A little bit of nervousness before a speech or interview is a good thing. A lot of nervousness—not so much. why sound bites in media interviews are critical

Yet public speaking and media interview skills are essential for most executives and business owners.

A rocky speech in front of potential investors could leave your business lacking the resources it needs to thrive and survive. And a poorly handled print or broadcast interview may turn a relatively benign issue into a full-blown crisis.

Which brings us to Talk about Talk, a semi-regular (I’ll share something whenever I find an example from which we can all learn) feature here on Polaris B about media interview and presentation skills.

Every Talk about Talk post will focus on one example—sometimes good and sometimes bad—to demonstrate a key lesson to improve your performance in the boardroom and in front of the camera.

Today we are talking about using colourful sound bites in media interviews with Ed McConnell, the mayor of Casselton, North Dakota, as an example. Last Monday his town was evacuated after a tanker carrying crude oil collided with a derailed train hauling soybeans. The result was a dramatic explosion in a wheat field just outside of Casselton. Thankfully, no one was killed in the incident.

News of the crash spread across North America and surfaced in all major Canadian media. The Casselton collision was reminiscent of last summer’s explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec where 47 people died, fuelling debate about the dangers of transporting oil by rail versus pipeline.

Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, carried the Casselton story on its front page last Thursday with snappy and relevant sound bites from Mayor McConnell that reference the Quebec tragedy:

colourful sound bites

McConnell’s use of the vernacular is natural and engaging. In all likelihood, he didn’t have to think too hard on what he would say in his Globe interview. He spoke in plain language that anyone, even a fourth-grader, could understand: “it’s just too dang dangerous to transport above ground….Maybe it should be stuffed into a pipe.”

McConnell goes on to explain the dangers of the oil North Dakota produces in an equally colourful fashion:

sound bites in media interviews

BNSF, the railway hauling the oil, did not get much play in the article. Their statement was short and succinct, yet totally lacking in humanity:

BNSF sound bite

There may have been more to the BNSF comment. Yet surely they could have used a better term than “inconvenience” to reference the explosion.

If you’re a spokesperson for your organization, remember there is more room on the cutting room floor for your answers than in the final cut, even in a print interview. Journalists are looking for sound bites to animate and tell the story—they are not looking for Shakespeare.

Make every sentence count in an interview and focus on getting your message into the edit.

If you need help developing sound bites for media interviews, get in touch to learn more about our training programs.