How to Speak in Sound Bites

Have you ever seen a veteran politician be interviewed by the press? You’ve probably noticed a few things that they do in an interview. Skilled politicians will never directly answer a question. No matter what a reporter asks, most politicians will continually give the same answer over and over again.

To the average voter or viewer, this may be frustrating. Why can’t they simply answer the questions? The answer is a strategic one. The politician’s goal is to deliver his/her message. They have crafted what they believe to be an effective sound bite to deliver their message. And they deliver their message consistently no matter the question.

Right now, republican legislators who took a hard stance against the Affordable Care Act are being asked questions about the positive impact ACA is having in their home states or how not applying for Federal Medicaid funds is hurting seniors. What sound bite are republicans using? “I’m not a doctor.” Regardless of whether you believe this to be an effective message, the fact is this sound bite evokes a frame in voters’ minds. They’re politicians, not doctors. Doctors could be expected to be an expert on healthcare issues, but not politicians. Will this sound bite work? Time will tell.

The effective sound bite follows these key rules:

Be Clear.  Speak in simple language that can be easily spoken and understood by people from all different backgrounds.

Be Concise.  A good sound bite should be no more than 20-30 words and can be said in 7-10 seconds.  It will convey your message easily.

Be Consistent.  Repeat the values you want to get across constantly and consistently.  Everything you say should move your message. 

Limit your facts.   If you are including a fact in your sound bite use only one and remember the previous two rules: concise and consistent.

Be Convincing.  Use stories or metaphors to illustrate your points and make it “real” to your listeners.

Using Metaphors to Deliver Your Message

Metaphors can be an effective means of delivering your message to your audience and connecting with their core values. Many Americans view specific words and phrases as being unique to life as an American. When you use these words and phrases to tell your story your audience will have a deeper understanding of your message making them more inclined to agree with your organization.

Here are several examples of common phrases and metaphors and the frames they evoke for most Americans.

SPORTS: Play by the rules, level the playing field, targeting something. SPORTS metaphors are often applied to topics in BUSINESS, POLITICS or WAR especially.

BUSINESS: Watch the bottom line, get a competitive advantage, invest in x, full disclosure. BUSINESS metaphors are often applied to topics in POLITICS, SPORTS, WAR, and to personal life as well.

THE ECONOMY & THE MARKET: Grows, shrinks, balloons, deflates, crashes, a bubble about to burst.

WAR: Acceptable losses, acceptable risk, the war on—, collateral damage, preemptive strike, the good fight. Some WAR metaphors move back out again to POLITICS, SPORTS, and BUSINESS topics.

TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE: Drive, roll, slide, online, offline, progress. These terms are also used in POLITICS, SPORTS, WAR, BUSINESS, as well as personal life.

AMERICAN POLITICS AND POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS: Whistle stop tour, all politics is local, Joe Six Pack, it’s the economy, stupid, dance with the one that brung ya, big government. More metaphors may be transferred into this category than out of it.

AMERICAN HISTORY: Don’t Tread On Me, the New Deal, the Greatest Generation. These metaphors are usually applied in POLITICS.

WORK: Pay your dues, put in your time, sweat equity, join the union, work hard, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

CRIME: outlaw, thug, crook, thief, bait and switch, shell game, con. CRIME terms are also used in WAR, POLITICS and BUSINESS.

RELIGIOUS MODELS AND TERMS: Have faith, on a wing and a prayer. Metaphors drawn from this category are used everywhere else.

LITERATURE: all the world’s a stage, pure poetry, an open book, acting a part, taking a role.

ENTERTAINMENT: ‘Go ahead, make my day.,’ ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ badges., ‘ ‘May the Force be with you!,’ ‘Beam me up, Scotty. . .,’ ‘Make him an offer he can’t refuse.’

COMICS, CARTOONS, VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAMES: Any popular video and computer game or anime characters. This category also includes all other video or computer plot, setting, or gaming terms.

SLANG, CATCH PHRASES, AD SLOGANS, AND BRAND NAMES: Don’t go there, be cool, no such thing as a free lunch, on the wrong track; wham, bam, thank you, Ma’am, bun in the oven.

Framing and Messaging


Framing is your analysis of the issue. The frame defines what’s in your story

Use your frame to advance your position:

Use your frame for maximum media impact:

There are two sides to a story. How is the issue currently framed? How would you like it framed?

Hooks for your frame

Framing Steps

“Frame” the issue by answering these questions:

What is this issue really about? Broader subject and theme.

Who is affected? Bigger, wider potential audience, more drama, and reach.

Who are the players? Good guys, bad guys.

What hooks does this frame contain? Controversy, human interest, trend, etc.

What pictures and images communicate this frame?


What’s a message for?

Anatomy of a winning message

A winning message contains: