5 Media Training Tips to Become a Sound Bite Genius

15 April 2022 Susan Harrow

When I was media coaching sisters Kitty & Jennifer O'Neil, authors of Decorating with Funky Shui, Kitty said, "I'm going to try talking in sound bites to everyone." 

What great practice.

Kitty and Jennifer are the kind of clients I adore. When I asked them to prep for our on-camera media coaching session they got out their camera and grilled each other for days. They scoured their book for their best lines. They wrote out the questions they thought the media would ask. They mapped out their answers. They were totally ready to roll when my assistant turned on the camera and I played the role of TV host.

Here are 5 media training tips so you too can become a sound bite genius for your next TV appearance, radio or print interview.

1. Speak in sound bites to everyone.

Getting key phrases for concepts and ideas across clearly is central to all communication. As a fun practice try to shave off any extraneous details during conversation in your everyday life.

In Errol Morris' film Fog of War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said, "Never answer the question that is asked. Answer the question you *wish* were asked." Begin to train yourself to speak only what you want others to hear. In this way you'll be shaping others' perception of you—which is the essence of good media.

2. Answer the first interview question with your sermonette.

In a 1989 interview on the NPR show Fresh Air veteran TV journalist David Brinkley said, "Every one of them [his guests] will arrive in the studio with some little sermonette in mind, and determined to deliver it.

So one thing I do is first ask them a dull, boring question like, 'what do you think about this?' And let them deliver their little sermonette. And then we get to the hard core of what we're there to talk about."

Your first and last points have the most impact so plan and deliver your sermonettes no matter what you're asked.

3. Frame your ideas for your audience.

Jennifer O'Neil, a film producer and director, explained that when shooting background footage (b-roll) she uses a technique called 'grounding'.

To 'ground', the camera must end definitively on an object or scene that signals the viewer that that segment is over. I suggested to her that she probably also used the opening footage to ground or shape the beginning of how she wanted a viewer to perceive the scene. In this way you orient your audience to the scene or the material you want them to focus on.

You can apply the same concept to sound bites. Your opening words set the stage for what you want to convey, your final words signify the close, how you want your audience to remember what you've told them. Use your opening and closing statements to anchor your audience to the information you want them to grasp. That way you shape the way they think about your product, service or cause.

4. Tell people what to do.

I love mystery, but this isn't the place for it. Don't leave your audience guessing.

Be forthright about the action you want them to take by letting them know why your product or service is necessary for them to have a complete and happy life now. What gap does what you have to offer fill? Be direct in pointing this out so there is no doubt.

5. Live your words.

Get to the point with clarity and insight. The Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer said of composer Astor Piazzolla's music, "I don't think it's [the music] always about embellishment. I don't think it all can be expressed rightly just gliding on the surface of convenient rhythms. This music can't be in fact performed, it has to be lived. And I always can distinguish if someone is flirting with Piazzolla as a convenient item of our commercial industry or if someone really lives the life or the heartbeat of the music of this great composer."

It's the same with you and your sound bites. Are you living the heartbeat of what you're saying, what you're representing? If not, we hear your false notes, your commercial intent. If so, we know in an instant when your music is true. 

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