Last month in an article about setting the stage for better decision-making we learned about four elements that you should be considering before you even form the words you want to say. This month it’s all about the messaging. More specifically, a five-stage sequence that can be used to better craft, organise, and present any persuasive message.
In the mid-1930’s a researcher at Purdue University wanted to better understand what combination, or sequence, of events would best induce someone to take action. What he found, and want continues to be true in the decades upon decades since, is that whenever you’re trying to persuade someone to act, five different elements need to take place in your messaging—either overtly or understood. This tool—called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence—has since gone on to inform persuasive messaging strategy in industries across the board, with audiences at all levels.
The five steps—attention, need, satisfaction, visualisation, and action—manifest differently depending on your industry, role, and situation. Let’s dive into each of the five steps in the sequence and learn how to best utilise them to make your internal audit conversations more strategic and persuasive.
In this step, you get the attention of your audience. In a presentation, this often takes the form of an opening story, a startling statistic, a shocking fact, etc. But in the business world we don’t need to be so dramatic.
Instead of thinking this as gaining attention, think of this step as setting the stage and getting people in the right frame of mind. Set expectations. Give clear instructions. And provide an outline or agenda for what is going to happen. Getting everyone on the same page allows the collective attention to focus on the task at hand instead of logistical concerns.
Establish a Need
Traditionally this step is done by bringing the needs of your audience to the surface and making sure everyone is aware that a need exists. Here you’re building up the premise for the solution you’re about to provide, or the action you want people to take. The goal is to convince your audience that they each have an incentive, need, or it’s in their best interest to act.
In the Internal Audit role, this is really about establishing the shared need that exists and allowing time for conversation and buy-in on what the need actually is. For example, if a department has to go under an audit every three years, we know that there is a tactical need for this so that we remain in compliance—that should be communicated. But then there’s an additional step you can add. And that’s asking your audience what they need from the audit process.
People support what they help create. If you can get your audience to work with you to co-create the needs for the audit—above and beyond any regulatory needs—you’ll be better off moving into the next step and the rest of your audit process.
Satisfy the Need
Now that you’ve established a need—you’ve identified a problem—you need to have the solution for that problem. Essentially, you’re satisfying the need. In this step, we get tactical by providing solutions and courses of action that can result in wins for all involved.
This is where, in the internal audit process, you’ll communicate the process of the audit. The steps that need to happen. The procedures that need to be followed. This is also where you’ll communicate about alternative inputs to the process, and allow your audience agency in co-creating, where applicable.
Visualise the Result
It’s time to paint a picture with words. Traditionally, in this step you tell the audience what will happen when the solution is adopted, and what it will look like if it isn’t. You paint contrasting pictures to help motivate someone to act.
But we don’t need to draw those contrasting pictures in most internal audit conversations (though if you find yourself in a rough spot, that technique may be helpful for comparison motivation). Instead, we have another chance to visualise together the end result. It could be something positive like: “When we’re done, we’ll have a better picture of these specific functions and know how to move forward to better operate these roles.” Or it could be more brass tacks, “I know we’re all anxious to get this project going and completed for different reasons, so let’s execute on these steps quickly so you can more quickly get back to what you do best.”
This is where, when you’re watching one of those tug-on-your-heartstrings-with-sad-puppy-faces-and-Sarah-McLachlan-music-playing animal charity commercials on television they ask for your donation.
In the internal audit world, this is when you make sure that everyone is crystal clear on the plan, on the timelines, and the responsibilities and accountabilities. Whether you’ve prepared detailed handouts, an email, or you’re using a note-taking technology so people who were unable to be at the meeting (or if you’re in geographically distributed teams) can have access to what was done, ensuring that this scaffolding for action is in place will lead to easier decisions and a more smooth audit process for all involved.
You’ve likely sensed a theme here about co-creation and getting everyone on the same page. This is essential for the auditor throughout the entire messaging process with the client. Combing these five steps helps you better focus your attention on ensuring buy-in and action—both persuasive elements of messaging that will help your communication be more strategic.