Many good people write bad bios for themselves. Anyone asking you for a bio, or reading it, wants you to sound awesome, but what they need and what your ego wants to say are often different things. With these five simple rules you can write a good bio for yourself in less time, with less effort and everyone wins.
1. Impressive people have short bios
Bob Smith won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, twice. He invented air. He’s currently the head of Amazingness at Wonderment University.
Bob Smith spent 2001-2004 staring blankly at piles of yard waste in Atlantic City, NJ. During the better part of the 90’s he read several mediocre comic books. He studied in 2002-2008 licensing regulations for circus clowns in West Palm Beach, FL. and garnered a second place industry award while merchandising mouse yogurt in Las Vegas, NV. He consulted in near-UFO experiences with random tourists on the street in Ocean City, NJ. and spent two years unsuccessfully licensing cannibalism for farmers, while maintaing his Pez dispenser collection.*
Everyone wants your bio to be shorter. The shorter your bio, the more people will read it. No one is impressed by a long series of unimpressive things. If you have a great one sentence bio, people will be curious enough to find out more. On the other hand, if you have a bad and long bio they are certain never to want to learn anything about you. When you are famous enough to appear on TV or write an article for The New York Times, your by-line will be a few words long: Author. Senator. Musician. Keep this in mind. The goal is to make your bio shorter, not longer.
2. Write for the real audience
If you are asked for a bio because you are speaking somewhere, perhaps Ignite Seattle, shape your bio to best fit what you are speaking about. Your bio will be read by people at that event to help them understand why you’re credible on your topic.
For example, if you are speaking on fly fishing, don’t do this:
Sally Shmeckes is a software developer and designer who has written code in every language known to mankind. She works mostly as a hired gun for startups in trouble, who need a superhero to help turn trainwreck projects around. She studied 3-D Film Theory and Anti-Nuclear Architecture at the University of Ridiculousness, and has 3 children if you count her husband.
Do something like this instead:
Sally Shmeckes is a veteran software developer and designer. Her Dad taught her to fly fish before she could walk and she has fished every day since he died. She’s on twitter at @sallyschemkes56.
3. Invert your pyramid
Put the important facts first. The fancy term for this is the inverted pyramid. Assume with each word in your bio that fewer and fewer people will keep reading. It’s a great assumption because it’s true.
This is good:
Bono is the lead singer for the rock band U2. He is an advocate for many important political and social causes. His real name is Paul Hewson. He owns many interesting pairs of glasses.
Bono likes the color red, especially on Tuesdays. He loves to drink whiskey (on all days). He learned to drink whisky from his childhood friend Zippo, when they went to school together at Mount Temple Comprehensive School. His real name is Paul Hewson, He is best known as the lead singer for the band U2.
Have two versions of your bio, one two sentences long and a longer full paragraph version. When asked for a bio, provide both. For most marketing materials a short and long version are needed.
4. Be clever only if you’re certain it’s actually clever
From the Department of Made up Facts:
- Percent of people who think they are clever: 64%
- Percent of people who are actually clever: 7%
If you think you are clever: write your clever bio and get feedback on it from someone else you know who you’re certain is clever. If they approve, you’re in, but don’t try to be clever all on your own. One good joke in a bio is more than enough.
5. Watch the slashes, Jack
A sad trend born of Twitter are bios where people self describe themselves by a dozen different traits. This makes you look like someone who sucks at everything. It’s fine to be a Jack of All Trades, but to insist on telling everyone you’re a Jack of All Trades mostly makes you Jack of Many Annoyances. Our species has small brains: we need you to tell us the one or two of your trades that will be most relevant to us, or to what you will be talking about.
Instead of this, which seems written like SEO metadata:
Nina Nana is a designer / juggler / smuggler / hellraiser / accountant / anti-ninja / metallurgist / snake charmer
Nina Nana is a designer who has mastered juggling, smuggling and many glorious pursuits of diverse ingenuity.
That’s all. Happy bio writing!
[*Note: The second example from #1 is a revised creation of the auto bio generator.]