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Writing a bio for your website, job or other promotional material can be a daunting task. I’ve encountered numerous people who have difficulty writing about themselves. Some err on not taking pride in their accomplishments; others, on not being humble enough.
I’ve been writing musician bios for over a decade. While there is a different form of promotional mentality that goes into artist bios and press releases, I’ve also written a number of personal bios for friends and artists.
What follows are some important tips I’ve accrued after writing a few hundred bios for a wide range of people.
Know Your Audience
Who are you targeting? The first thing you have to figure out is if it will be in First or Third Person. Both have advantages and disadvantages. If written in First Person, your bio will be conversational and, usually, light-hearted. The bad side is it might not be very professional. If it’s your personal blog about stuff you like, a First Person bio is perfect. If you’re going for something more pro, Third Person works best. That air of detachment lends an air of authority.
State Your Mission First
The best advice I’ve ever learned about bio writing is this: Open with what you are passionate about. State your mission, not your accomplishments, first. You will immediately connect with your readers. When I learned this, I changed the lead sentence in my own bio from what I do to why I do it. This distinction is important.
Some people have trouble listing accomplishments; for others, that’s all they want to do. I’ve read a number of bios that include lines like this:
Sally is the top yoga teacher in Des Moines.
Really? Who gave Sally that honor? Does she teach Kundalini yoga? Vinyasa? Bikram? Vague generalities that only serve to bolster your ego do not work in a bio, and you’ll alienate or intimidate more people than you’ll impress. Be proud, but be humble. List your accolades, but don’t make them the centerpiece, and don’t give yourself awards that you invented.
While I’m on this particular topic, let me just throw in the slew of "celebrity yoga teachers" I’ve come across. Teaching "celebrities"—relative term it is—does not make you a good teacher. Focus on being good at what you do, using your bio to get you more work, not wave a giant banner with your name plastered across it.
Have a short and long bio. The long bio can live on your personal site for those interested. For blogs and websites, have a short version ready that really defines who you are, what you do and, again, why you do it. As a former magazine editor, I had to learn how to transform a paragraph into a sentence. Personal histories are a great way to connect with people, but remember, most readers want to know who you are in a paragraph. Make that the best graph you possibly can.