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Media Training: Sound Bites

  March 6, 2022

Politicians are often accused of speaking only in "sound bites"--not directly answering reporters' questions but instead falling back on prepared responses that are more spin than substance. They can come off as evasive.  But if you look at it from their perspective, they are simply staying on message.  

For business people who find themselves in the media spotlight, it is vital to stay on message and that means learning to speak in sound bites. But the sound bites must be carefully crafted or you too could be seen as evasive.  A sound bite is a tool to use in broadcast interviews.  It means clear, concise responses that help you tell your story, promote your business, or protect your brand.  

If you are new to broadcast interviews, and you haven't been media trained, you may ramble or get flustered.  The best way to avoid that awkward scenario is to prepare main talking points and form them in to sound bites.  In other words, shorter and memorable responses.  Sometimes your "live" broadcast interview will run only 2-3 minutes.  So, unless you want to only get in a single response, you need to shorten things up.  

Even for taped interviews, I recommend keeping things tight.  A reporter and crew may spend an hour at your business; setting up the shoot and conducing an interview to be included in the reporter's assigned story.  Still, your interview will be cut down to perhaps a single, thirty second sound bite.  Obviously you want to make it count.  Here are a few tips:

  • Speak in complete sentences.
  • Don't give a simple "yes" or "no" response.
  • Try to repeat or rephrase the question in your answer. Example: "When will you launch your new product?"  A good response would be, "We're excited to say we will launch (insert the name of the product) next month."   It's true that a shorter response would be, "Next month."  But that doesn't give you the opportunity to plug the product in your answer.
  • However, do not repeat a negative about your business in your response to a pointed question.  Example: "Isn't is true that your company uses cheap parts?"  Do not respond, "No, ABC company does not use cheap parts."  Instead try, "At ABC Company we work hard to keep costs down for our customers, while delivering the quality they expect from us."
  • You may be amazed at how much you can actually say in thirty second or even fifteen seconds. I'm talking about quality information about you or your business.  
  • Be confident in what you are saying.  Know when to stop. Once you have given your clear, concise answer, do not feel the need to keep going on and on if the reporter doesn't immediately jump in with the next question.  Investigative reporters tend to use this technique to get an interview subject to say more than he is prepared to.  They know the silence before they ask the next question, can be unnerving. 
  • Practice speaking in sound bites in your every day life. 
  • If you try to get too cute with your sound bites, it could backfire on you.  It's kind of like a tweet you regret almost as soon as you post.  On live TV, you can't take it back.

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