A sound bite is the golden goose of the PR world – it produces replays over and over, long past the initial speech or interview.

Sound bites need planning, deliberate thought and writing. In advance.

Getting started, it is important that you don’t overthink the sound bite. Sound bites are simple. In fact the point of a sound bite is simplicity itself… a 10 second clip that encapsulates a concept, issue or statement in a simple clear method.

Ready for a really simple sample?

“Ontario requires a robust Rural economy to recover.”

You will notice, I am not trying to teach anything. This is blunt and opinionated. You can instantly see several assumptions and a strong position in just those eight words. Poetry? No. Clear? Yes. And just a bit of alliteration for fun. Hmm.. what is a synonym for economy that starts with an “r”? Maybe… “Ontario requires a robust Rural reinvestment to recover.” Nah, too forced. Too cute.

We could then play with different versions – shorter, longer, more detailed.

“Recovery in Ontario requires Rural.”

“Ontario requires a robust Rural economy to recover – agriculture, processing our own resources, recreation and tourism provide a potential for $12B in additional tax revenues each and every year.”

Would every journalist know where I stand? Would my audience? That is what you are after.

The point of a sound bite is, ideally, to do three things:

  • Allow the journalist to know what you think is the crux of the interview or speech
  • Use the fewest words for the greatest impact
  • Create a clip of sound or video that – even when taken out of context – provides a satisfying whole and,
  • Meet your purpose for speaking.

There is a lot of repetition required in good public relations so do not be afraid to use the same sound bite(s) at every opportunity – sometimes two or three times in the same appearance! Of course you will use different stories and details in each presentation, but the sound bites need to be consistent.

Some individuals even opt for a theme so that every sound bite starts or ends with the same three words that match the theme of the campaign.
eg. “It is time for…”   or “We have heard your need for…”  or   “…and that is our guarantee to you.”

Specifically choosing, in advance, the way you want to be quoted is essential. The more useful your sound bite, the more likely that it will be the part of your presentation that gets used. If you are in an interview that just seems to drag on and on, chances are, the journalist is still waiting for the sound bite. Something solid they can clip to use on the air, as a caption in their article, or even just so that they understand your point. Do them a favour and plan this in advance. You may even want to have a copy in front of you or some item to remind you to say your sound bite.

Zig Ziglar used to prepare his audience “I am going to say something profound…” in order to be sure they would not miss the profound piece of his message.

Similarly you can “flag” your summary statement with a full pause followed by:

  • “To sum it up…”
  • “At the end of the day…”
  • “Bottom line? …”
  • “The key issue here is…”

The state it very clearly in 10-15 words. Full stop.

Why the emphasis on full pause and full stop? To make it easy to select the text and not sound like anything is missing. Your sound bite does not usually include the voice of the interviewer asking the question – so starting with “That is true Jim and that is why…” creates an unusable clip.

Similarly leave out phrases like:

  • “My competitor would tell you that…”
  • “I don’t want you to think that I…” (I am not a crook)
  • “I don’t know if everyone will agree with this…”

Journalists are looking for solid, bold statements of fact, not wishy washy, whiny nonsense.

Advanced Sound Bites

Yes, in the advanced version a soundbite is a carefully crafted accomplishment of prose that approaches poetry. Phrases that trip off the tongue in a sing-song memorable way that people want to repeat.

If you have ever been a Reader’s Digest reader you will have experienced their feature section “Quotable Quotes”. This section is made up of sound bites. Brainy Quotes is a great resource for inspiration as well… just keep your sound bite true to you, your message, your purpose and your persona.

“Ask not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country.” JFK

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” Zig Ziglar

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Simple Sound Bites... a baby could do it?While it is valuable to aspire to this…

Start anyway

Start simple

Start now

Start simple, and later hone your soundbites, improving them over time. If you let perfection stop you from starting you will be caught off guard and the journalist will have to pick what they think you meant, or choose a gaffe in your presentation as the piece they use.

Write out a simple sound bite right now. One that captures your key message. Now eliminate any extraneous words. Delete anything preachy or teach-y. Strengthen the verbs. Put in active and positive voice.

Now. Say it out loud to yourself and your dog until it sounds natural. Try it on your marketing manager or campaign manager. Try it on a donor or volunteer or customer. What meaning do they get from that statement? Is that precisely what you hoped? If not, refine it and test again.

Elements of a Sound Bite

Depending on how you slice it, there are about half a dozen structures of advanced sound bites that include a mix of:

  • Create a Simple Way to View Something Complex
    • Analogy
    • Metaphor
  • Emotional Appeal
  • Action Oriented – Active Verbs
  • Humour (be careful here)
  • Surprising Stats
  • Simple Stories
  • Use Visual Words (or other senses)
  • Attacks
  • Rhetorical Question-Answer Pair
  • Specific Examples
  • Triads – the power of three: three pillars, three examples, three points
  • Cliches
  • Promises
  • Challenges
  • Call to Action

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