During your career, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to write a biography about yourself for websites, social media, conference programs, membership in professional organizations and more. The problem is, too many people seize that moment to pontificate about themselves as if they’d won an Academy Award or Nobel Prize. But writing an effective bio can do more than just tout your accomplishments—it can really serve to advance your ideas and message. Now’s a good time to rethink your bio, and here’s a handful of important principles to keep in mind:
1) Mention your accomplishments, but don’t go over the top. Far too many bios include phrases like “changing the world,” “bestselling author,” “in demand speaker” or “internationally respected _______.” Unless those types of accolades can be verified, don’t stretch the truth. It hurts your credibility. Always remember that in the Internet age, everything can be verified.
2) Focus on your “One Big Thing.” Too many bios list a wide array of interests and work, and leave the reader wondering what your area of expertise actually is. Instead, use your bio to share what you feel called and prepared to accomplish with your life. (And if you don’t know what that is, then read my book.)
3) Write your bio for a specific audience. Is the bio being used for a leadership conference? Then focus on your expertise in that area. For a job site? Focus on your qualifications. For a professional organization? Make it clear why you’re part of that group. Always think about the specific reader of the bio and what they need to know.
4) Keep it short and sweet. Generally speaking, I’ve noticed that in conference programs, the least experienced person usually has the longest biography. That’s because the most qualified speakers don’t need to promote themselves in their bio. Keep it short and focused on the purpose at hand.
5) If you’re young or haven’t accomplished a great deal, then don’t fake it. When someone starts in a new career, they often feel like there isn’t much to say. If that’s the case, then make what little you’ve done look good. And think about things outside the workplace to talk about—maybe your work for a local cause or nonprofit. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself, but don’t make things up. Your integrity matters, so just keep it simple.
6) Finally, have some fun. When Paula Zahn joked on CNN that I was “the only working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology,” I included that in my bio. The only reason my wife went out with me on our first date is that when I called her, she thought I was someone else—so I’ve used that in a bio. Maybe you have an odd hobby, or a quirky past. Don’t be so serious all the time. People will enjoy seeing your personality.
Remember—your biography isn’t about bragging rights, it’s about credibility. Why should I listen to your speech, check out your website or connect with you online? Lose the hype, be authentic and have some fun.