Secret ingredients to motivating messages

How do I keep everyone positive, when everything seems so negative?

A great question; it’s one we were asked frequently at the height of preparations for WA’s coronavirus lockdown, when employers were sending their teams home.

Let’s face it, a great motivating message is easy when things are going well, or when an end goal is in sight.

The early stages of COVID-19 were unique – with no immediately visible end to the journey, it was important to keep people motivated as they headed off into an uncertain future. While it was straightforward to motivate people to head home to keep them safe and healthy, keeping them motivated once the reality of remote working and not being able to visit friends, family and colleagues really set in was a greater challenge.

Messaging is a critical skill at any time. The ability cut through the daily clutter and grab people’s attention is increasingly hard, and most messages require repetition across multiple channels of delivery to sink in.

In many work environments, messages are delivered in an impersonal way, in strange corporate speak, and frequently couched in the jargon of the business or sector.

Messages communicated in person allow real emotions – excitement, enthusiasm, empathy – to be conveyed. This is why bringing the spirit of in-person communications to corporate messaging was critical during the peak of COVID-19 – it helped maintain a sense of human connection.

During the period, Clarity wrote and scripted messages for team meetings, emails, websites and videos, and we reflected on the six ‘secret ingredients’ in a great motivating message.

1. Informality – say it like people would in normal conversation. A motivating message must be delivered in language that people easily understand (and we don’t mean English) – it must be in the words and phrases that they use in their daily life with family and friends.

2. Empathy and connection – COVID-19 was very unusual because, “we were all in this together”. In other words, even the most senior leader was facing the same challenges as their most junior staff. This should have made it easier to project messages with empathy, tapping into common fears and concerns for the immediate and long-term future.

3. Hope – even if you don’t know the end journey, you can at least be positive about the next step. As people were sent home to an unknown future, it was still possible to provide hope on a wide range of issues, from the organisation staying strong to support they would receive, or the fact that good IT systems meant everyone would stay connected.

4. Enthusiasm – to deliver hope meaningfully, a sense of enthusiasm about the next step being taken is essential – a message that is completely passive will fail to give people hope. It is easier to convey enthusiasm in person than it is by text. Ensuring your ‘voice’ has enthusiasm as you deliver messages to remote teams or large customer bases requires you to pay special attention to the words and phrases being used. Too much enthusiasm and you look out of touch, not enough and people will be left demotivated.

5. Help – in difficult times it’s important for everyone to play their part. When you want help simply to keep the ship sailing, ask for it in terms that people can understand clearly. The majority of teams and customers are loyal and want to play their part, so the clearer you are on what’s required the better they can respond and the more effective they’ll be.

6. Story – if you need to capture all of the above in a single method, tell a story about what’s about to happen, or what has already happened, from your point of view. Don’t deliver a series of statements; weave them into a story about the bigger picture that becomes one big message. Use examples, illustrations and your own circumstances – people will relate to what you’re experiencing more than anything else if it is also directly relevant to them.

During the height of COVID-19, organisations had many different reasons to motivate their audience. Some needed staff to work effectively in unusual circumstances; some wanted customers to stay loyal for an unknown period; others needed family and friends not to visit loved ones in care situations.

In all cases those organisations needed these six secret ingredients to deliver messages that would motivate the right behaviours.

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Anthony Hasluck
Managing Director

Anthony Hasluck - Managing Director of Clarity Communications

Anthony is the majority owner of Western Australia’s largest independent public relations agency, Clarity Communications. In addition to his managerial and consulting activities connected with Clarity, Anthony is a Director of Racing and Wagering WA (RWWA).