Are you trying to write your own bio? Then you’ve probably discovered how hard it is to give your bio a personal touch—without sounding like a personals ad—while still making prospects feel like they’re in good, competent, professional hands.
Whether I’m writing my own bio or someone else’s, I find bios the most extraordinarily difficult kind of copy to write. How many of us compress our lives into 200 words or less in real-life conversation? Only the most annoying ones, that’s who. Bio-speak has practically developed into its own language. Spend an afternoon reading LinkedIn profiles and you’ll become a bio-speak master. “Boring is better” seems to be the prevailing attitude. Even a New York Times reporter was unable to remain completely objective about this issue.
Here’s an example of bio-speak at its worst:
Jane Madison is an accomplished, seasoned consultant and thought leader* with 23 years experience creating top-line and bottom-line results for Fortune-1 companies. That’s right–she only works with Fortune’s number one company in any given year, producing millions of dollars in revenue. It’s unclear whether the beneficiary of this revenue is her or her clients. She’s pretty sure it’s her clients, although she does live in an exclusive Woodside neighborhood with her husband and their five pedigree horses. She has a BS in Advanced Psychographic Analytics from Harvard University, where she made the Dean’s List for five years in a row. Although she graduated in a record two years, she remained on the Dean’s List for a subsequent three years because of the vast influence her term papers had on the academic world as a whole.
*Thanks to Nathan Bowers for reminding me of this popular bio adornment.
OK, I made this up. But let’s assume you want your bio to sound a bit less douche-y than that.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bio that sounded like an actual person wrote it—rather than the Bizarro, corporate version of you?
The following 16 questions are designed to help you produce the raw ingredients to write bios like this or like this.
But before you dig in, please read these instructions:
- Set a timer for 26 minutes. This is very important. Do not skip this step! If you’re a Level-9 Procrastinator like me, you’ll never start this exercise if you don’t give yourself permission to do it quickly. This doesn’t have to become a 3-hour, story-of-my-life writing intervention. (Unless you want it to.)
- Answer the questions in a rambling, conversational style. You might even write them in the body of an email you pretend to send to a friend. Don’t worry about perfect sentences. This exercise is not designed to help you craft your bio. It’s simply to help you dig up all the good, fresh stuff buried in your brain, which you can then use to craft your bio. If you hate writing and are better at thinking on your feet, then speak your answers into a recorder or iPhone and transcribe them.
- Let your answers sit for a while. Then bold the answers that seem interesting, unexpected, insightful, profound, or just plain feel like you.
Now you’re ready to go. Here are 16 questions to get you started and to keep you from writing a bio-speak bio.
16 Questions to Help You Write Your Bio
- How did you arrive at running this business? What path brought you here?
- What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?
- What’s the one problem you are best at solving for your clients? What do your ideal clients say about you?
- Who have you worked with in the past? And what have you done for them?
- What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work & the contribution you can make?
- What are you passionate about personally? What do you really enjoy? What can’t you stop talking about?
- Where can we find you when you’re not working? What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?
- How long have you been doing what you do?
- Where did you grow up and why aren’t you there now?
- Any volunteer activities you’re crazy about?
- Any nonprofits you love, & why?
- Any awards or medals, or even medallions? Personal okay, too.
- What would be impossible for you to give up?
- Why would someone not want to work with you?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- Anything else you’d like to tell people about yourself?
You can use this bio for your LinkedIn profile, for your website’s About page, or for a speaker bio.