Why You Should Speak in Soundbites in Media Interviews

A man being interviewed with mics and recorders

Many executives and professionals I media coach feel unfairly constrained by speaking in soundbites. I understand. You should still use them.

TV soundbites have three basic characteristics:

  1. They’re short, anywhere from about seven to fifteen seconds long.
  2. They use ordinary, easy to understand language.
  3. Excellent soundbites add a third characteristic: They’re visual. They help the audience see your point. Don’t just say “Ten million people fall into this category.” Say, “This affects 10-million people. Ten million. That’s the population of Georgia.”

The brevity of soundbites has more to do with what the audience can handle than with what the speaker has to say. TV audiences have surprisingly short attention spans for the most part. Effective interviewees hit the target by putting a key point they want to get across into a soundbite. Simple.

After reporters do an interview, they’ll go through the interview and look for the best soundbites to include in the story. If you’re keeping track, you now have two good reasons for using soundbites: Audiences look for them and reporters look for them.

A good soundbite will help you get a key point across and it will help you create a desired impression. It won’t give the audience all of the information you know about a subject. You obviously can’t convey that in a 12-second answer. Ironically, you also can’t convey that in a five-minute answer or a fifteen-minute answer because those answers in a taped interview won’t get on the air. They’ll get edited down to, you guessed it, a soundbite. Outrageously long answers won’t go unchecked in a live interview either because the interviewer will interrupt you to regain control of the conversation.

If you travel to France you will spend euros because that’s the currency they use there. In England they use the pound. That’s their currency. In the US we use the dollar. That’s our currency. And in TV interviews, the currency is soundbites. That’s how we exchange information on television.

Soundbites apply to all forms of media: TV, radio, print, internet, multi-media. Read most quotes in publications. They tend to run along the length of a TV or radio soundbite.

Soundbites aren’t a hard and fast rule. If you only speak in 12 second answers you’ll feel robotic. Just know that your 40-second answer to a reporter’s question will likely get distilled down to a seven to 12 second soundbite. The better you become at delivering your key points in soundbites, the more you will feel in control in any media interview setting.

If you want to exchange information effectively, get your point across, and make a positive, desired impression speak in soundbites in a TV interview. If you want to know how long a soundbite is, read this paragraph out loud. That’s a soundbite.

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