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How to make your quotes quotable

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2017 is not over yet but there are already two strong contenders for Clear Europe’s ‘worst quote of the year’ prize. And they both come from the same person.

The unquotable quotes above were cobbled together for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and tweeted within minutes of each other at a summit of EU leaders in Gothenburg on November 17.

So why are these soundbites so terrible? Because:

  • They are crammed with incomprehensible EU jargon – #EuropeanSemester sounds like a study abroad programme, while #PillarOfSocialRights has to be one of the weirdest, wonkiest hashtags in history.
  • They are obsessed with the tedious process of EU decision-making – #EURoad2Sibiu sounds like an EU-sponsored Romanian motorway rather than the latest plan for reforming the Union.
  • They are full of stuffy technocratic language like ‘social dimension’ and ‘country specific recommendations.’

So how do you craft a cracking quote? Here are a few tips:

  • Use colourful, vivid language that paints a picture. “I have a dream” is more memorable than “We have agreed on a roadmap towards a white paper.”
  • Voice strong opinions rather than bore people with facts, context and process. “It is a stain on Europe that so many children live in poverty” is punchier than vague guff about the ‘European social model.’
  • Rhetorical devices like contrast and repetition work. For example JFK’s: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
  • Cut all jargon, process and acronyms. #EURoad2Sibiu is meaningless enough as a hashtag. In a soundbite it is deadly.
  • Above all, sound like a human being rather than a robot programmed with a random word generator. This means being personal and using clear, simple language.

If you’re interested in learning how to write sticky soundbites, sign up for our courses on How to Write Clearly, Perfecting Press Releases and Mastering Media Interviews. Or come to our open course on Working with Journalists on December 12.

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About Gareth Harding

Clear Europe Managing Director and head of Missouri School of Journalism’s Brussels Programme. Former journalist and speechwriter.

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