Sound Bites That Cut Like a Knife
This week, as I prepared to deliver an executive storytelling training session for a client, a story came out of the annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference that drove home the power of a sound bite quote.
Vinod Khosla, renowned co-founder of Sun Micosystems, venture capitalist and one of the top power brokers in technology, delivered a couple of sound bites that cut like a knife through the noise and hype. During his one-on-one fireside chat on the main stage he was quoted as saying:
Vinod Khosla: "Journalists are English majors... who can't do real work."— danprimack (@danprimack) September 11, 2013
Ouch! Now there's a sound bite. But that wasn't his only quotable statement. When TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington asked him to name VCs who he thought were poor and added little to no value Khosla answered with this:
“I would be offending too many people. Maybe some percentage that’s substantially larger than 95 percent of VCs add zero value. I would bet that 70 to 80 percent add negative value to a startup in their advising.”
BOOM! In the span of a couple minutes Khosla managed to deliver two sound bites that insulted two major segments of the audience, but also assured himself lots of coverage and positive commentary on social media channels.
Khosla has been around too long and is too smart to have put these sound bites out there as throwaway lines. Besides incurring the ire of other VCs (his competitors) and journalists, what did he gain? He connected with the audience he cares most about -- entrepreneurs. He's already at the top of many entrepreneurs lists when it comes to seeking an investor. By saying that 95 percent of VCs add no value and that entrepreneurs need to listen to themselves more he simultaneously de-positioned his competition and connected with his target customer.
The ability to deliver a great sound bite that gathers this kind of attention is a critical skill for every spokesperson to master. Now you may think that some people are just naturally better at this than others; they are quick on their feet, very glib and not afraid to say something controversial. All of that may be true, but you can also develop this skill. This is one of the key elements of our executive story telling training.
It begins by envisioning the headline of the story before the interview. Add to that taking the time to learn about the reporter, read what they've written, and mapping out a storyline before the interview that will hit on the key points you want to communicate. Once you have that you should practice ahead of time how you will answer certain questions. You should also develop an approach to bridging from a question in a natural way that lends itself to delivering a key point. Finally, you can think about how to phrase an answer or a key point in a memorable sound bite that will resonate.
Good stories come from good interviews. Good interviews are based on delivering valuable, memorable quotes. Being a good interview takes work. You have to be prepared, do your homework and envision the outcome you want to see. Oh, and saying something controversial always helps.