I remember the first time I realized that most media quotes were a manufactured product of some clever PR team. I was a bright-eyed and hungry college graduate who had just landed a coveted gig at the second largest independent PR firm in the world. Having this realization was sort of like finding out there wasn’t a mythical word wizard Santa Clause. Suddenly all the memorable quotes I’d heard over the years seemed a bit tarnished.
While at first disheartening, I soon began to realize the complexity of communications and the vast combination of art and engineering that goes on behind the scenes to create the perfect moment. By submerging myself in my clients’ business and learning all the ins and outs of their industry, I was able to start seeing trends and storytelling opportunities that they had been oblivious to. This level of knowledge and keen eye for storytelling has proved fruitful over the years. Helping my clients find their own authentic voice has become a passion of mine.
Despite many clients’ fear of media training (I’ve heard it compared to a trip to the dentist), if done right, it should be a well-oiled tool, highlighting a spokesperson’s natural assets and making them feel more confident when faced with tough questions.
So what makes a good sound bite? While I do not believe there’s a silver bullet, one-size-fits all solution, effective spokespeople with compelling sound bites share certain basic characteristics:
- Concise Answers: Follow a simple structure—nouns and verbs in an active voice. Get to the point with minimum words.
- Customization: Avoid jargon. Be authentic. Make it real. Show that you know the audience.
- Color: Make it interesting. Don’t be afraid to show emotion.
- Call to Action: Include a clear call to action (call us, visit our website, etc.).
Now that you know the key ingredients, here are a few sound bites to help illustrate:
“Until you know what is driving a patient’s cancer, you really don’t have any chance of getting it right. For the past 40 years, we have been sending generals into battle without a map of the battlefield. What we are doing now is building the map.” — Dr. Timothy Ley, associate director of the Washington University’s genome institute
“Trying to run Congress without human relationships is like trying to run a car without motor oil. Should we be surprised when the whole thing freezes up?” — Jonathan Haidt at a TED talk