Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, famously had this to say when promoting her book, Lean In, about women in the workplace:
Men still run the world. And I’m not sure that’s going that well.
Screenwriters use loglines, authors use quotations, advertisers use slogans and politicians….well, let’s just say sound bites bombard us every day in all kinds of formats and from every conceivable medium, and the best ones are such useful communications tools because…

  • They cut through the clutter and distill the main point you’re making into something memorable
  • They help to drive the audience or reader to the action that you’re compelling them to take

Whether you are speaking or writing, it’s worth your while to take the time to craft something pithy that your audience can take away. And doing so also forces you to clarify and refine your own main ideas to make your writing more effective.

There are lots of techniques and rhetorical devices you are probably already aware of for creating memorable sound bites, but approaching them methodically can help to hone your skills.
For example:

The rule of three: “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”—Barack Obama, inaugural speech

Repeating words at the end of a series: “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”—Abraham Lincoln at Gettsburg

Repeating words at the beginning of a series: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

• Contrasts, Conflicts or Paradoxes: “In our community (of artists), tolerance of intolerance is unacceptable.”—John Irving on the Academy Awards

Rhetorical Questions: “If you can’t get a church van with twelve white folks through (the border), how much worse is it for any person of colour?’- Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey

Similes, Metaphors and Analogies: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”—Gloria Steinem

Tweaked Cliches: ”Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.”—Mark Twain

Unexpected Twists: “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”—Woody Allen

Definitiveness or Power: “Go big or Go home!” –advertising slogan

Brevity: “Stand up. Speak up. Shut up.”—James Lowther, British MP

Imitation of a famous phrase: Jane Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” might become “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a humdrum speech, delivered in a monotone, will put an audience to sleep.”

As you may have noticed, some of the most memorable sound bites employ more than one of these devices at a time. Repetitions of phrases, whether at the beginning, end or middle of a sentence, typically happen in threes, rhythm and cadence go a long way toward emphasizing contrasts or paradoxes, tweaked clichés are often noticeable for their brevity and punch, etc.

Once you’ve polished and perfected your gem of a phrase, remember not to bury it. If it’s part of an oral presentation, use it for an attention-grabbing opening or a killer closing, and if it’s a visual presentation, get it up on the screen to punch it home to the audience. Pause when you deliver it, to give people a chance to absorb it (and jot it down!)

If it’s included in a written work, and doesn’t belong in the opening or closing, consider giving it its own paragraph, so it stands out from the body of the text. And if someone else perfectly encapsulated your thought, by all means quote it, and acknowledge the writer.

Sound bites require work. Legend has it that Neil Armstrong took six hours to come up with, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” So, take your time, try to appeal to people’s emotions, and consult resources such as compilations of famous quotations and metaphors. (see how that series just naturally fell into threes?)

Go ahead–make a bite. Compose it, polish it, own it!

mother: (muh-th-er) noun

One person who does the work of twenty. For free. See also “masochist” and “saint.”


Mothers are, by and large, sentimental beings.  A crayoned “I LUV U MOMMY” can hold pride of place for decades among a mothers’ treasured possessions, because the sentiment is pure, uncommercial, unsolicited and comes straight from the heart.  It’s the ultimate payback for a mom’s selflessness, devotion and generosity.

Throughout history, giants of politics, academia and literature have paid tribute to their mothers, acknowledging the crucial maternal role in their own development.  Hollywood, too, doesn’t stint on paying tribute to mothers everywhere.  And sometimes, the phrase that hits exactly the right note comes inadvertently from a child, another parent, or a grandparent.

So cruise through a few of these quotes from the famous and not-so-famous, see if one of them seems as if it were written just for YOUR mom….., and add a line or two of your own!

From history:

  1. “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” –Abraham Lincoln 
  1. “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” – Mark Twain
  1. “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” Rudyard Kipling
  1. “Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” – Robert Browning
  2. “Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.” – George Eliot
  3. “There is no velvet so soft as a mother’s lap, no rose as lovely as her smile, no path so flowery as that imprinted with her footsteps.” – Archibald Thompson
  4. “Most mothers are instinctive philosophers.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
  5. “Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.” – Erich Fromm

From Hollywood:

  1. “My mother is a walking miracle.”
    -Leonardo DiCaprio
  2. “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.” – Oprah Winfrey
  3. “I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.” – Antonio Villaraigosa
  4. “Is my mother my friend? I would have to say, first of all she is my Mother, with a capital ‘M’; she’s something sacred to me. I love her dearly…yes, she is also a good friend.” – Sophia Loren
  5. “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children.” – Sam Levenson
  6. “With what price we pay for the glory of motherhood.” – Isadora Duncan

From the heart:

  1. Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever. – Author Unknown
  2. “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.” –Mitch Albom
  3. “For enduring the bloodcurdling torture of my adolescent years I promise to always keep your electronics functional.”–Unknown
  4. The only thing better than having you for a mom is my children have you for a grandmother
  5. Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers….-Unknown
  6. “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.” –Unknown
  7. A mom is like a tea bag. Only hot water do you realize how strong she is “
  8. “The phrase ‘working mother’ is redundant.”  –Jane Sellman 
  9. “If nature had arranged that husbands and wives should have children alternatively, there would never be more than three in a family.” – Lawrence Housman
  10. “All mothers are working mothers.” – Unknown
  11. “A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.” – Irish Proverb
  12. “Who’s a boy gonna talk to if not his mother?” – Donald E. Westlake
  13. “Children are a great comfort in your old age — and they help you reach it faster, too.” – Lionel Kauffman
  14. “The one thing children wear out faster than shoes is parents.” – John J. Plomp
  15. “A man’s work is from sun to sun, but a mother’s work is never done.” – Unknown
  16. To the world you are a mother, but to your family you are the world. Mom provides a place to feel at home, no matter where she happens to be.—Author Unknown