You finally received the coveted call: you landed the keynote speaking engagement, won the top industry award, or snagged an upcoming feature in the local newspaper. “Send over your bio and we’ll get started!”
Gulp. What bio?
A succinct, captivating bio (sometimes called executive profile) is a critical piece in the personal marketing toolkit, and yet the vast majority of professional bios are as interesting to read as a technical manual for a dental chair. That is, not at all.
So if a great bio can be the difference between someone attending your seminar, buying your book or reading your article, it’s essential to aim for a bio that piques — and holds — the reader’s interest, encouraging them to want to know you a little better, and ultimately become a loyal member of your audience.
The trick to hitting the sweet spot with a professional bio is being relatable in a compelling way. Over the years, I have crafted six rules for writing winning bios. Apply these to your bio, and you’ll be ready for that can’t-miss opportunity:
Remember your reader. This is your opportunity to tell your story in an engaging way. Don’t bore your readers by regurgitating your resume. Ask yourself: what captures your attention when you’re reading a bio? Is it big-name companies? High-profile awards? Leadership roles? Make a list of what you notice in bios, and see how you can use those items in your bio, too.
Eye-catching successes go first. I’ve had clients bury their most unique experiences at the end of their bio — things like leadership at NASA, experience as a contributor with USA Today, impressive industry awards and intriguing international assignments. Your bio isn’t the place to be shy about your accomplishments! Make it easy for your reader to respect your successes from the beginning.
Keep it brief. Resist the urge to add unnecessary information. Ask yourself “why should the reader care?” If you don’t have an excellent answer, save it for your resume. Too many bios go unread because they are too long.
Spell out acronyms and delete phrases requiring interpretation. Nothing turns a reader into a scanner (or snoozer) more quickly than a jumble of letters which mean nothing to people outside your industry. Take the time to spell out any acronym on the first reference. The same goes for some of those favorite “business-speak” phrases: instead of “constructive stimulus strategist” try “change agent” or even just “leader.” Fancy isn’t always better.
Share personal information sparingly. While bios can be a terrific opportunity to add a personal touch to your professional persona, there is a fine line between interesting and uncomfortably quirky. Stick with the facts (“She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys playing tennis and volunteering at her children’s schools”), always avoiding divisive topics like politics unless they directly impact your career field.
Be willing to call in an expert. If, after applying all the tips you’ve learned in this article, your bio doesn’t have the “snap” you know it needs, hire a professional writer. Your bio is the first opportunity you have to make a favorable impression when connecting with your target audience. Invest in making yours a top-notch personal marketing centerpiece.
Preparing a compelling, succinct bio guarantees when someone asks for yours — and they will — you’ll remain focused on the end result (you know … that amazing award acceptance speech, the front-page article, the keynote address) instead of the smaller, but critically important details.
Amy M. Dawson is a brand strategist, business writer, newspaper columnist and humor writer. She’s helped hundreds of professionals — from Fortune 500 CEOs to politicians and entrepreneurs— craft their personal brand through their bios. Sign up for her quarterly newsletter here and subscribe to her blog here.