Simple tips for giving an effective ‘pep’ talk


By Elisabeth Goodman, 12th July 2017

HBR The Science of Pep Talks.JPG

The Science of Pep Talks, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2017

I wrote in a recent RiverRhee newsletter about Inspirational Leadership, and posted a LinkedIn article about Achieving Resonance in our Communications, so it was fascinating to read an HBR article that somehow combines the two!

David McGinn is the author of “Psyched Up: How the science of mental preparation can help you succeed”.  His article in the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, “The Science of Pep Talks” (pp. 133-137), is based on that.

Like all good HBR articles, this one comes with a check-list of elements that will help anyone seeking to inspire and motivate their audience towards action.  There are three pointers:

  1. Direction giving. Include a very clear message on what you expect people to do and, if appropriate, how they should do this.  This will also reduce any uncertainty or confusion.
  2. Empathy.  Connect with your audience by acknowledging what they are experiencing and feeling.  Give individuals and teams appropriate praise for their achievements, and express gratitude for their contributions.
  3. Meaning making.  Link the overall purpose of what you are seeking to achieve, with the audience’s own.  This connects your organisation’s or team’s purpose with individual motivation whatever it might be. It combines the why with the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

McGinn suggests also that, in an effective pep talk, the speaker will adjust the balance between the three elements depending on what people need.  If they are very clear on what is expected and why, then it may be mainly empathy that’s needed.  If they are already very motivated, then perhaps just a bit of direction giving.  And so on…

The article includes a nice case study to illustrate this too.

Concluding thoughts

These are all familiar messages in terms of effective leadership and effective communication.  They certainly resonate with me.

It will be interesting now to listen to people giving motivational talks with these three elements in mind.  To what extent do “pep” talks actually combine all three?

These will be interesting points for me to consider as we deliver a couple of RiverRhee’s newer courses in the autumn on Transition to Leadership, and Presentation Skills.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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