Few people can compose captivating sound bites in a single sitting. Don’t give up. You can develop media-friendly sound bites.
Great sound bites are all around you. Listen closely during conversations with friends and colleagues. What are intended as throwaway comments during casual banter often contain a gem worth saving—so keep pen and paper nearby to record the unexpected verbal emerald or sapphire.
Marcia Yudkin, the “Head Stork” of Named At Last, a naming and tagline development company, came up with 17 tips to help spokespersons create memorable sound bites.
I highly recommend her e-book The Sound Bite Workbook. Among other ideas, she advises spokespersons to brainstorm a list of keywords related to their topic area, look in a thesaurus for unexpected word options, and identify relevant homophones.
Below, you’ll find 10 types of sound bites the media regularly quote, along with examples for each. (Thanks to Marcia for her help with this list.)
1. Similes, metaphors and analogies: “It’s as if Republicans and Democrats are planning a trip, but they disagree over whether you should start the trip from Buenos Aires or Greenland.” —Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center
2. Triples: “We help ordinary people get rich without working on Wall Street, inheriting wealth or marrying a millionaire.”
3. Rhetorical questions: “More than 600,000 Americans lost their jobs last month. How many more families need to lose their economic lifeline before Congress acts?”
4. Contrasts, conflicts or paradoxes: “Our food is fresh. Our customers are spoiled.” —FreshDirect, online grocer
5. Definitiveness or power: “We are in this to win.” —Gen. David Petraeus
6. Superlatives: “This is the biggest technological advance in 50 years in the oil business.” —Philip Crouse, oil analyst
7. Pop culture: “There’s a greater likelihood that I’ll be asked by Madonna to go on tour as her bass player than I’ll be picked to be on the ticket.” —Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, assessing his chances of becoming Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012
8. Emotions: “As a New Yorker, I am absolutely horrified by what happened in my city last night.” —Commenter on Daily Kos website about alleged police brutality at a local protest
9. Surprise twist: “I will not exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” —President Ronald Reagan, defusing accusations that he was too old for a second term
10. Tweaked clichés: “Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does grow faster in credit unions without those greedy big-bank fees.”
Brad Phillips is president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books: “The Media Training Bible” and “101 Ways to Open a Speech.”