10 tips for sound bites with substance

by | Sep 12, 2011 | Blog | 8 comments

Do you speak and write in sound bites?

You should.

Before you protest that sound bites are spin or propaganda more appropriate for trashy TV than a corporate board room, stop.

Instead, sound bites are a few pithy words that capture the essence of your message.

Crafted correctly, sound bites are memorable. That’s a huge benefit. People are bombarded with so much information that they often can’t cut through the clutter to hone in on the key point.

If people can remember what you say, they’re more likely to think about it and then act on it.

If you’re still dubious and think only spin doctors advocate sound bites, hold your tongue.

Literary lion and humorist Mark Twain encouraged the idea. He wrote about a maxim: “A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.”

Back to early 2011.  That’s when I took Media Coach Susan Harrow’s Signature Sound Bites™ telecourse. It not only increased my appreciation for sound bites, but also inspired me to use them more.

Then my experience with Dr. David Rock and his brain-based coaching program further reinforced the value of succinct yet specific and colorful  communication.

When a client recently asked me for useful tips on how to write better leadership messages, I advised: “Think sound bites with substance.”

So how do you craft memorable sound bites? Here are my 10 tips for writing and speaking sound bites with substance for leaders:

1.  Know your intent before you decide what you’re going to say or write.

2.  Follow  a simple structure—nouns and verbs in active voice without jargon. Get to the point with minimum words.

3.  Use colorful, concrete words. For example, instead of saying “We want to take the business to the next level” say “We will put two cards in every responsible person’s wallet.”

4.  Rely on one of the most potent phrases in the English language, “For example…”

5.  Practice the power of three. Refer to three points, three big mistakes, three actions.

6.  Call on all of your senses; however, remember that visual has the biggest impact on the brain.

7.  Tell stories. A simple format is:

  • Explain the situation.
  • Describe the action you took.
  • State the result.
  • Close with an epiphany or key learning.

8.  Use metaphors or analogies. (A helpful resource book is I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.)

9.  Be emotional to touch people and be memorable. Get people to laugh, cheer, be surprised, shake their head. Just don’t put them to sleep.

10. Include a clear call to action. Be direct and explicit.

Many of these tips are also key ingredients of LEAN COMMUNICATIONS®, which advocates adding more value with less resources. It isn’t surprising that the poster child for LEAN COMMUNICATIONS® is Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, who embodies the spirit of doing more with less and getting great results. Mark Twain was ahead of his time in many ways.

Keep in mind though that textbook sound bites are just one part of the communication equation. Effective communication is a conversation. You also need to ask questions and listen.

Yet, if you talk and speak in sound bites, you’re practicing brain-friendly communication. That in itself encourages better dialogue.

What are you doing to be brief, bold and memorable?


  1. Alice Hansen

    i really love your tips. i am doing a school project where i have to make an enterprise. i also have to write a sound bite. at first i had no idea what to write, but now i have a clear insight. thank you very much for your tips.

  2. suzanna waltson

    luv ur tips

  3. suzzana waltson

    hello again i realised your tips will be useful for not only me, but also my daughter.
    she is doing a school project where she has to make an enterprise and write a sound bite.
    thank you for your tips

  4. suzzana waltson

    hello once again
    im unsure of tip 7. on the last bullet point it says to close with an epiphany or key learning.
    how would you close with an epiphany or key learning if you are writng about eco-friendly packaging?

  5. Liz Guthridge

    Glad you like the tips and are finding them helpful. When you tell your story and share an epiphany or a key learning, you’re explaining the insight you learned, which you hope will be helpful for others. This becomes your point of view about the journey you’ve taken. In your situation, it’s what you now know or have experienced about your eco-friendly packaging. Good luck! And please share your sound bites!

  6. Sam Johns

    “Think sound bites with substance.” Is this something you should know as an author before putting you big toe in the writer’s waters of life?

  7. Val A

    Very good info …I’m going to study this

  8. Grace Appiah

    Please how does one write a soundbite?

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