5 Sound Bite Mistakes That Will Lose You Freelance Clients

Carol Tice

Susan Harrow

Susan Harrow

By Susan Harrow

When you’re asked how your freelance writing services help clients, do you have a ready answer?

Here’s why you need one (and not just for going to a networking meeting or taking a prospect’s Skype call).

In this new age of media 2.0, the media is more often searching for experts when they have the need rather than poring over hundreds of useless press releases that don’t have information that is relevant for their audience.

So even if you haven’t sent out a press release, you could get that important call from the media — if you’ve positioned yourself correctly on the Internet.

On the flip side, did you know that now with YouTube and Time Machine, what you say could haunt you forever?

Once a video of you is posted or something you said shows up on the Internet, there’s no way to take it back.

With the advent of technology, what you say will stay around in eternity and anyone can access it at any time.

This is why it’s so important that you pay attention to what you say and how you say it.

That’s right, your reputation, your credibility, your brand, your livelihood could disappear with one bad Q&A on a blog post, one article, or one TV appearance gone south.

But it doesn’t need to be so. Don’t make these five mistakes:

1. You waffle

Many people I media train have a tendency to waffle.

They meander off into a tangent or blurt out a thought that just came into their head in the heat of the moment, instead of carefully planning their messages and delivering them.

I just saw the movie Fair Game, about the Valerie Plame story. When Plame spoke to one of her contacts overseas from whom she wanted information she was firm as a mountain, soft as breeze, fluid as water.

She was never harsh, but she got her way. She knew her facts so when she spoke to one of her own team members or someone whose cooperation she wanted she quietly, but firmly repeated her request.

You can do the same when someone asks you a question. You calmly assert your pre-rehearsed answer no matter how many different ways a reporter, host, or networking contact asks you a question to elicit a different response.

Know what you want to say and stick to it. Stay firm as a mountain, soft as a breeze, fluid as water.

2. You don’t quote leaders or competitors

It might sound counter-intuitive to quote your competition or other high-stature people in your field, but it shows that you are on top of what’s happening in your industry.

In an Inc.com article titled 10 Tips for Giving an Important Speech by Alyssa Danigelis, anthropologist, filmmaker, and National Geographic explorer Elizabeth Lindsey said, “The more we talk about the things that matter to us, and less about our achievements, people breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

When we focus on what’s important to us in a sincere way, it translates to our audience. They get it.

Quote people you admire whose philosophy resonates with your own to help get your ideas across in a novel way.

They often say things that give a different point of view, given we are all entangled in our own perspective. It’s a way of broadening our own views and the views of our audience.

3. You don’t tell how you’ve helped people

The most potent way to persuade people to buy, or buy into you, isn’t for you to talk about your achievements, but to tell a story about a person you’ve helped.

I recently media coached a client who said he wasn’t a good storyteller. As a doctor, he preferred to cite facts so he would be more authoritative.

But the human warm fuzzy factor was a bit lacking. It’s important to use facts and stories to build trust. And it’s also necessary to tell stories that reveal our effectiveness human to human.

Facts show you have knowledge, and personal and professional stories illustrate your understanding — how you do what you do and how well your methods work. I suggested that he tell dramatic or funny stories about people who came into his office with an acute problem whom he helped quickly recover using both his doctorly intuition and the product he was promoting.

In our next media coaching session, he did this beautifully in preparation for an NPR interview. Giving your audience a story about how you helped another person is the closest thing to giving them an actual experience of you.

4. You don’t transform your wounds into wisdom

Your hardships are the mistakes that others don’t need to make. Your wounds make you loveable. We all have an Achilles Heel. Don’t hide it, highlight it.

Comedian Craig Ferguson said, “I think that sometimes fear is God’s way of saying paying attention to this could be fun. I’ve learned from people who are braver than I that fear is necessary, failure is necessary.

“When I talk to people and they tell me how well they are or how well they are doing, I think they’re crazy and they’re failing. I’m not saying that misery is more authentic than joy, I don’t mean that. But I do think that sometimes self-promotion can be tiresome as I sit here talkin’ about my book. Which is available reasonably priced from all good outlets.”

What I love about Ferguson is that he doesn’t wallow in any sentiment. He moves into the wound and then moves out of it with humor.

Aren’t you interested in his book just from reading this one quote? I was.

5. You don’t have your opinion ready

Thought leaders have opinions. They back their opinions with evidence or piggyback them with humor to soften a tough point of view.

Have your opinion ready. To become a respected thought leader, spend some time every week thinking about the issues in your industry. Consider some of the trends that are happening. Formulate your thoughts. Concretize them in writing on your blog, Facebook, or in an article.

When a reporter who had interviewed me before called and asked me my opinion of the new Conan O’Brien Show, I told her I hadn’t seen it, but I still had an opinion about it.

We laughed. Then I transitioned from what I didn’t know into what I did know – which was Jon Stewart. I watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and think he’s hilarious, smart and self-deprecating.

Even though he’s super smart he’s not a snob about it. She really wanted my comments about the future of the talk show format so I talked about that in relation to Jon Stewart.

I got a paragraph at the end of her articleย — without knowing a thing about the topic of her piece — Conan O’Brien.

The important thing is to transition to what you know and make the connection so you are serving the reporter and her audience. Folk singer Joan Baez said, “I’ve never had a humble opinion. If you’ve got an opinion, why be humble about it?” Thought leaders aren’t afraid to voice a strong opinion.

Susan Harrow, CEO of PR Secrets, is a top media coach, marketing strategist and author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soulยฎ (HarperCollins) and Get a 6-Figure Book Advance. Clients include Fortune 500 CEOs, bestselling authors, and entrepreneurs who have appeared on Oprah, 60 Minutes, NPR, and in TIME, USA Today, People, NY Times, WSJ, and Inc.


  1. rikkit

    “he preferred to site facts so he would be more authoritative.”

    It’s “cite” not “site”… and YOU are telling people how to write. Amazing.

    • Carol Tice

      Typos DO happen on blogs, Rikkit…but we will fix. Thanks for alerting us!

      • Katherine Swarts

        I see you lost no time making the correction (I had to go back to the e-mailed version to confirm the typo was ever there). I recall you’ve said that comments can make all the typos they want–but I agree that the primary post should be more careful. I think you also said as much–in your first Make a Living Writing e-book–and also noted that some writers are lousy proofreaders, which can be dangerous on a blog that usually has ONE writer/proofreader/editor. (Believe me, I have seen plenty of how-to-write blogs that did far worse than this, some averaging five or six glaring errors per post! And I have seen print books from major publishers that did little better; and I–and many successful writers I know–am a very skilled proofreader and still spot the occasional error AFTER something has gone to press. It’s a law of nature that the more successful you are, the more mistakes you’ll make simply by virtue of doing more in total.)

        I wonder if there are any cases of two or three bloggers making arrangements to do regular final proofreading on each others’ posts?

        • Carol Tice

          You know, I used to rag Derek Halpern about the regular typos in his posts.

          The reason there isn’t more proofing on blogs is it doesn’t matter. 99% of readers focus on the valuable information you’re imparting, not the one typo. And that other 1% isn’t your audience. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Obviously, with an audience of writers, I probably have more like 2%. But it’s still more important to deliver more valuable content than to spend hours triple-checking less information.

    • Susan Harrow

      Yikes. Good catch. I’m a shining example of not being perfect. During media interviews it’s much better to be natural than slick, so people tend to forgive your mistakes. Perhaps Carol will be so kind as to correct my error.

      • Carol Tice

        Already done! But you raise the important point…perfect isn’t really rewarded in this culture. Authentic, relatable, honest, sharing our faults…people love.

    • Jawad Khan


      Just in case you forgot, the author is a human and can make mistakes

      Take it easy ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Heather Villa (

    The third sound bite is my favorite, allowing the writer to focus on the bigger picture…such as helping others.
    Thank you!
    Heather Villa

    • Susan Harrow

      That’s a favorite of mine as well!

  3. Erica

    My favorite personal soundbite is “I can’t speak to that.”

    Why? Two main reasons.

    As a freelancer and contract corporate copywriter, I’m often viewed as an objective third party to which to vent grievances, especially about other people. Kinda like a hairdresser. Saying “I can’t speak to that” keeps me out of the gossip mill and keeps my nose clean.

    And when I’m put in the position of offering deadlines or making assumptions about other people’s role in a project, “I can’t speak to that” puts a definitive stop to it.

    Always said with kindness. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Susan Harrow

      Love that. I’d add one thing. Transition to what you can speak to to change the conversation. i.e. I can’t speak to that, but what I do know is…

      • Carol Tice

        Oh, that is killer…! And I love your story about ending up getting a quote on a show you’d never seen. Brilliant!

      • Erica

        Excellent idea! I hadn’t thought of that. I’m definitely going to start tacking that on. Thanks! (and thanks for the excellent article) ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Katherine Swarts

    Kudos for reminding us that words (like most freshly unpacked items) can’t be stuffed neatly back into their original package. Even when the highest communications technology most people knew was the telephone (the kind where all you could do was talk, and you were out of luck if no one was home when you called), there was the popular analogy that trying to take back your words was about as easy as releasing a pillow of feathers into the wind and then trying to gather up all of them.

    • Susan Harrow

      That’s so true! And in today’s world we need to consider the audience, situation and medium so we know how to tailor our words so they can best be heard.

  5. David Gillaspie

    You can’t remind others enough to stay on topic, if they’ve got a message to deliver. I belong to an entrepreneur group who focus on just that and they raked me over the coals yesterday. Ouchie. If I’d read your post before I went in it would have been more fun.

    Thanks, Susan.

    PS: rikkit, would you check my comment for clean copy? Just kidding.

    To Carol: you are so kind. That’s a message to stick with.

    • Susan Harrow

      I feel for you David! The Dalai Lama says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” I hope that there were some nuggets in the coals. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Daniel Adetunji

    He he Susan, you killed this post. Thanks Carol, for interviewing this wonderfulwoman here


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