How to Save Lives with Soundbites

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These days, COVID experts are almost as common on cable news as those agonizing Kars 4 Kids spots.

But you know what’s less typical? Effective COVID communicators. That’s why I was so excited when I found the clip below, featuring a Baton Rouge physician warning of the dangers of the Delta variant. Take a look, and then I’ll tell you what worked (and what didn’t).

Unforgettable Sound Bites Make Memorable Messages

What made Dr. Christopher Thomas so effective wasn’t just his message (how many times have we heard people in white coats encourage us to get vaccinations?). It was more the packaging; the specific words he chose. Consider:

  • “We are becoming victims of the unvaccinated.”
  • “You cannot avoid Delta. It is not possible. So you have a decision, and the decision is to get vaccinated or not.”
  • The insurance is the vaccine…Buy the insurance…This insurance is free.”

Show Your Math

Messaging is fortified through proof points, and vulnerable without them. Dr. Thomas came armed with statistics and examples to back up his presentation (and if you still don’t realize that a news interview is a presentation, call me to set up some media training). I won’t enumerate them here, but you’ll count a half-dozen different numbers in the doctor’s interview, each one carefully selected to back up his points and pre-empt objections.

Even Media Masters Aren’t Perfect

Roger Ebert once said there’s no such thing as a bad movie that’s too short or a good movie that’s too long. With all due respect to the late critic, some of this very good material actually did go on too long (an ideal sound bite is no longer than 12 seconds, and Dr. Thomas’ first answer lasted two full minutes). But even this small flaw was tempered by the powerful messaging, the lack of redundant phrases, and the fact that the interview was live (if a pre-recorded interview is too verbose it will be edited, which can be problematic).

Most interviews aren’t a matter of life and death. When they are, it’s nice to see them done right.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent (1995-2000) and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.