the need step part of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now…Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
That repetition of the word “now” is an excellent way to drive home the need step.
3. The Satisfaction Step
Once you’ve convinced your audience there is a problem that needs to be solved, you need to offer them a solution. You’ve pulled back the curtain and shown that there is something wrong in the world. Now we have to work to make the world a better place.
But when will we be satisfied that the problem has been solved? How will we know?
Here’s how Monroe says you can frame your satisfaction step.
- Statement of Solution: “A brief statement of the attitude, belief, or action you wish the audience to adopt.” For example, let’s turn the empty lot into a park.
- Explanation: “Make sure that your proposal is understood. Explain it clearly.” For example, describe what the park will look like, how much money it will cost, etc.
- Theoretical Demonstration: “Show how the solution logically and adequately meets the need pointed out in the need step.” For example, show why the park will benefit the community.
- Practical Experience: “Actual examples showing where this proposal has worked effectively or the belief been proved correct. Facts, figures, and the testimony of experts to demonstrate this conclusion.” For example, show how parks in other cities have helped to lower crime rates and make the community stronger.
- Meeting Objections: “Forestall opposition by showing how your proposal overcomes any objections which might be raised.” For example, show why building a park is better than building a strip mall on the empty lot.
Here’s a quote from the “I Have a Dream” speech that emphasizes the satisfaction step:
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights when will you be satisfied? … No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”
4. The Visualization Step
Monroe noted that the function of this step is to intensify desire. You envision for your readers what the world will be like if your solution is carried out or what it will be like if it isn’t.
“The visualization step must stand the test of reality. The conditions you describe must be realistic. You must make the audience virtually put themselves in the picture. Use vivid imagery: make the audience see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. The more vividly real you make the projected situation seem, the stronger will be the reaction of the audience.”
Monroe gives three methods for visualizing the future.
- Positive: Describe the conditions if your solution is actually carried out. “Do not be abstract about this,” he writes. “Picture the listeners in that situation actually enjoying the safety, pleasure, or pride that your proposal will produce.”
- Negative: Describe conditions if your solution is not carried out. “Picture the audience feeling the bad effects or unpleasantness that the failure to affect your solution will produce. Go back to the need step of your speech and select the most strikingly undesirable things and put these into the picture of future conditions.”
- Contrast: This is a combination of one and two. “Begin with the negative method, the undesirable situation, and conclude with the positive method, the desirable solution.”
I call this last method the “two worlds” approach. For example,
“Imagine two worlds. In the first world, the empty lot attracts teen gangs and crime. In the second world, we have a beautiful green space where everyone in the community can come together and children can play safely.”
Of course, the most memorable part of the “I Have a Dream” speech is the part where the phrase “I have a dream” is repeated. That’s an example of this visualization step in action.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’”
5. The Action Step
“The function of the action step is to translate the desire created in the visualization step into a definitely fixed attitude or belief or to galvanize into overt action.”
You don’t want your action step to be too long. Sum up your points and conclude quickly.
Here are five different ways Monroe says you can frame your action step. You can combine these together for a powerful conclusion.
- Challenge or appeal: “A short compelling and emphatic appeal to take a specific course of action or adopt a certain belief.”
- Summary: “A quick recap of the main points in the need or satisfaction steps or both followed by a challenge or appeal to your audience.”
- Quotation: “A direct statement made by an authoritative figure about the central idea of your piece which suggests the attitude or action you want the audience to take.” For example, this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be fantastic to conclude a speech depending on your topic: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
- Illustration: “This could be an incident or a story which contains the kernel of the idea or suggests the action you wish the audience to take.” It could be a fictional story like a parable.
- Personal Intention: “A statement of your own intention to take the course of action recommended.” Monroe points out that one of the most famous examples of this method was used by Patrick Henry when he concluded his speech with the words, “As for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Here’s how the “I Have a Dream” speech concludes,
“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
That’s it. Now you know how to write a powerful persuasive speech.
Of course, this persuasive speech outline should only be used when you’re attempting to convince someone to do something that is in their own best interest, something that will truly help them and make their life better and the world a better place.