In language, rhythm (or meter) refers to patterns of stressed versus unstressed syllables and pauses versus flow. "TA-da-da TA-da-da" represents one rhythm while "Dum, dum, da-da-DUM" is quite a different one. Besides the pattern of emphasis, there are three kinds of pauses you can fiddle around with: first, the natural pauses we make in sentences, regardless of punctuation. For example, with Levi's slogan, "Quality never goes out of style," most of us would naturally say it with a slight pause after the word "quality," as in "Quality... never goes out of style." Second, a comma creates a minor pause. Third, a period creates a major pause. The comma implies a closer connection between the two elements it separates, whereas a period implies a definite separation into two equal parts.
If you're like most people, when creating a sound bite, you don't consciously think about rhythm. But you should. It's particularly important for something you hope will be repeated by lots of people for quite a while. By considering the different options for sound bite rhythms, you'll have within your power a greater ability to create impact with a single sentence, a single line.
After considerable research, I have boiled down the very best options into the top ten sound bite rhythms that you should have in your repertoire. Here goes, along with a few comments along the way.
Skills to pay the bills.
No fuss. That's us.
Don't be vague, ask for Haig.
No music, no life.
Stories about living, advice about life.
Practical Professionals. Practical Solutions.
Those three examples feature starkly separated parts with no connecting word. But you can also create a double with an "and" or "but" in the middle. During the coronavirus pandemic, a college classmate sent me an update email with this sentiment at the end: "Test negative, but stay positive." I thought that was a terrific sound bite.
Don't live to geek, geek to live.
Trust. Commitment. Integrity.
Experience. Expertise. Excellence.
Service. Strategy. Success.
This triple pattern is currently extremely fashionable, so it's essential to look around to see if any of your competitors are using it. If they are, you'll be perceived as imitative, even if you choose three very different adjectives or nouns. Another pitfall of this pattern is that it's very easy to satirize on social media.
Sometimes soulful, mainly jazzy, always smooth.
Patient focused. Customer centered. Caregiver inspired.
That's three elements separated by commas or periods, each of them consisting of two words.
Click, zip, fast round trip.
That's a triple with the third element elaborated on.
Friends don't let friends drive drunk.
RAID kills bugs dead.
Loose lips sink ships.
If you were looking at these sentences in writing, you wouldn't necessarily notice anything distinctive about them. But when they're said out loud, you'll hear that every syllable or just about every syllable is emphasized. This pattern is extremely emphatic, almost like a verbal hammer or like fists pounding on something or someone. You wouldn't want to use this rhythm to sell something soft and shimmery, for sure.
Cotton. The fabric of our lives.
Pork. The other white meat.
Notice how different the impact of that is from the reverse arrangement: The other white meat. Pork.
When you care enough to send the very best.
A global law firm for the 21st century.
The champagne of bottled beer.
Unless you hear these in the context of the other options, you might not even notice that there's a rhythm here. But this rhythm definitely has a different impact than the other options.
Afterthought or zinger:
The best thing that ever happened to men... besides women.
We make money the old-fashioned way – we earn it.
Now that was fun, wasn't it? Listen to this lesson again every time you have a new sound bite you're working on so you can rearrange it into the smoothest or the most interesting rhythm.
Next, let's take what we've already talked about and put it into practice, taking a typical business name and slogan from bland to bold.