The Art of the Soundbite

Any good PR firm will conduct an in-depth media training – but only a great PR firm will train you on the art of speaking in soundbites. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a soundbite is “a short sentence or phrase that is easy to remember, often included in a speech made by a politician and repeated in newspapers and on television and radio.” While I’m no politician, there’s no arguing that they have *perfected* the art of the soundbite.

For instance, have you ever heard the quote, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”? Pulled from the first inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, it is arguably one of the most famous soundbites out there (and probably the only line you can recall from his 1,883-word, 20-minute-long inaugural address).

Or how about “my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961? Said over half a century ago, this quote is still one of the most recognizable statements out there today.

So, the question becomes – aside from being a trained politician who has someone on staff to write every word, how do you create an authentic soundbite, so legendary, it lives on for generations (or at least long enough to make it into their article)?

  • Determine the top-line message you want to convey in each conversation
  • Boil down that message into a single sentence, or even better, just a few words
  • Practice, practice, practice – practice makes perfect, and perfect makes for a soundbite the media can’t help but to remember

At FiComm, we encourage our clients to prepare for interviews with the three main messages they want to convey and try to keep responses to thirty seconds or less. Studies show that the average person has an attention span of eight seconds, and, in today’s day in age, reporters are looking for quotes that can ensure they keep readers attention the full way through – or easily translate into the 280-character limit on Twitter. In our experience, not only can speaking in soundbites ensure your quote is included in the article, but it also helps to communicate your message in a way that is easily digestible and memorable to the public at large.

I was reading an article in ThinkAdvisor last month – “How to Cut Through the Digital Clutter to Give Curated Advice” – that discussed how essential it is for financial advisors to cut through the noise of the information age, to ensure their clients are absorbing the advice they are providing. I think the same argument should be made for those interested in ensuring their messaging points are consumed by the demographic they are targeting. By speaking in soundbites, you are essentially cutting through the “noise” and providing your audience with memorable quotes that they are more likely to share within their circles of influence.

Speaking in soundbites is also the most efficient way to conduct an interview. For example, are you participating in a broadcast interview? Keep in mind that a 5-minute conversation may only translate to a 30-second TV appearance. Ask yourself, is your message succinct enough to be included in that timeframe? Or if you are on a phone interview, think about the fact that reporter is probably interviewing multiple sources on the same topic. Are your comments condensed (and original) enough for them to include?

If the answer is no, it’s time to rethink how you are conveying your message. Take the time to write down your messaging points ahead of each interview and practice communicating the points with your colleagues or PR firm. They can help you determine if there may be a shorter way to frame the message or establish a more exciting angle that you never considered. Always remember— you are there to be a useful resource to the media. They want to talk to you because you are the expert. The more efficient and impactful that you can make the interview, the more likely they are to come back for more.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “Brevity is the soul of wit” — and your best shot at providing a quote that’ll last through the ages.