The language of pep talks | An evidence-based activity

Pep talk .jpg

I’m often asked by my clients to help their managers ‘motivate’ their teams more effectively. I usually excuse myself from supporting this request by suggesting that it’s out of my scope so I was naturally intrigued by this HBR article on some recent research on the language of motivation, perhaps bringing it into the ambit of ELT. Here’s a quick activity I came up with to help learners explore this research.

Materials & preparation 

  • It may be a good idea for the T to read the article, The Science of Pep Talks.
  • You’ll need to copy and cut up the jumbled functions.
  • You’ll also need copies of the speech from the article.

Procedure 

    • Pre-teach pep talk if necessary (you could also use an excerpt from an American movie – YouTube has loads – unfortunately, I couldn’t find any without inappropriate language).
    • Draw some speech bubbles on the board and ask learners to think back to the last pep talk they received from a manager or leader at work. What sorts of things did this person say? Do they give pep talks to their team members? What do they include in these messages?
    • Introduce learners to the three elements of pep talks: direction giving or uncertainty-reducing language, empathetic language and meaning-making language which Milton and Jacqueline Mayfield discovered were shared across motivating messages from different domains such as sports and sales.
    • Distribute the jumbled functions and ask learners to put them in these three categories.
  • Get learners to work in pairs or groups to come up with expressions for these functions which make sense to them within the context of their jobs.
  • Ask learners to discuss which of the three would be most difficult to incorporate into a motivating message  (The research suggests it’s meaning-making, for example, imagine how challenging this might be for a fast-food outlet manager trying to motivate his part-time employees to perform better).
  • Signpost the following speech and explain that it was spoken by Erica Galos Alioto, a sales leader at the popular social media company, Yelp. Sections of this speech have a number after them – ask learners to review these sections and decide which of the four techniques Alioto uses to motivate her team.

Let me just say how impressed I am with this group … Thank you for being the top office in Yelp right now, and for welcoming me with such incredible energy.

Right now the New York office is leading the company with 104% of quota, and there are two days left in the month. That’s absolutely insane.… Colleen is at $80,000. I tried to say hello to her yesterday, but she was on the phone, pitching like a madwoman, so I couldn’t ….1

Everybody knows how amazing the last day of the month is in the New York office. But LDOM isn’t really about the day of the month. It’s about how we approach that day. There’s something about that particular day that makes us come in with the ridiculous amount of grit and determination, the ability to make the unthinkable happen,2 the energy to achieve just about anything so that no matter where we are in relation to quota, we’re going to win. All those people who’ve been telling us no all month long—we’re going to turn that around and get a yes….3

Hopefully everybody has a pen and paper. I want you all to take a moment and write down what success looks like for you today. It may be how many business owners you talked to, or how many hearts and minds you won.… Write it down.4

When you woke up this morning, what was your mentality? Sometimes we get into negative self-talk. Sometimes it may sound like this: “Why is Jon at target today? He must have a really great territory.” Sometimes we believe if somebody is achieving something that we’re not, it must be because the other person has some advantage.5

Guess what? We also have plenty of examples of what people think of as a bad territory, and we put somebody new on it, and they go out and absolutely crush it.

If there’s anything negative in your thinking, I encourage you to turn that thinking on its head. Instead of looking at the differences between you and somebody else with a lot of success, look for similarities.6

We’ve got two days to make it happen. Everything you do today, every action you take to make that successful outcome, every time you pitch, every business owner you talk to, every time you encourage a teammate to be better, every time you win the heart and mind of a business owner, you’re not only helping yourself—you’re helping your team, you’re helping your office, you’re helping your company, and you’re helping Yelp get where it wants to be.7

Source: McGinn, D. The Science of Pep Talks. HBR Jul-Aug 2017

Here’s the answer key:

1: Empathetic language – Praising the group and individual contributions 
2: Meaning-making language – Portraying LDOM as a significant event and connecting the reps’ actions to a larger goal 
3: Empathetic language – Acknowledging that some people are lagging, but emphasizing their self-efficacy and resilience 
4: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Offering specific guidance on how to approach the day’s task 
5: Empathetic language – Recognizing employees’ tendency to get discouraged, rather than be emboldened, by colleagues’ success 
6: Direction giving or uncertainty reducing language – Instructing reps to avoid negativity 
7: Meaning-making language – Connecting today’s work to the company’s larger goal.

  • Ask learners to reflect on their own leaders’ pep talks; do they have these three elements? What about their own pep talks?
  • Learners then work in groups to create notes on a pep talk for their team members which incorporates these three techniques. Ask them to use Alioto’s speech as a guide but create something more concise, which they can then pitch to their peers.
  • You may want to combine this with a session that explores techniques for using the voice effectively.

Image attribution: Pep talk by Kenneth Moore | Flickr |CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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One thought on “The language of pep talks | An evidence-based activity

  1. Hi, Adi –

    Thank you for that enthusiastic post, full of “pep!”

    It has a lot of useful information – quite a bit to process! I had a quick look Jumble Pep Talk activity handout – and have this question: How do expressions that offer praise and encouragement, and expressions that express gratitude come under the group, ‘Empathetic Language?’ (Acknowledging a task’s difficulty is being empathetic – I agree.)

    And why couldn’t you find a clean example of “pep talk” from an American movie? Have you forgotten the watershed moment in Warner Brothers’ My Fair Lady – just before Eliza ‘gets IT!’

    Hear Professor’s Higgins’ pep talk in this clip – it is a mixture of expressions from all three categories!

    Howzthat for locating a clip with the language of motivation in the ambit of ELT ?!

    Thank you ever so much for being our “Professor Higgins!”

    Have a good day!

    Ravi

    Like

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