Listening for the Motive of a Presentation's Message

Instructor: David White
A motive can sometimes be tricky to identify, particularly if the presenter doesn't want you to know what it is. Through this lesson, you will learn about some techniques for identifying the motive in a message and explore some examples of how they work.

The Meaning in the Message

Imagine that you're at the counter in a coffee shop and you're looking up at the menu trying to figure out what to order. Before you've made a decision, the server says 'you should try our new pumpkin spice latte; I had one this morning and they're amazing.' In this case, it's fairly obvious that the server is trying to sell you something, usually for a particular reason. How many times a day do you experience these types of communications without ever considering the motive behind the message?

A motive is a reason that someone does or says something. It's important to recognize that in many cases the motive is different from the message. Consider the message of the typical beer commercial: 'this beer is delicious and you and your friends will have fun while drinking it.' The motive of the advertisement isn't to tell you how great the beer is; rather it is to sell beer to consumers.

Sometimes the motive is easy to identify (i.e. you know that advertisements are intended to sell something), but other times it can be ambiguous or even a total mystery. This is because there are times when a person may not want their true motive to be known. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to develop better skills for listening and interpretation.

It's important to remember that identifying a motive relies very much on the amount of knowledge and information that you have. Given that, there are times when you simply won't be able to uncover the motive, or you'll think you have but get it wrong.

Field of Expression

Information and communication is presented to us in a number of ways, through many different formats. Conversations, public speeches, or movies, for example, are all ways of presenting a message to an audience. The thing that these formats have in common is that they all involve a person or people, which can be the best way to uncover a motive behind the message.

When we communicate with others, we tend to interpret their message based on their field of expression. This term refers to the ways in which a person communicates, including their words, tone, and body language, to which we then apply meaning. If you were buying a new car, for example, the salesman would probably be very friendly and casual with you as he extols the virtue of each car that you are interested in. Pretend for a minute that you don't know the salesman's motive for presenting in this way - there is a way to uncover that motive using some basic analysis and your own experience.

The best tool that you have in these situations is your own prior knowledge, or the things that you've learned throughout your life. In this case, you know that the job of a salesman is to sell you something, often at the highest price that they can possible get. Your prior knowledge also allows you to compare one thing, like a behavior, against others. The salesman's overly friendly and enthusiastic tone, for example, can be compared to the behavior of other strangers that you've engaged with over time. Finally, your own intentions or position in the experience will provide some clues as to the motive.

When you put all of these things together, you get this: 1) the salesman's job is to sell cars, often at the highest price that they can get; 2) most strangers aren't this enthusiastic and friendly toward you unless they want something; 3) you are there with the intention of buying a car.

Based on analysis of the salesman's field of expression, a consideration of your prior experiences, and your own position, the logical conclusion is that the salesman's motive (the reason for the message) is to sell you a car.

Conventional Roles

In the previous example, it's fairly easy to identify the motive because you have a lot of information and can observe the field of expression. Moreover, you can quickly and easily identify the salesman's motive because of his clearly defined role. In psychology and sociology, a role is characterized as a position that is associated with certain behaviors and objectives. For example, police officer is a role because a person with that job acts in a certain way that is intended to serve the goal of enforcing the law.

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