How to Drop a Sound Bite With Maximum Impact
When I do media training sessions I’ve learned people are usually pretty surprised when I tell them that more than 95% of what’s said during most recorded media interviews is never used on air. It ends up on the editing room floor.
People seem disappointed to learn that so little of most interviews are used, and somewhat frustrated that reporters seem overly ready to pounce on a catchy phrase and aren’t interested in more meaty comments.
That's the way the game is played. If you want to win, you have to play the sound bite game.
What is a Sound Bite?
It’s a short phrase, usually one sentence that captures what you’re saying, thinking or feeling in a colorful, conversational way. We’re not used to speaking in sound bites because we learn how to have a conversation and have no need to drop in the odd sound bite here and there. During media interviews you do. It’s what reporters want to take away from most interviews.
A typical recorded media interview lasts somewhere between three and five minutes. Generally speaking, a reporter will want to get somebody’s side to the story, their thoughts, their reaction to something that has happened, or perhaps their announcement.
The average person speaks between 110 and 150 words per minute, so in a four-minute interview about 520 words will have been spoken. Taking out questions from the reporter, I would estimate that would leave somewhere around 400 words spoken by the person being interviewed.
In some cases, a TV reporter will only pull one sound bite from the interview, which may only be ten words in length. 10 words out of 400 is 2.5%, meaning 97.5% of what was said in the interview was never used on air. A reporter may write other parts of the person’s comments into their script, but people being interviewed need to understand that very little of what they say will ever make it to the air, or as a quote in a newspaper.
Even if two sound bites are used, just 5% of the words spoken in the interview will make it to air, which also means 95% of what’s said won’t be. That doesn’t mean you can say stupid things during the rest of the interview, but it does mean the most important words you’ll say to most reporters will come in the form of sound bites.
Keep in mind, with more and more staff cuts in the media, there are fewer reporters to do the same job. If you give them what they’re looking for it’s a win-win for you and the reporter.
Preparing Sound Bites With Bite
When you prepare for an interview, take a step back and ask yourself what you’re trying to say. Whether you’re commenting on the latest government announcement, giving your side to the story surrounding a decision to cut funding or services, or talking about your charity event, there’s usually a common theme to what you’re talking about. Ask yourself if there’s a way to sum up what you’re saying in a short, conversational way.
Here are some examples using the topics I just mentioned:
Latest government announcement
This has been the biggest government failure in years. It's an embarrassment.
I’m worried people who need the help the most will end up in the streets freezing on cold winter nights.
The people running in this event know we’ll find a cure for cancer and they’re here to make it happen.
All three comments are short and while none give a full description of most of your comments in the interview, they nicely sum up what you’re saying. This allows the reporter for the first couple of stories to say something like “Jane Smith isn’t happy with the decision” and then run the short sound bite of you. Basically the reporter’s words set up your sound bite.
Short Term Sound Bite Pain
Last week I was doing two days of media training for one of my favourite clients, the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society (CAMSS). The group represents physicians, who are involved in everything from surgeries, to delivering babies, to lab tests and more. I’ve really enjoyed my work with CAMSS because doctors seem eager to learn everything they can to make their media interviews more successful.
In one of the issues we were working on we decided that the phrase “Short term pain for long term gain” would be a catchy sound bite to use. Unfortunately each time it was repeated in interviews, it didn’t sound natural. Lesson learned. If you’re going to use a sound bite, make sure it rolls of the tongue easily.
It also helps to pause after finishing the sound bite, making it more dramatic and providing an easier edit point for the technical crew. Sound bites are the most effective when they cover an entire sentence, or finish a sentence. It’s a natural speech pattern for the voice to give a slight downward inflection at the end of a sentence, resulting in your sound bite being nicely packaged.
Doubling Down on Sound Bites
I suggest once you master being able to create and use a sound bite effectively, step up your game and try to drop a second sound bite into an interview. The same rules apply.
Think of a second message you would like the reporter to use. The sound bite could just be a second version of your first sound bite, or in other words the same message said in a different way. It could also be about something else in the interview. Perhaps your first sound bite relates to the effect government cuts will have on homeless people, while your second sound bite hits the government for being so uncaring. “Some people may die from this, but the government couldn’t care less”, may work quite nicely.
See how easy it is?
I now offer live online media training. It works great for anyone who wants to get prepared to speak to the news media. Here's more information on a way you can get media training without leaving your home or office.