ESP and the Power of Persuasion

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In a business English class, we were looking at the Monroe Motivated Sequence, which is a framework used to make a persuasive presentation. If you look carefully at the steps in the framework, you can see connections to ESP program development.

I first encountered the Monroe Motivated Sequence when I was working at Sony. In the (now nonexistent) Sony Language Laboratory (Sony LL) school system in Japan, I was initially placed in what was called Center Group and dispatched to companies and government ministries. (I was initially the only Sony LL teacher at that time doing only corporate training.) While I was in Center Group, I also visited the Sony LL schools. At one of those schools in Tokyo, I observed a speech class taught by Richard Han. In Richard’s class, the students played a very exciting gesture game. Later, I learned that the speech manual used in Sony LL schools was written by Richard. (I recently conducted a Google search and found this website for the Richard Han Speech Academy.)

The Monroe Motivated Sequence consists of the following steps:

  1. Attention: Get the attention of the audience.
  2. Need: Introduce a need (of the audience) that must be (but is not now) satisfied.
  3. Satisfaction: Say how that need (of the audience) can be satisfied.
  4. Visualization: Help the audience visualize how the need can be satisfied.
  5. Action: Tell the audience what action they must take to satisfy the need.

“Which of the five steps is the most important?” I asked this question to my students in the business English class. One student said, “Action.” Another student said, “Attention.” However, I was looking for a different answer. A third student guessed, “Visualization.” Finally, I asked my students, “Which step is closest to marketing research?” And a fourth student said, “Need,” to which I replied, “Exactly!”

The importance that I place on the “need” step is illuminated in a story of a salesman in the book, “The Leader In You: How to Win Friends, Influence People and Succeed in a Changing World.” The story (pp. 68-69) can be summarized with the following paraphrased content:

A man was selling cemetery property in Chicago (which, by the way, is the city where the next TESOL International
Convention & English Language Expo will be held). At first, the man was not successful because he did not understand his prospective customers’ needs. Initially, he mistakenly believed that they would buy cemetery property because they wanted a good investment opportunity. Although cemetery property was a good investment opportunity, the real need of his prospective customers was the strong desire of family members to stay close together, even after death. So he framed the product accordingly. People bought cemetery property so that they could be buried with family members close to home, not 200 miles away.  

The need step in the Monroe Motivated Sequence brings to mind Freeley’s (1990) “Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making.” I often referred to Freeley in co-teaching a debate course titled “Debate: ACE (Advanced Communication in English)” to Sony employees at the Sony training center. The course was focused on propositions of policy. In this connection, Freeley writes:

Study of the problem leads . . . to the conclusion that a significant inherent need in the status quo exists that can best be solved by adopting the plan advanced by the affirmative and that adopting this plan will solve the need and thus provide significant advantages. The essential elements of the needs analysis affirmative are . . .

  • Justification or Need
  • Plan
  • Advantages

The need—or justification—portion of the case consists of arguments to establish the reasons for changing the status quo in the manner required or permitted by the proposition (p. 192).

In other words, what is the “need” for change? Is that need for change significant and inherent? What is the plan to achieve such change? What will be the results of the proposed plan? In a debate, the team proposing change to the status quo (i.e., the affirmative team) expects to be attacked (by the negative team). For example, the negative team will argue that there is no need for change. The plan will not work. The plan will not meet the need and will not create advantages. Instead, the plan will cause harmful disadvantages. Accordingly, the affirmative team must be prepared to defend itself. In contrast, in a Monroe Motivated Sequence presentation, the speaker expects the listener(s) to agree and to take action, not to question or to argue.

How is this process connected to ESP program creation? I argue that persuasive communication is involved in ESP program development. The ESP Project Leader Profiles (with 34 profiles published to date) were created in part to showcase the communication of ESPers in the program development process. The next time you look at the profiles, consider what the leaders are saying and doing to create their programs. How are the leaders influencing stakeholders? Such professional communication analyses of the ESP Project Leader Profiles could be a valuable part of ESP professional development and leadership communication programs. For such training purposes, the links to the ESP Project Leader Profiles continue to be added to the ESPIS Library.

Good luck in your ESP training worldwide!

All the best,


Dale Carnegie & Associates, Levine, S.R., & Crom, M.A. (1995). The leader in you: How to win friends, influence people and succeed in a changing world. New York, New York: Pocket Books.

Freeley, A.J. (1990). Argumentation and debate: Critical thinking for reasoned decision making (Seventh edition). Belmont, California: Wadsworth.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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One Response to ESP and the Power of Persuasion

  1. Stephen Horowitz says:

    Very helpful insight and perspective. Thanks!

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