It’s a question that we frequently hear during the introductory section of our Media Training courses. What is a soundbite? In fact, most people have an idea of what it is, but they still want to know more about it.
Soundbites have had a bad rep over the last few years. They’re often associated with glib, shallow communications and politicians who are all promise and no delivery.
We work with politicians, campaigners and the leaders of charities and pressure groups, so we can understand why people might be concerned about this.
However, as we explain in our media coaching sessions, being clear on your soundbite is essential to enable you to gain more control of the interview and give the journalist what they’re looking for. If an interviewee can provide a good soundbite at the start of the interview, the journalist is often too pleased to use it. This is because they don’t have to look through pages of notes or hours of video or audio to find what they should be quoting in their report.
How to use a soundbite
A soundbite is essentially a punchy, memorable comment that is around 15 seconds long. That’s about 45 words, given the usual broadcast delivery pace of three words per second. It also translates as about two sentences. It should summarise your entire message and, even more importantly, be easily understandable and easily remembered.
We stress the importance of including examples and stories during our media training workshops. Therefore, we advise our course participants to include a mini case study or example in their soundbite. This has to be very short, but it is still possible to make a little illustration of one of your sentences and then include your key point in the second sentence.
One other thing to bear in mind with a soundbite is that the audience won’t hear the journalist’s question. Very often, there might be a set-up shot, perhaps you working at your desk, walking along, or even making a cup of tea and then there is a shot of you delivering your soundbite. As we explain in our Media Training courses, this means that when you’re giving your soundbite, you can’t say, “Yes, that’s right…or “Oh, no, I don’t think so.” Your soundbite has to be self-contained – think of it as delivering a statement rather than answering a question.
When was the soundbite invented?
Most experts agree that soundbites began to be used in the late 60s and 70s in the US as politics became more professional and television and radio started to reduce the length of reports and interviews, speeding up their political coverage.
According to research, 50 years ago, the average soundbite from a politician or business leader was about 45 to 60 seconds. It’s been contracting ever since. In the US, some soundbites are now just about eight seconds long, and this trend will probably continue.
Soundbites might be associated with broadcast media, but thinking of a short punchy phrase and repeating it a few times during a print media interview can also work well.
The press equivalent of a soundbite
In the press, a soundbite is usually known as a “pull quote.” That’s because it’s “pulled” out of the main article or “body copy” and put somewhere prominent on the page or screen.
This helps to break up the text and make the layout look more inviting, increasing the chances of people stopping to read it. A pull quote also gives the person quoted more prominence in the piece, so you should think about your pull quote or soundbite during a print interview and repeat it to drive it home.
As we say to the participants in our media training courses, journalists always look for soundbites.
Therefore, you can leave it up to them to identify one from your conversation, or you can take control and repeat and drive home your own soundbite. If it’s short, punchy, striking and relevant to the story, then the journalist will be happy to use it – and you’ll create a win-win.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy
“Let’s Get Brexit Done.” Boris Johnson
“A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.” Tony Blair
“Do what you love, and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a successful career.” Meg Whitman
“I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” Jeff Bezos.
“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” Anita Roddick.
London Media Training
At Communicate Media, the person you speak to about your Media Training course is the person who delivers it.
Our team can help you understand, create and deliver an effective and memorable soundbite.