The science behind an effective pep talk

Do you ever find yourself in the position of having to give a pep talk?

Maybe you’re a counselor who needs to light an application fire under your seniors. Maybe you’re a team captain who needs to get your teammates committed to the summer workout schedule you’re proposing. Maybe you’re a parent who’s trying to rally your fellow parents to get more involved in your PTA.

Whatever your role or the group you need to pep up, it turns out there’s actually some science behind the most effective way to rally your troops. As shared in “The Science of Pep Talks,” there are key elements behind an effective pep talk.

1. Offer clear direction. People will be a lot more likely to take the actions you hope they’ll take when you give them clear definitions of what needs to be done, easily understandable instructions, and details about just what success looks like.

2. Express empathy. Many of us have sat through a failed pep talk where the person trying to motivate us seemed more concerned with the outcome than with the people expected to produce it. But a pep-talker who shows concern for the audience as human beings, who offers an acknowledgement of just how difficult the task is, sincere praise, gratitude, etc.—is more likely to connect with her audience and inspire them to take action.

3. Help people make meaning. Don’t just explain the task; explain why the task is important. Connect the mission to the listener’s goals. Tell stories about people who’ve succeeded in this role, or about the difference that the organization has made for its constituents.

It’s the difference between:

“If you start early on your applications and your essays, you can finish early and enjoy a real holiday break…”


“Last year, 40 of my seniors were sitting right where you’re sitting. They had all their applications and essays in front of them. They were nervous and maybe even a little overwhelmed by how much work they had to do. But they started early, they did a little bit each week, and they just made steady progress without ever pulling a frantic application all-nighter. By Thanksgiving, they’d submitted everything and were done with their college applications. In fact, many of them had already been admitted to colleges. And most of their friends hadn’t even started yet.”

The article explains how the best pep-talkers adapt the formula depending on the group and the task at hand, but the approach remains the same: offer clear direction, express empathy, and make meaning.