William Shakespeare

Shakespeare and the Sound Bite

The Bard of Avon still commands an audience today because of his riveting use of language, including a mint of memorable sound bites he coined 400 years ago.

Those of us who manage public issues don't need lines with a 400-year shelf life. But we do need phrases that resonate with audiences and convey our meaning in a quick, familiar way.

William Shakespeare was the world's first quotation machine. Before radio, television and the Internet, the master phrasemaker originated sound bites that remain an active part of our modern-day lexicon:

  • Play fast and loose

  • One fell swoop

  • Salad days

  • Cold comfort

  • Pomp and circumstance

  • Tower of strength

  • Foul play

  • Foregone conclusion

  • Flesh and blood

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says Shakespeare accounts for one-tenth of the quotable utterances written or spoken in English. He was definitely good at turning a phrase that sticks in your mind.

That's exactly what modern communicators need to do when addressing a crisis or preserving a reputation. Quotable phrases get quoted. Dull discourse, even when it contains a brilliant point, is easy to bypass in a quick interview or a fast-moving incident. If you want to be noticed and acknowledged, you need to learn how to create and use sound bites.

You need to know how to make your point, as well as how to make your point stick. Shakespeare offers useful tutelage. Here are a couple of tips gleaned from the bard's pen:

1. "To thine own self be true"

Stick to the facts, making sure what you say is true. That is the best assurance you have to protect your long-term reputation.

To Be or Not To Be Shakespeare

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation.

         –Richard II

It was a cold, rainy night. I was sitting at my desk sipping my third bourbon when I heard a knock on the door.

A man, a strange man dressed in what I assumed was a costume, slipped in and sat down.

"I've got a problem, a big problem," he said before I could offer a drink or find a clean glass to pour it in. "Do you recognize me?"

"Not really. Are you related to Wayne Newton?"

"Of course not. I'm William Shakespeare."

"I should have guessed. Did I offer you a drink?"

"I suppose you've seen the new movie, Anonymous?”

"No, I avoid the movies. Can't stand the smell of stale popcorn."

"Too bad. Well, in this movie, I appear as a fraud, an impostor, a shill for some rich aristocrat who purportedly wrote all my plays and sonnets. Can you believe that? Some people actually believe this movie is true."

"Actually, I read an article that said a woman from Italy who married an English big-shot actually wrote all your stuff."