“We looked very carefully for six months at this deal, and we think it’s pretty messed up.”

That’s a quote from William J. Baer, a “top dog” at the Justice Department, speaking about wanting to block the merger between American Airlines and US Airways.  Well, if you’re the assistant attorney general in DOJ’s antitrust division, you do need to create simple statements likely to be quoted in the media.  But “messed up”?  As William Baer, himself might say, “Really?!”  I think readers would like a bit more informative interpretation. Or at least, a statement appropriate to his professional standing.

Your goal:

When you’re being interviewed by the press, your statements are always edited to fit in with the reporter’s narrative. That’s their job.  Your goal should be to deliver brief, pithy statements or “sound bites” that a reporter will find quotable, something that will add interest and pizzazz to their stories. If you consistently deliver great sound bites, reporters will remember you and seek you out.

Creating a great sound bite:

Make a list of the main points you want to convey to the interviewer.  Now, edit each one so it can be expressed in a complete phrase using the fewest possible words.  Create statements that are entertaining, emotionally or visually evocative, or informative.  Don’t expect to do this “off the cuff”.  Give yourself adequate time to prepare your statements, edit them and practice your delivery.

Utilize one or more of these:

  • Statements that express your honest emotion about the topic
  • Sparkling words
  • Visual imagery
  • Simile or metaphor for dramatic effect
  • Humor

One more thing about your delivery:

Remember, you need to find the language to express your sound bite appropriately.  That was William Baer’s biggest mistake.  Obviously, his statement is memorable and quotable, but sounds ridiculous because the language he used does not align with his professional position.  He could have expressed his honest regret that this airline merger would lead to higher fees, worse service and would be bad for consumers.  He missed a golden opportunity, and given the fact that he is a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, his statement was, well…pretty messed up.

Be on the lookout for another blog post, coming soon, that will offer examples and more in-depth methods for creating memorable sound bites.