professional life

How to Write a Killer Bio

When I talk with people about ways they can strengthen their own writing, one of the things I’m asked the most is how to write a great bio. How do you write about yourself in a way that’s personal (but not TOO personal), sings your praises (but isn’t braggy or pretentious), and effectively sells your story and experience (without seeming sales-y)?

I shared my thoughts on bios with Amy V. Cooper, photographer and owner of Trove Agency, on her blog last month. Everyone who contributed agreed that the ideal bio is both personal and accessible: it tells a story and compels the reader to want to learn more or take further action. But how do we get there? How do we elicit just the right feelings in our reader, and what specific information do we include to achieve that objective in one paragraph of text?

This past weekend, I attended the Creatives Meet Business Experience, a three-day annual conference in Austin that connects creative entrepreneurs with the skills they need to thrive, both artistically and professionally. Ghostwriter Jess Hagemann of Cider Spoon Stories led a session on architecting the perfect bio, in which she created a 150-word narrative with three essential attributes, or her ‘three Es’: educational (we learn about the subject of the bio we’re reading), entertaining (not necessarily ‘laugh out loud’ funny, but compelling), and elicits a response (a call to action for the reader).

In her session, Hagemann explored the concept of personas (the ‘who/what/where/when/why’) and cornerstones (what drives you, or your larger “why”) using Eminem as her biographical subject. The rapper’s three distinct personas (Eminem, Slim Shady and Marshall Bruce Mathers III) allow him to explore a wide range of themes, tones, and subject matter in his lyrics, and he employs each of these personas in his work.

There is also the question of first-person versus third-person perspective for a bio: should the subject be ‘I’, or ‘s/he/they’? It all depends: the purpose of the bio, or the audience who will be reading it, should determine which point of view is employed. As an example, my own LinkedIn bio is written in first person because I want the reader to feel as though I’m speaking directly to them on my page to help establish a connection. When I submit a bio to publications or any outlet outside of my own domain, it’s written in third person.

My answer for how to write a truly memorable bio? It’s that maddening cliché again: it all depends. For any bio you write, consider these three key elements:

Your audience. Who will be reading it? Is it on your own website, your employer’s website, materials for a talk you’re giving, or a quick, punchy elevator pitch on what you do? If content is king, then context is everything.

Your story. Think of a bio as a narrative: you’re guiding the reader through a short story of your background, experiences, and beliefs to invite them to learn more about who you are and what you do. Set stakes: give people a compelling reason

Your end game. What would you like to see happen after someone reads your bio? Do you want a sale? Attendance for a talk you’re giving at a conference? A click on your website? Think of your bio as an opener; it should be the start of a conversation with your reader.

In his Creatives Meet Business session, Brian Massey of Conversion Sciences implored us to not write our own copy because we’re simply too close to our own story to be able to see it clearly. When we break this rule (as everyone inevitably does), we must think like editors and copywriters ourselves.

(And if you don’t feel like editing and copywriting yourself, let me know.)

image is Amanda Palmer’s bio in her memoir, The Art of Asking