Whether you need a description of yourself for the “About Us” page of your website or to send a blurb to the host of your upcoming conference, every professional should have an interesting, well-written and easily accessible biographical sketch (you never know when you will be asked to send one). Here are a few guidelines to help you write your first bio or  revise the one you’ve been using for years.  I’ll wait until you find the document on your computer…could take some time.

  1. It’s not a laundry list; it’s a snapshot of what makes you worth listening to.  Focus on expertise and capabilities rather than accomplishments.
  2. Be specific about why someone would want to learn from you.  As the folks at marketingprofs.com put it, “confidently set expectations” about what you know and what you can provide to your audience. Clear promises will grab more attention than vague promises, such as “superior service” and “gentle care.”
  3. Resist the temptation to write in superlatives.  Instead, focus on what an audience might find intriguing about you.  Think in word pictures.
  4. Close with a personal tidbit.  After you share any relevant academic background, think about a particular hobby, interest, or passion that might add a little flavor to balance out the necessary factual information.  People are interested in other people, not chronology.

To illustrate how succinct a good bio should be, just look at this introduction of Admiral Mike Mullen given by his son.  Turns out, even top military leaders hate dull and long-winded introductions:

Good afternoon, and welcome to tonight’s lecture. I have the privilege of introducing my dad, Admiral Mike Mullen. He’s a 1968 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and has served in the Navy for 40 years, the majority of that time spent in leadership positions. Not only has he commanded three U.S. Naval Warships, he also served as chief of Naval Operations and currently holds the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military adviser to the President. Each of these roles brought with them different leadership challenges and shaped him into the leader he is today. 

When I spoke to my dad about how he would like to be introduced, he said two things: keep it short and don’t just read his biography. So I’ll end by telling a short story that underscores what you can expect to hear this evening. In 1991 he attended a 10-week advance management program at Harvard Business School. He was a Captain in the Navy and his classmates were leaders in the business world. He speaks very highly of this time at HBS, but one moment stood out for him above the rest. It wasn’t until week 7 of that 10-week program that someone even mentioned the word accountability:  accountability, honor, trust.   My dad views these traits as critical to a leader’s success, as tonight’s lecture will illustrate.  Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Seventeenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Now get to work on your own bio before you lose interest!

– Barbara