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Shearer learning media training skill of speaking in sound bites

21 April 2012
Labour leader David Shearer is learning the important media training skill of speaking in sound bites. These are the parts of TV and radio news stories where a statement from an interviewee is used verbatim to illustrate a point. They usually last between 8 and 12 seconds. In the print media, they are called direct quotes. Those who take part in media training learn that it is best to dress a point you want to make up in language the media love to use, rather than just making the point. That way your point is far more likely to make the final cut in the story when editing takes place. This is an important media training skill and one Shearer has not used well in the past. That is something his opponent for the Labour leadership David Cunliffe is an expert in. But Shearer’s performance in the whole Sky City affair has shown he is improving with his ability to talk in sound bites. For example, when criticising John Key, one of his points was, “Key shouldn’t change legislation to accommodate Sky City.” But he used a far more effective sound bite to make his point. This was: "Selling our legislation to a casino in exchange for hundreds of pokie machines is shocking behaviour for a Prime Minister.” You can see how that ‘sound bite’ is a far more powerful way to make the point. In our media training courses, we show participants a number of elements that can be used to develop sound bites. One is emotion, and that’s what Shearer used here by referring to Key’s move as ‘shocking.’ Another one we discuss is the use of clichés to make points. Shearer also used a good cliché in a recent interview. He said: “The tender process was taken up and ‘low and behold’, Sky City ended up with the contract.” Shearer appears to have learnt some important media training lessons. Whether this particular issue has been fairly treated by the media is another issue, but Shearer has shown through it that he is improving as a media communicator. This will help him grow his reputation as a leader and connect with potential labour voters.

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Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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