Monroe's Motivated Sequence (that's Motivated, not Motivational) is a pattern of organisation for persuasive speech developed by Alan H. Monroe at Purdue University in the early to mid-1930s.

MMS is the cornerstone of COM114, one of the courses in every core curriculum at Purdue. This course has served as the model for many other speech classes as the teaching of MMS became widespread over the generations. I got the lesson at another school from a Purdue alumnus who was ancient enough to have been taught it by Monroe himself and who was very fervent (and persuasive) in his belief in the Motivated Sequence.

Monroe's sequence is a simple structure consisting of five steps. It is not far removed from the salesman's AIDA sequence but, instead of trying to generate interest, it tends to address an audience with a given interest or one that already has a stake in the subject:


Stage Example Purpose Advice
Attention Last week, ten gang members were arrested with 10 Ks of cocaine in their possession. Last year a Mexican robbed my sister. 40% of our school budget goes towards providing free meals. Get their attention. Open with an anecdote or an issue that concerns them or the community and lets you forge a bond of common interest or experience. Get their attention. Negative stuff like crime pays good dividends. Use facts that are likely to appeal to your audience. Context is for later.
Need We have crime, high unemployment and our schools are overcrowded. We need to have safer streets, more available jobs, and fewer students in our schools. Describe the problem. You've already led into it while getting their attention. Establish that there is a need to be fulfilled, something that requires action. State the obvious. It does not have to be a need as much as a perceived need. Should the need not be perceived enough by your audience, that's why you're using this sequence.
Satisfaction Throw out Mexicans, starting with the gang members and followed by anyone getting a traffic ticket. Repeal the 14th amendment to prevent anchor babies. Pass laws to make their life unpleasant. Suggest a logical course of action that you assert will satisfy the need. The solution must be within the means of your audience. State the cynically obvious. Make it sound politically correct. This is where the seeds of fear that you planted in stage 1 blossom. The solution need only sound rational.
Visualisation With no Mexicans, there will be fewer swarthy kids who don't speak English using our school resources and healthcare. Americans can get jobs picking all the strawberries they want. Humboldt's finest will no longer be undercut by cheap Tijuana schwag. Crime will disappear. Present the positive results of your proposed solution. You're trying to persuade, not argue. In this stage you have the opportunity to preempt and overpower the counterarguments. Leave as little room as possible for disagreement with your rosy picture. The fact that strawberries picked by Anglos are likely to cost $11 a pound is immaterial. Your goal is no Mexicansless crime, not cheap produce.
Action Act upon the slightest suspicion. Turn in illegal immigrants to Immigrations. Don't give them jobs. Don't rent to them. Don't buy from their shops. Write your congressperson to support this fantastic new law that will let public officials do more and you do less about it. Exhort the audience to act in order to fulfil their need. Advocate concrete, cheap, and ideally simple actions. Offer courses of action that are easy and provide instant results. Passive acts like boycotts are marvellously cheap and popular since they require no time investment. Harassment also works great. Say nothing about your maid from Monterrey.


In the conclusion very briefly reiterate the essence of stages 2, 3, and 4. Proposed soundbites and slogans should be derived verbatim from these stages. Repeat them and use the best to close the speech. It's about salience.

As a tool aimed at initiating action, MMS is popular with advertisers, politicians, and other demagogues. Its goal is to improve returns by including the audience in the solution. It makes people do what you want, even if they don't think what you want. It is at its most powerful and effective when used to preach to the choir and get action from people who already agree with the speaker on principle and are eager to hear the Action part. In the above example substitute Jews, the Irish, communists, mimes, or any other class of undesirables.

It's quite plausible that techniques akin to MMS were used by orators as far back as Greek or Roman antiquity. The effective structure of persuasive speech is hardly a question that arose yesterday and needed solving by 20th century science. You'll find some of it in Demosthenes. You'll find some in Robespierre. Indeed, it adapts as nicely to totalitarian rhetoric as it does to smoking cessation and suicide prevention. MMS is not necessarily widely mentioned but its influence is pervasive and nearly ubiquitous, particularly in advertising and politics, all the way from deodorants to Barack Obama.

Next time someone tries to call you to action at a council meeting or something, listen closely. There's a good chance that what you're being served is a steaming cup of Professor Monroe's good ol' Motivated Sequence.

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