Mastering the Nine Second Sound Bite

01.14.2011 | Holly Zuluaga

Time is precious. We are a society driven by deadlines and fast paced schedules, so it’s no wonder capturing people’s attention is a difficult task.

Communiqué PR recently tweeted about a NPR story titled, “The Incredible Shrinking Sound Bite.” The article explores the history behind the length of sound bites in the media. Today the average sound bite is just nine seconds! But according to NPR that wasn’t always the case. Back in 1968 the average sound bite was 43 seconds. Since then the time allotted for individuals to speak has shrunk considerably. Spokespeople, like politicians, have learned to adapt.

NPR’s story offers tips from political speakers that I believe are helpful for anyone providing an interview. Consider the following:

  1. Strong Words: Nine seconds may seem like an unreasonable amount of time to get your point across, but consider what purpose your sound bite serves. The average length of a TV news story is a minute and thirty seconds. With only a minute and thirty seconds to tell a compelling story, word choice is key. A sound bite is used to add feeling, emotion, opinion or perspective to the story. Pick out the strongest words or phrase possible to convey your key message. You want to make sure that it will resonate, but also be short, sweet and to the point. For example, during President Obama’s recent speech in Tucson for the shooting victims’ memorial, he said, “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” This sound bite is approximately nine seconds and is quite powerful. The message is clear; the words are descriptive and invoke reflection. Analogies can also be powerful and useful in communicating information in a concise manner.  Consider the following sound bite included in an NPR story about online job search sites,”We are kind of like eHarmony, but for jobs.” Rob McGovern founder Jobfox.
  2. Infuse Energy: Listeners respond well to passion and energy in one’s voice. Delivery is just as important as the words spoken. A speaker with a monotone voice risks losing an audience and will likely get cut from the final story. A spokesperson can ensure their delivery is compelling through preparation. Be confident in your message, speak clearly, breath, avoid “ums” and “ahs” and vary the tone and pitch in your voice. Thinking before speaking helps to create passion in your voice. 
  3. Know Your Message: Knowing the message you want to deliver ahead of time is important. This will provide you with a foundation to refer back to. For a company spokesperson, this means knowing how to translate that message into short succinct sound bites.

The bottom line is it will never seem like you have enough time to say everything you would like to say. However, by following these tips you are more likely to be heard.


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