Monroe’s motivated sequence is a model of persuasive communication that’s used to issue “calls to action”. The model has has five stages: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence was detailed by Alan Monroe, a professor at Purdue University, in the 1930s. The approach he documented for persuasive communication is particularly popular in the political arena and is used for influencing groups. If you pay attention in the wider world, you will see many people using roughly this approach.

This sequence has five stages: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action.

A meerkat paying attention the first stage of Monroe's Motivated Sequence
You need your audience to pay attention.

Stage 1: Attention

The first stage of the model is to do something dramatic, funny, unusual or striking to capture the attention of your audience. They can be a joke, a fact, a visual aid or anything else that will get people to focus.

Basically, the very first thing you do when you engage with your audience, whatever means of communication you use, should be captivating enough that they stay with you and pay attention to whatever you are going to say next.

Stage 2: Need

Right now, your life sucks. And it’s not your fault.

Having captured the attention of your audience, the next thing you should do in this model is to create a need.

This is normally done by painting a picture showing why the current state is not satisfactory. You can do this through data, images or stories, and ultimately the goal is to create an emotional response to the current state. If this stage is done well, people may feel angry, sad, frustrated or other negative emotions.

It’s this negative emotion that is the goal of this stage of the model because with this negative emotion comes a desire for change. And herein lies one of the keys to influence and persuasion.

Stage 3: Satisfaction

After you create a sense of need in your audience, that sense that things are currently bad and all the negative emotions that come with that, you then move on to stage three and provide a solution. You explain or describe your proposed solution to the current, unsatisfactory state.

What you’re really doing here is saying that you know how to make those negative emotions go away. Of course, you don’t say that, but that’s what you offer through your solution.

A person on top of the world, representing the visualization stage of Monroe's Motivated Sequence
Picture this future, this is you and your life is beautiful.

Stage 4: Visualization

Explaining your solution alone isn’t normally enough, and this is where stage four of the model comes in.

Instead of simply explaining your solution to the audience, you need to go further and help your audience visualize the future you’re painting.

The goal is for them to feel like they are in the future and to connect emotionally with the vision you have painted for them. You want them, however briefly, to feel their negative emotions vanish and be replaced with the positive emotions of the future that you’ve created.

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Stage 5: Action

You’re now the director, you just need to tell people what to do.

The last and key stage of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is action.

Having done all of this it’s crunch time, you now need to ask your audience to do something to help you make your vision a reality. This is where you issue your call to action.

At this stage your audience will have been on an emotional roller-coaster. They’ll have felt the negative emotions associated with being told that their current world isn’t good enough, and they’ll have felt the positive emotions of the potential future that you’ve created for them. And it’s this disparity that is the key to action.

Having felt these different emotions, your audience will be motivated to do something to banish their negative emotions and achieve their potential positive state. They just need to know what it is they can do to make this happen. And so, you tell them. And so, you influence and exert some control over the world.

Learning More

Monroe’s motivated sequence is really about persuasion and influence. You might find Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion interesting. From a marketing perspective the AIDA model is worth looking at. As a side exploration, it might be worth reading about Trust and Five Dimensions of Trust in Sales as well.

Increasingly, products are also design to be persuasive, as it were. They are designed to create habits and drive increased use. Examples of this include Fogg’s model and the Hook model of behavioral design.

You can listen to our podcast on this topic below.

The World of Work Project View

Tools like Monroe’s Motivated Sequence are designed to influence people, and they do this by tapping into the brain’s more primal and emotional states of being and thinking. By playing on people’s emotions in this way, it’s possible to create very powerful responses in them, particularly if you’re speaking to crowds. A lot of political activity makes use of these activities.

In many ways we dislike these tools because they embody an effort to manipulate the actions of others by “hacking” their feelings. That said, they can be used for good as well as for evil.

Whatever your views are on this topic, we believe that understanding how these models of influence and persuasion work is important. The more people understand how others are trying to influence them, the more able they will be to see through those attempts and to use their own rational thought processes to reach their own decisions.

Our Podcast

Our Podcast is a great way to learn more about hundreds of fascinating topics from around the world of work.

Monroe, Alan Houston, 1903-, and Douglas Ehninger. Principles of Speech. 5th brief ed. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1964.

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