Media – Preparing a winning strategy - Tips for media interviews – Creating a tasty sound bite

The help sheet Why Sound Bites are Important looked at the key reasons that your community group or organisation should have planned, prepared and practiced for use when working with the media.

An attention-grabbing sound bite with catchy phrasing is invaluable in getting your group's message across clearly and quickly in the limited amount of time the media may give you.

But it's no use preparing and polishing your sound bite if the media doesn't use it.
This help sheet aims to give tips on creating and using your sound bite so you have the best chance of getting it aired on the nightly news.

Creating your sound bite

Preparation is the key when it comes to creating a snappy sound bite.

Preparation and practice is the only way to develop the words of a sound bite and improve your delivery of them.

Don't go into a TV interview without knowing exactly the sound bite you want reported. Work out the line and then rehearse delivering it until you can do it naturally, strongly and succinctly.

Another thing that requires thought is the type questions that are likely to be asked and how you can mould your answers so that they carry the same message as your sound bite.

Think about questions like:
  • Why are you here?
  • What does this report say about our community today?
  • What can your group hope to achieve?
  • How will this decision affect your group?
  • Isn't this just a publicity stunt?
  • Do you really think this is going to make any difference?
To each of them you want to work out how you can turn it back to your main theme.

Taking a question and being able to tailor an answer that pushes your theme is a skill which requires practice.  Practice in front of a mirror, or set up a mock interview situation with group members.

You have to work at bringing questions back to the subject you want to talk about, you won't always be able to do this flawlessly, but practice and try it again until you get it right.

Force-feeding the media your sound bite

All the developing, practicing and polishing of a sound bite is of no use, if when your story appears on the nightly news, it is not used.  Not only has all that time been wasted, but it could mean the words the media do choose to use need not accurately reflect the message you want to get across.

The first trick you need to get right is forcing the media to use your sound bite, rather than using one of you rambling through a list of unnecessary detail or one of you stumbling with "ums" and "ahs".
Think about "packages".
In many ways the media, particularly the television, think in terms of a "package" when they cover a story.

That means a nice, neat package which can be easily finished up once they have arrived back at the newsroom.

This is also what your community group wants, a nice, clean, smooth presentation that gets your points across.

A good sound bite can help achieve both of these aims, as it will be the part of the interview that will be smoothest and clearest, particularly if you have worked hard on the message it contains, and have practiced its delivery.

One way to at least have a chance to get that "package" out there could be to have a quick chat to the media journalist before the cameras roll to explain what you want to say.  Even if it's a harder story where you might be reacting to something, a quick talk beforehand can give you a feel for where they are coming from and what sort of questions they are going to ask.

You may have to, on the spot, try to shoehorn your sound bite, or its key thrust, wherever it comes closest to fitting in.
Repeat your sound bite.
Ideally you would want an interview to be conducted on your group's terms so you can cover the messages you want and use your sound bite to best advantage.

What if the interview goes somewhere you don't want it to go? You need to bring it back to the subject you want to discuss.  Politicians of all persuasions are masters at this art. Next time you turn on the television news, watch them in action.  Listen to them when they are asked a question, then listen as they proceed to ignore that question and repeat the key phrase (or sound bite) they want to emphasise.

Even when they are pulled up and reminded that they are straying off the issue at hand, they will either eventually go back to repeating their chosen sound bite, or assert that what they want to talk about actually IS the issue.  Watch how quickly they return to the main sound bite or how many times they mention a key phrase during the same interview, no matter what the questions.

Politicians don't just rely on the reporter to pick out their sound bite; they make sure it is unavoidable by repeating it over and over.

Most of us are used either to answering a direct question or evading it. Public figures know that they can quite often get away with giving the answer to a completely different question and moving on rapidly.

In 'PR-speak' this is called "staying on message". You should make it your priority to 'stay on message' if your interview starts going places you weren't expecting it to go.

Keep hammering away at your theme. You might even construct three slightly different sound bites or lines; all carrying the same message and sprinkle them repeatedly throughout the interview.
Make them care when they listen
Apart from catching people's ear, your group's sound bite should also make them care about your issue, predicament, request or situation.

If for example your group needs funding to complete a mental health care project it has been working on but has so far been unable to gain enough support, you need to give people a reason to care and a reason to consider giving.

Emphasise the end result, or what will happen if you don't get the support you need.
"People are in desperate need of help, without this funding they will miss out and that is a tragedy we have the power to avoid."


"Hundreds of people in need of help will miss urgently required counselling if this project doesn't go ahead. It will be a tragedy for the whole community if we ignore their cry for help."

This sort of approach not only communicates the issue your group might face, but also the consequences if it isn't resolved.

Talking about "cause and effect" plants these thoughts in the public's mind.

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