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Yes, Virginia, There Is… (The Importance of Sound Bites)

“Yes, Virginia, there is…” I don’t need to finish the quote, you know how it ends. For those few of you that don’t, it’s Santa Claus’ famous line from Miracle on 34th Street. Some of you might even know the sound bite’s true newspaper origins. You know this quote because sound bites are memorable.

In news, these memorable lines are known as sound bites. We’ve all heard (and likely repeated) sound bites. Sound bites don’t happen by accident. Some of the most memorable ones were deliberately created, painstakingly rehearsed, and executed flawlessly to live on forever.

Some of my favorite sound bites include:

  • “We had a miracle on 34th Street.  I believe now we have had a miracle on the Hudson.” (New York State Governor David Paterson on the USAir Ways flight that crashed in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009)
  • “Read my lips: No new taxes.” (Then presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination on Aug. 18)
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.” (The most famous phrase in John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address in 1961)

These three sound bites span almost 40 years, yet I bet you know each one, no matter your age.  Sound bites, when well crafted and delivered, can be powerful tools to advance your message. You don’t have to be a politician to put sound bites to work for you. Here is an overview of what makes a good sound bite and how you can create one to make your speeches and presentations more memorable.

What makes a good sound bite?

A sound bite is a short phrase from part of a speech or interview that captures the essence of the topic in a memorable way.

In a 10-minute speech or interview, an audience may remember only a couple of the elements covered.  To ensure they walk away with at least one point—and hopefully the single most important—consider creating a sound bite.  By using a sound bite, an audience is more likely to remember—and therefore repeat—what you are intending to communicate.

Remember, in the age of Twitter and other social media, many of your sound bites during a presentation will be shared over and over again. Some of the most-Tweeted sound bites include timely statistics or research, sensational quotes, or something that makes your audience say ‘I didn’t know that.’

How to create a sound bite:

Here are some tips for getting started creating sound bites.

  • Sound bites should be short – shoot for 15 words or less (or 140 characters if you will)
  • Sound bites should be memorable
  • Use alliteration, as John Kennedy and David Paterson did above
  • Be sassy, as George H.W. Bush did above – when using sass, be careful. The sound bite may become memorable for the wrong reasons. This sound bite become even more infamous because Bush did not follow through on his promise.
  • Sound bites should capture your most important point.  Don’t waste a sound bite on something that is not important to your message or you risk changing what media will cover.

How to successfully deliver a sound bite:

  • Practice, practice, practice.  Governor David Paterson nearly flubbed his Miracle on the Hudson line.  His delivery made it obvious that he was purposely trying to insert a sound bite.  The best sound bites seem flawless and natural.
  • Anticipate questions you may be asked in an interview and think through potential answers.
  • Build-in memorable lines with your core messaging so that no matter the situation, you have something to fall back on.

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