Statistically speaking, the average length of a sound bite is 8.95 seconds; 24.91 words in length. To make it easy to remember, use 10 seconds, 25 words as a rule of thumb and put the following tips to work as you develop sound bites for your next interview.
Baby out with bathwater, curiosity killing cats, dead as a doornail – these are good examples of alliteration, and for some reason, we love to hear words that begin with the same letters. As Mark Forsyth, the author of Eloquence puts it, “Any phrase, as long as it alliterates, is memorable and will be believed even if it’s a bunch of nonsense.”
You could think of Morton’s Fork as being a choice between a rock and hard place, where an irresistible force meets and immovable object or between the devil and the deep blue sea. A Morton’s Fork is when we are faced with two equally bad options. Good quotes can be created in bad situations because the device allows you to position your choice as the best of two bad options.
Occam’s Razor is a principle attributed to the 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The razor is this: when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better. The phrase “keep it simple…” probably came from this, and it is a useful guide when crafting quotes. Of all the possible word combinations that can be used, the simplest is often the best.
In rhetoric, they technical terms for symmetry is chiasmus, and there’s no doubt, we like symmetrical things, from buildings to gardens to word structures. The Three Musketeers used a symmetrical catch phrase to gear up for a fight: “One for all and all for one!” Ted Sorenson, President Kennedy’s speechwriter, always armed JFK with great symmetrical phrases:
- “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
- “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Developing great quotes is hard work, but don’t forget, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Tricolons are memorable and intelligent. The device sets up a two-object pattern, then breaks it:
- “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
- “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman!”
- “Blood, sweat and tears”
- “The good, the bad, the ugly”
- “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
Three-part structures serve as symbolic shorthand for the difficulty of working toward a goal – the gradual working out process of trying this way, then that way, then finding the best way. As the old School House Rock program taught us, three really is a magic number.
Forsythe, M. (2013). The elements of eloquence. Secrets of the perfect turn of phrase. Berkley Books, New York.
Moliken, P. et al. (2007). Rhetorical devices. A handbook and activities for student writers. Prestwick House, Clayton, DE.