The Motivated Sequence: Organization from the Perspective of the Listener

When I took my first speech course, I entered a speech contest open to all freshman in the course. My teacher didn’t tell us about the motivated sequence, but another kid got it from his teacher and showed it to me. “Our teacher said this is the way we should do our persuasive speech.” I used it. I made it to the finals (I’m still hacked that I didn’t win, but that’s another story). My teacher admitted that my content was the best in the contest.

Since then, I’ve paid attention to how often effective business speakers use this same structure in their messages, whether they realized it or not. I’ve seen it in sales pitches for everything from annuities to steak knives to vacuum cleaners. I’ve seen a version of it in sales training courses.

This sequence is perhaps the most effective way of organizing a persuasive message—and it can help clarify the structure of any message, even those that are not overtly persuasive.

You may choose to use the Motivated Sequence for every message you construct, but you should learn it well and keep it ready.

This material is largely from Ehninger, Douglas, et al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th Ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.


A. The Basics of the Motivated Sequence

B.  The Steps in the Motivated Sequence in Detail

  1. Attention

  2. Need

  3. Satisfaction

  4. Visualization

  5. Actualization

    Adaptation of the Motivated Sequence to the General Purposes of Messages

C. The Motivated Sequence and Traditional Patterns


Compare the Motivated Sequence to common sales techniques

Motivated Sequence Samples

A Complete Sample Presentation Using the Motivated Sequence


A.    The Basics of the Motivated Sequence

1.     The nature of motivation and communication

a.      Human beings:

i.       generalize and anticipate.
ii.     search for coherent structures in our environments.
iii.   fill in missing pieces of a structure.
iv.   make ideas coherent in a number of different ways—with many different patterns.
v.     systematically examine and then follow up on their own motivations. We tend to follow our own motives-to-act in one of two ways:
1.)   We may tend toward a world- or problem-orientation.

a.)   Early in this century the American philosopher John Dewey recognized this tendency when he devised his “psycho-logic”—a pattern for thought he called “reflective thinking.”

i.)    In Dewey’s view, individuals tend to (and sometimes do) follow a systematic procedure for solving problems.

(1.) People become aware of a specific lack or disorientation-some situation with which they are, for one reason or another, dissatisfied.

(2.) They examine this difficulty to determine its nature, scope, causes, and implications.

(3.) They search for new orientations or operations that will solve the problem or satisfy the need.

(4.) They compare and evaluate the possible solutions that have occurred to them.

(5.) They select the solution or course of action which, upon the basis of their foregoing reflections, seems most likely to put their minds at rest and to handle the real-world dimensions of the problem.

2.)   Our other tendency is to be self-centered, motivation-centered.

a.)   Salespersons and advertisers began recognizing this principle in the 1920s. They realized that you and I buy a particular automobile not simply to get from here to there, but also to create a certain image; we buy this or that style of clothes to identify ourselves with others who wear certain sorts of trousers and coats; we buy furniture that is both functional and decorative. In other words, our personal motivations, hopes, fears, and desires often control the ways we act and the goods we consume.

b.) James Oliver Robertson, American Myth, American Reality, p. 192.

      In the period following World War I, the transformation of American mythology from emphasis on the productive worker with a full dinner pail to the consumer with a high standard of living became both self-conscious and obvious. Neither advertising as a business nor aggressive salesmanship were inventions of the 1920’s, but in combination the two became primary agents in the burgeoning of American consumption from the twenties on. Advertising in the expanding mass media began to provide the mass markets of consumers necessary to the economic growth and continuing survival of the great industries. Advertising men and women could, it was discovered, “scare up” consumers, and, quite possibly, keep them scared—and buying. Bruce Barton, the twenties’ most eminent advertising man and author, made clear what economic leaders in the consumer world had come to recognize: “We speak of the law of ‘supply and demand,’” he wrote, “but the words have got turned around. With anything which is not a basic necessity the supply always precedes the demand.” With increasingly conscious effort, advertising people began to create demand. Barton wrote a popular best seller, a life of Jesus called The Man Nobody Knows, in which he explained how to create demand. Jesus was portrayed in the book as a great salesman. Christians were the consumers of the religion Jesus produced. Christianity, Barton wrote, had “conquered not because there was any demand for another religion but because Jesus knew how, and taught his followers how, to catch the attention of the indifferent, and translate a great spiritual conception into terms of practical self-concern.” The slogans, campaigns, symbols, and myths of modem advertising were efforts to translate the products of big business into individual “practical self-concern” for Americans: “Blondes have more fun”—“More pain-reliever faster”—“More for less.” The secret to the creation of demand was to make the potential consumer feel deprived [emphasis added].

b.     Monroe combined these two tendencies

i.       Alan Monroe (1903-1975) knew Dewey’s work well and had himself worked in the 1920s training sales personnel.
ii.     As he thought about Dewey’s “psycho-logic” and the various sales techniques he had taught people to employ, Monroe discovered he could unite both sets of procedures—one set based on the personalized scientific method, and the other rooted in an understanding of human motivation—to form a highly useful organizational pattern.
iii.   Since 1935, that structure has been called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.”

c.   Even though Monroe may not have been thinking of Kenneth Burke's description of form when he developed the Motivated Sequence, his pattern does make use of Burke's "psychology of form."

i.    "Form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite. This satisfaction—so complicated is the human mechanism—at times involves a temporary set of frustrations, but in the end these frustrations prove to be simply a more involved kind of satisfaction, and furthermore serve to make the satisfaction of fulfilment more intense. If, in a work of art, the poet says something, let us say, about a meeting, writes in such a way that we desire to observe that meeting, and then, if he places that meeting before us—that is form. While obviously, that is also the psychology of the audience, since it involves desires and their appeasements" [emphasis added].
ii.  Burke talks here about creating a temporary set of frustrations and then fulfilling them. This creation of desire is critical to the psychology of the Motivated Sequence.

2.     Five Basic Steps of the Motivated Sequence

a.      The motivated sequence derives its name

i.       partly because it follows Dewey’s problem-solution format for thinking. It is problem-solution oriented.
ii.     partly because it makes attractive analyses of those problems and their solutions by tying them to human motives. It is motivation-centered.



Audience response


Getting attention

I want to listen


Showing the need:

describing the problem

Something needs to be done


Satisfying the need:

presenting the solution

This is what to do to satisfy the need


Visualizing the results

I can see myself enjoying the benefits of such an action


Requesting action or approval

I will do this


b.     The steps in brief:

i.       Attention: the creation of interest and desire
ii.     Need: the development of the problem, through an analysis of things wrong in the world and through a relating of those wrongs to individuals’ interests, wants, or desires
iii.   Satisfaction: the proposal of a plan of action which will alleviate the problem and satisfy the individuals’ interests, wants, or desires
iv.   Visualization: the verbal depiction of the world as it will look if the plan is put into operation
v.     Action: the final call for personal commitments and deeds

c.      Examples

i.       A speech urging your classmates to join a blood donors’ association:
1.)   (Attention) “If you had needed an emergency blood transfusion in Johnson County on December 17, 1984, you probably would not have gotten it.”
2.)   (Need) “Blood drives seldom collect enough blood of all types to meet emergency needs in an area such as this one.”
3.)   (Satisfaction) “A blood donors’ association guarantees a predictable, steady supply of blood to the medical community.”
4.)   (Visualization) “Without a steady supply of blood, our community will face needless deaths; with it, emergencies will be met with prompt treatment. “
5.)   (Action) “You can help by filling out the blood donors’ cards I am passing out.”
ii.     Sell insurance to a friend:
1.)   (Attention) “For pennies a day, you can gain considerable peace of mind and a solid background for future financial security.”
2.)   (Need) “Life insurance can protect your family from the impact of an untimely death, guarantee you future security, give you a source of emergency loans, educate your children, and supplement other forms of investment.”
3.)   (Satisfaction) “Here’s how we can tailor your insurance coverage to meet particular aspects of your own situation.”
4.)   (Visualization) “Consider the following situations and what a life insurance program can do to get you out of them.”
5.)   (Action) “Get a routine physical examination today, and tomorrow we can start your coverage for as small or as large an investment as you care to make.”

B.    The Steps in the Motivated Sequence in Detail

1.     The Attention Step

a.      As a speaker, your first task is to gain attention. Your ideas must tap their sense of interest and personal motivation to force them to listen.

b.     See the previous list of things that get attention.

c.      This is a critical step in persuasion. They must first pay attention to the message if it is to be effective.

d.     An otherwise well-designed message without a solid attention step will be wasted. The audience may not begin to attend to the message until it is well underway.

e.      Use your delivery, ethos, language and content to get attention.

f.       Keep attention throughout the message. Some media, such as certain types of television programs, must have attention elements interspersed throughout the message since viewers do not receive the message in a linear, serial order.

2.     The Need Step

a.      Why is the information vital to the well-being of the audience and why is the problem an urgent one?

b.     A need step should do the following: (In short give them a clear and vivid picture of how big and bad the problem is.

i.       Statement—Offer a clear, concise statement of the need. This can be in the form of a central idea or claim, depending on your speech purpose. The statement of the need orients the listeners to your specific message; presumably, what you go on to say will be related to this statement.
ii.     Illustration—Present one or more illustrations to give listeners a clear idea of the nature of the problem you are discussing.
iii.   Ramification—Utilize supporting materials to clarify your statement of need, or to justify the urgency of the problem which you wish to have resolved. Additional examples, statistical data, testimony, and other forms of support can supplement the illustrative examples already used.
iv.   Pointing—Impress on the audience the seriousness of the issue, its scope, and its significance to them. Provide, at this stage of the need step, a convincing account of how the issue or problem directly affects the people addressed-their health, happiness, security, or other interests.

c.      This step is one in which you relate your subject to the vital concerns and interests of your audience.

d.     Note: The need step is critical to persuasion.

i.       It is not “why the audience needs this product or solution.”
ii.     Instead it is creating a need in them that you will later fill in the satisfaction step.
1.)   You have to dig the whole before you fill it.
2.)   The need step is the engine of persuasion. Like a rubber-band powered airplane, how much you wind up the need determines how far you’ll propel them into your solution.
3.)   Like the Coyote’s lever contraptions to catch the Road Runner, how big a boulder of need you drop on the audience determines how far they’ll fly to your solution.
iii.   In certain situations where the need is obvious, you may be able to allude to it or mention it briefly. However, you should always structure your persuasive appeals around the audience’s needs, even when you do not elaborate them.

3.     The Satisfaction Step

a.      Let the audience understand the information you are presenting or to get them to agree that the belief or action you propose is the correct one.

b.     The Satisfaction Step in Speeches to Inform.

i.       The satisfaction step usually will constitute the bulk of your message and will present the information that was specified as necessary in the need step.
1.)   Initial summary—Briefly state in advance the main ideas or points you intend to cover.
2.)   Detailed information—Discuss in order the facts or explanations pertaining to each of these ideas or points.
3.)   Final summary—Restate the main points or ideas you have presented, together with any important conclusions you have drawn from them.

c.      The Satisfaction Step in Speeches to Entertain.

i.       The satisfaction step will constitute the major part of your speech.
1.)   Initial statement of theme—Briefly indicate the sentiment or idea that you will discuss.
2.)   Humorous elaboration—Develop the theme with particular attention to hypothetical and factual illustrations and specific instances that will convey a light-hearted, yet meaningful, message to the audience.
3.)   Final summary—Restate your main theme by drawing the connection between your illustrations and the point you wish to make.

d.     The Satisfaction Step in Speeches to Persuade.

i.       Statement—Briefly state the attitude, belief, or action you wish the audience to adopt.
ii.     Explanation—Make sure your proposal is understood. Diagrams or charts are often useful here.
iii.   Theoretical demonstration—Show how this belief or action logically meets the problem pointed out in the need step.
iv.   Practical experience—Give actual examples showing that this proposal has worked effectively or that this belief has been proved correct. Use facts, figures, and the testimony of experts to support your claims.

e.      You do not need to include all of these elements or parts in the satisfaction step of every persuasive speech, nor in the same order.

*     Parallel Development of the Need and Satisfaction Steps.        

a.      Outline I: Normal Order

i.       Attention Step
1.)   While working for the local hospital’s emergency ambulance unit this past summer, I responded to several automobile accidents in which the driver was severely injured.

a.)   Vivid description of how the accident occurred.

b.)   Vivid description of the injuries sustained by the driver.

ii.     Need Step
1.)   In many of these accidents, the primary cause was either drinking or falling asleep at the wheel.

a.)   The driver was unable to react properly due to the effect of the alcohol.

b.)   The driver awoke too late to take corrective action. Satisfaction Step

2.)   In order to combat these two causes of highway accidents, you must do two things above all others.

a.)   Do not drive under the influence of alcohol.

b.)   Do not drive when you are tired; if you have been driving for a long time, stop and rest.

iii.   Visualization Step
1.)   You will actually enjoy driving more when you have the assurance that these actions will bring.
iv.    Action Step
1.)   Resolve right now to do two things when you drive.

a.)   Don’t drink and drive.

b.)   Don’t drive tired.

b.     Outline II: Parallel Order

i.       Attention Step
1.)   While working for the local hospital’s emergency ambulance unit this past summer, I responded to several automobile accidents in which the driver was severely injured.

a.)   Vivid description of how the accident occurred.

b.)   Vivid description of the injuries sustained by the driver.

ii.     Need and Satisfaction Steps (First Phase)
1.)   In some cases the driver was unable to react properly.
2.)   To assure yourself that you can react properly, don’t mix drinking with driving.
iii.   Need and Satisfaction Steps (Second Phase)
1.)   In some cases the driver awoke too late to take corrective action.
2.)   To assure yourself that you can take corrective action, do not drive when tired.
iv.    Visualization Step
1.)   You will actually enjoy driving more when you have the assurance that these actions will bring.
v.      Action Step
1.)   Resolve right now to do two things when you drive.

a.)   Don’t drink and drive.

b.)   Don’t drive tired.

4.     The Visualization Step

a.      Used only in the speeches to persuade or to actuate.

b.     The function of the visualization step is to intensify desire: to help motivate the listeners to believe, feel, or act.

c.      Might also be called the “projection” step, for its effectiveness depends largely upon the vividness with which it pictures the future or potential benefits of believing or acting as the speaker proposes.

i.       The Positive Method of Developing the Visualization Step.
1.)   Describe conditions as they will be in the future if the belief you advocate is accepted or the action you propose is carried out.
2.)   Provide vivid, concrete descriptions.
3.)   Select some situation which you are quite sure will arise in the future, and in that situation picture your audience actually enjoying the safety, pleasure, pride, and so on which the belief or proposal will produce.
ii.     The Negative Method of Developing the Visualization Step.
1.)   Describe the adverse conditions that will prevail in the future if the belief you advocate is not adopted or the solution you propose is not carried out.
2.)   Graphically picture for your audience the danger or unpleasantness which will result.
3.)   Select the most striking problems or deficiencies you have pointed out in the need step and demonstrate how they will continue unless your recommendations are adopted.
iii.   The Contrast Method of Developing the Visualization Step.
1.)   Combines the positive and negative approaches.
2.)   Use the negative development first, visualizing the bad effects that are likely to occur if your listeners fail to follow your advice; then introduce the positive elements, visualizing the good effects of believing or doing as you urge.
3.)   By means of this contrast, both the bad and the good effects are made more striking and intense.

d.     The visualization step always must stand the test of reality.

i.       The conditions you picture must seem probable.
ii.     In addition, you must to the fullest extent possible put your listeners into the picture.
iii.   Use vivid imagery: make them actually see, hear, feel, taste, or smell the things and benefits you describe.
iv.   The more real you make the projected situation seem, the stronger will be their reaction.

e.      Example:

i.       Whether we like it or not, then, as these facts show, nearly all of our towns and cities are going to continue to grow and expand in the years ahead. How your town grows, however, is going to be entirely up to you.
ii.     As new suburbs are developed and annexed, one of two policies can be followed. First, this growth may be haphazard and unplanned, and may occur without strict zoning ordinances to regulate it. In this case, it is likely that paved streets, if they are present at all, will be cheaply constructed without storm sewers or attention to traffic flow. Houses will be crowded together on tiny lots and will vary widely in value and in architectural style. Filling stations, business establishments, and even light industries-with their odors and noises-may appear in the middle of residential neighborhoods. In short, if you were to buy a home in such an area, it is altogether likely that you would soon be faced with huge bills for new streets and sewers, and that your property, instead of appreciating in value, would decline rapidly in the years ahead. As a home buyer you would be a loser all around-a loser not only because of the poor quality of life you and your family would experience, but a loser, and a big loser, in hard dollars and cents, and a big loser, in hard dollars and cents.
iii.   On the other hand, if additions to your town are properly planned and zoned, as a home owner you will be assured of clean air and adequate living space, will enjoy a house that increases rather than decreases in value, and will be assured that you are not paying for new streets and sewers a few years after you move in. Isn’t it worthwhile requiring that your town annex only subdivisions that have been properly planned and zoned-that it insist on orderly responsible growth? Remember, buying a home is very probably the largest single purchase you will make during the course of your entire life. Remember, too, that a healthy, attractive environment is perhaps the greatest gift you can give to your family.

5.     The Action Step

a.      Only in the speech to actuate

b.     At times, however, as a speaker you may use something resembling an action step to urge further study of the topic dealt with in an informative speech or to strengthen the belief or attitude urged in a persuasive one.

c.      Use the following conclusion techniques

i.       challenge or appeal,
ii.     summary,
iii.   quotation,
iv.   illustration,
v.     statement of inducement,
vi.   statement of personal intention.

d.     Keep the action step short.


See three Motivated Sequence samples.

See a full presentation using the Motivated Sequence.

Adaptation of the Motivated Sequence to the General Purposes of Messages

General End









Reaction Sought









Attention Step

Draw attention to the subject.

Draw attention to the theme.

Draw attention to the need.

Draw attention to the need.

Need Step

Show why the listeners need knowledge of the subject; point out what problems this information will help them meet.

Show why the theme is worthy of consideration.

Present evidence to prove the existence of a situation which requires that something be decided and upon which the audience must take a position.

Present evidence to prove the existence of a situation which requires action.

Satisfaction Step

Present information to give them a satisfactory knowledge of the subject as an aid in the solution of these problems; begin and end this presentation with a summary of the main points presented. (Normal end of the speech.)

Elaborate on theme through numerous illustrations that will elicit a pleasurable reaction from the audience.

Get the audience to believe that your position on this question is the right one to take, by using evidence and motivational appeals.

Propose the specific action required to meet this situation; get the audience to believe in it by presenting evidence and motivational appeals (as in the speech to persuade).

Visualization Step

Sometimes: briefly suggest pleasure to be gained from this knowledge.

Sometimes: briefly suggest what is to be gained through humorous examination of the theme.

Briefly stimulate a favorable response by projecting this belief into imaginary operation. (Normal end of the speech.)

Picture the results which such action or the failure to take it will bring; use vivid description (as in the speech to persuade).

Action Step

Sometimes: urge further study of the subject.

Sometimes: implore audience to consider lighter side of life.

Sometimes: arouse determination to retain this belief (as a guide to future action).

Urge the audience

to take definite action proposed.


C.    The Motivated Sequence and Traditional Patterns

See a discussion of the traditional structure patterns.

1.     Motivated Sequence=Traditional Patterns

a.      Attention=Introduction

b.     Need/Satisfaction=Organized Main Points

c.      Visualization/Action=Conclusion

2.     The application of the traditional patterns to the main points of the speech should satisfy five general criteria for the structure of any speech:

a.      The structure of the speech must be easy for the audience to grasp and remember.

b.     The pattern must provide for a full and balanced coverage of the material under consideration.

c.      The structure of the speech should be appropriate to the occasion.

d.     The structure of a speech should be adapted to the audience’s needs and level of knowledge.

i.       Some of the patterns we will describe are particularly well suited to times when listeners have little background on some subject, while others are useful in situations where the audience is interested and knowledgeable about the subject under discussion.

e.      The speech must move forward steadily toward a complete and satisfying finish.

i.       Repeated backtracking to pick up “lost” points will confuse your audience, and you will lose the sense of momentum your structure intended to convey.
ii.     Throwing out facts in what appears to be a random, thoughtless pattern will not allow you to clarify a point or to amass data that justifies a position you have taken.

Search this site and more

This page was last modified on Thursday, January 16, 2003.
You may contact the instructor at
This material is for the exclusive use of the students in classes taught by Steven H. Kaminski. Unauthorized use is prohibited.