I’ve never liked the term “soundbite”. They can look artificial and frankly calculated, and as a method it can be out of date. Think about Tony Blair and his “Education, education, education” or “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. With hindsight, did that let someone into power without the substance and judgment he needed?
Let’s not be party political. Remember “You turn if you want to: the lady’s not for turning” from Margaret Thatcher. These are all getting pretty old, though. The popularity of Bernie Sanders in the US and indeed Jeremy Corbyn in the UK led me to suspect the age of the soundbite was coming to an end.
Enter Hillary’s soundbite
I should have looked more closely at what was going on. “Jez we can” might not have come from Corbyn himself but it proved a very effective campaigning slogan indeed, and may do so again during the summer. However, the best example I’ve seen was yesterday’s pronouncement by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
She said, in one of her best speeches: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons”. This is clearly a reference to Donald Trump, who has tried to accuse her of living in fantasy land.
The reasons this one’s so brilliant, though, start with the ability to fact check it. The underlying assumptions are twofold. First, any US president has to be trusted with nuclear weapons (that’s beyond dispute). Second, Donald Trump is a man you can bait with a Tweet.
Her reading of Trump – and I really don’t want to get party political here but to focus on the personal – was brilliant, because the first thing he did was to attack her. On Twitter. Here’s a Guardian summary. Others see his social media as inspired, like this New York Times piece; if you want to make him look petty, though, it’s easy, as the Independent found when he first entered the contest.
So it’s easy to substantiate, or at least to argue the point. Trump can’t refute the suggestion by saying he’s a lovely calming influence on social media.
It’s also a soundbite that gives out a sense of balance, in that it juxtaposes one premise with another. On the one hand, there’s the idea of nuclear weapons. On the other, there’s the notion of allowing Twitter members to annoy or provoke.
This sort of tactic can actually make a soundbite work even when there’s no link between the two. The fact that it sounds balanced gives it an air of authority (in this instance I suspect the link is genuine enough). It’s satisfying and therefore it’s memorable.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s 78 characters long including spaces? That’s handy for Twitter. Add a hashtag or attribution and it probably still fits. Nobody’s going to tell me this is coincidence.
Do it yourself
Lessons from this sort of soundbite are many and can apply to any sort of business, not just politics. First, they still work, whether during an interview or during a presentation. Second, if you can embed some sort of verifiable fact in them and make them sound elegant, they’ll be memorable. Third, keep them short enough for Twitter and other people will amplify the message for you.
Image: Flickr: Mike Mozart
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