Thursday, April 2, 2015

It's bite sized

With visions of being buried under feet of snow just barely memories now, it's time for the big rites of spring... graduation and wedding season. Don't they all seem to come rushing at us quickly? Right about this time, if you come from a big family, you should be getting all the invitations in the mail. Nieces, nephews, the sons and daughters of good friends and neighbors... yup, invitations for their special events start pouring in right around this time of the year.

Oh, those bright eyed graduates...
That's a good thing! I mean, high school and college graduations are the crowning achievements of academic success, earned after hard years of study. And, those young couples preparing to start their lives together, well, it's enough to almost bring this softie to tears.

The happy bride... and tasty hors d'oeuvres... 
Oh, and both occasions are also PRIME time for sampling some awesome food!

What is it with me and food this week?

Typically, at events like these, hors d'oeuvres or appetizers are served before everyone sits down to a big meal. These flavor bombs are designed to give you a small, delicious taste of the chef's skill before the main course is served to the assembled guests.

Since they are so diminutive, they have to pack a lot of punch for their size. Flavors. Textures. Ingredients. Contrasts. In other words, they have to convey a whole lot of wow factor to your senses of smell, vision and taste in a very small package.

A lot like a properly crafted sound bite.  Oh, I know what you are thinking.  Sound bites are for slick politicians and double-talking CEOs. Well, no, they aren't, especially if you think of them as information appetizers. They have to be concise, punchy and leave a lasting impression in the very short amount of time people will have to hear them.

Don't believe me? Watch the news with a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand on it. Time how long everyone except the anchors, reporters, sports and weather person has to deliver his or her lines. Even the president of the United States of America - regardless of his party affiliation - gets no more than nine to 15 seconds to tell his story.


So, when you craft your sound bite, there are two schools of thought that you should consider to guide your preparations.

There is the one taught by Dr. Vincent Covello of the Centers for Risk Communication, who breaks it down mathematically:

  • 27, 9, 3 - 27 words, nine seconds and three thoughts.
Inigo Montoya
You know where you saw this before? Have you ever seen the movie The Princess Bride?  Do you know who Inigo Montoya was?  His sole mission is life was to meet the Six-Fingered man, and tell him, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."  Short. Sweet. To the point, so to speak.

The other school of thought comes from Clarence Jones of Winning with the News Media, which is his mathematical calculation:

  • 1 + 3.  One 'feeling' thought, followed by three points that back up your statement.

The evacuation over the Howard Frankland Bridge during Hurricane Charley's approach
During the evacuation for Hurricane Charley, a reporter was concerned about the number of people crowding the roads about 36 hours in advance of the storm. He asked me, "So, Tom, what do you have to say about all of these people stuck in traffic before the arrival of the storm?"

I looked at him and said, "I am encouraged by how busy the roads are right now. That means people are taking the evacuation order seriously, they are on the roads early and will be somewhere safe should the storm impact the Tampa Bay area."

The reporter looked at me for a second, then turned to his camera operator to ask if he needed any other shots for the story.

By using techniques such as these to organize your thoughts before you speak to a reporter, you can provide a sound bite so tasty and packed with information that there's no way a reporter can ignore it, helping you get your message across with great impact.

That sounds delicious...

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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