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In Praise of the Sound Bite

Our communications columnist explains why business owners should use this oft-criticized public speaking device to capture customers' attention and make a lasting impression

The sound bite gets a bad rap. Some observers of the 2008 Presidential election race lament the state of political discourse on TV today, referring to it as "sound-bite politics." But sound bites were part of effective political communications long before 24-hour cable news and MTV. That's because sound bites work in situations where persuasion is the goal. Used effectively, speakers both inside and outside of politics know that a short, clear, memorable quote can aid listeners by capturing the essence of an argument.

Judging by the results on Super Tuesday, some sound bites obviously worked in favor of certain candidates, while others did not. But they were memorable—and that's what often counts. When appealing to customers as a business owner, you face a challenge not unlike appealing to voters as a politician: quickly capturing their attention and convincing them. Your listeners are starved for time. They want to understand the theme of your pitch or presentation and they want it fast.