Sizzling Sound Bites

This is the sixth in a seven-part series that will teach you how to create effective and memorable media messages. 

According to a 1992 study from the Center for Media and Public Affairs at Harvard University, the average “sound bite” on the evening news was just 7.3 seconds (it may be even shorter today).

Since the average person speaks about three words per second, that means we have just about 21 words to communicate something of meaning.

Conveying something meaningful in so few words can be difficult, and little frustrates spokespersons more than trying to develop a brief sound bite that gets their message across with precision. But the work is worth it, as that single line or two may be all you need to shift public opinion in your direction.

Below are a few types (and examples) of sound bites:


  • ”It’s like trying to fill the bathtub with the drain open.” – Mary Johnson, Medicare policy analyst
  • “Any one flight in space on the space shuttle is as dangerous as 60 combat missions during wartime.” – John Young, astronaut


  • “Our choices right now are not between good and better; they’re between bad and worse.” – Alan Greenspan
  • “She couldn’t get elected if two of her opponents died.” – Peck Young, political consultant


  • “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about money,’ it’s about money. And when you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about sex,’ it’s about sex.” – Former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing


  • “How many times are we going to gamble with lives, economies, and ecosystems?” – John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA


  • “Republicans are as serious about fiscal responsibility as Paris Hilton is about modesty.” – Marshall Wittman, political pundit

Now it’s your turn. Try to develop at least one sound bite for each of your three main messages.

If you’re stuck, take a look at the “quotes of the week” section in many of the nation’s newspapers, magazines, and websites.

Don’t worry if they don’t come to you immediately. Keep an ear out for sound bites as you have conversations in your office – what are intended as throwaway comments during hallway banter often contain a gem worth saving.

In Part Seven of this series, you will learn how to develop your final messages in preparation for your interview.