As marketers, we generally have no problems trumpeting all the advantages of the products and services our company sells. We can write pages about features and benefits, come up with brilliant positioning statements, and craft superbly written brand stories that would make the ghost of David Ogilvy nod approvingly.
But all that changes when it's time to write about ourselves: the dreaded executive bio.
Whether you're writing your first bio or refreshing one you haven't looked at in years, you’d think your bio would be the easiest thing in the world to write. After all, who knows us better than ourselves?
It’s hard to toot our own horn, though. How can you be completely objective about yourself while also “putting yourself out there”? Also, your bio is personal, and you may question whether what you have to offer is enough.
Add to this the fact that so many bios out there are soul-crushingly dull. The last thing you want to do is create something similarly dreary.
Over the course of my own career, I have helped many, many executives write bios that are decidedly not boring or lifeless. And here’s what I’ve learned: Your experience IS enough. And your story does NOT have to be boring. You just need to know how to write your executive bio in a way that lets your story shine.
It’s critical to get this right, as there’s potentially quite a lot on the line. The right executive bio can help you land your dream job, win a great speaking gig, or bring important credibility to your business.
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Ultimately, your executive bio helps your reader make an important decision: Are you the caliber of person this reader wants to work with?
And herein lies the secret to writing a great bio: You need to write with a goal in mind.
Your bio shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, focus on what it needs to achieve, so the right details of your bio can really pop. (And if you need it to achieve multiple goals, write multiple versions of your bio!) It all boils down to getting that focus and narrowing in on the right story to tell.
Your bio shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, focus on what it needs to achieve, so the right details of your bio can really pop.
If you’re wondering how to write your bio, here are eight questions that will guide you in this process:
- Where will you use the bio?
- Who will read the bio?
- What decision does your reader need to make?
- What 3 details about you will help the reader make this decision?
- Why is each of these details important to your reader?
- Can you explain these details with examples?
- What tone do you want to convey?
- How long should your bio be?
Let’s explore this further.
1. Where will you use this bio?
Will you need to use this bio on your LinkedIn profile? On your company’s website? In an RFP? To win speaking gigs?
Where you publish your bio will have a big impact on how you should structure it – whether you need a short three-sentence summary, or whether you have room for a full-page story, or something in between.
2. Who will read this bio?
When writing anything for marketing, it’s imperative to keep your reader in mind. When writing your bio, this rule still holds true!
For example, if your target reader is potential clients, you might want to highlight your experience in your industry and any thought leadership you’ve built. If you’re writing for potential employers, you might want to highlight specific results you’ve generated in previous jobs.
3. What decision does your reader need to make?
Think about why the reader is reading your bio. If your reader is a potential client, this person might need to understand the capabilities of your company’s leadership team, to determine if they want to hire your company as a vendor. If your reader is a meeting planner trying to book a speaker for an upcoming event, this person might be trying to decide whether your repertoire and tone matches what their audience wants to hear.
4. What 3 details about you will help the reader make this decision?
There may be many details about yourself that you can share in your bio. Choose three. If you try to share more than three details, you risk boring your reader – or worse, you risk revealing to your reader that you don’t know how to focus.
Your three details might include your credentials, your experience, any measurable results you’ve delivered, or even your perspective on life/your career/your industry. Think about your answer to question #3 and choose your details accordingly.
5. Why is each of these details important to the reader?
As you think about how to flesh out these three details you’ve chosen, think about why you’re sharing these details.
How will these details influence the decision the reader is trying to make? Why does the reader care about these details? Asking these questions will help you understand how to position these details within your broader story, so you can be sure your story is tightly relevant to your reader.
6. Can you explain these details with examples?
Is there a story behind any of these details? Can you illustrate what happened or why it’s important? Can you show versus tell?
For example, many years ago I helped a plastic surgeon write his bio for his medical practice’s website. An important detail for this physician was his friendly, caring personality. Plastic surgeons often have a reputation for being a bit arrogant, and we wanted to let his readers – i.e., potential plastic surgery patients – know that this doctor was different, and that if they chose to work with this doctor, they would have a wonderful experience.
As I discussed with the doctor how he practices medicine with this friendly, caring approach, he mentioned that he always personally calls each patient the day after surgery. In many practices, this is done by nurses, but this doctor took the time to speak personally with each patient to make sure they were recuperating well. What a perfect detail + example to include in his bio!
7. What tone do you want to convey?
Think back to your answers to questions #1 and #2. Based on where your bio will be published and who will be reading it, how should your bio sound? Conversational? Academic? Funny? Sophisticated? Unexpected?
Follow this tone and style as you’re choosing which words to use or how to structure your sentences. A bio for a financial services senior executive will need to be formal and uber-professional, whereas a bio for a graphic designer in a marketing agency can be fresh and funky. Both approaches are valid yet couldn’t be more different.
8. How long should your bio be?
Your answers to questions #1 and #2 will also drive this. You might even consider writing multiple versions of your bio to fit different space constraints. For instance, I have a long version of my bio that I use in RFPs – which enables me to dig more deeply into my career experience and convey the full extent of my credibility. But I also have a short version of my bio that I use as an introduction for speaking gigs – which enables me to quickly get the attention of my audiences and prime them for the presentation I’m about to give.
So … now that you’ve gone through these questions and brainstormed some ideas, you’re ready to get to work!
Tips for writing your executive bio
Here’s some helpful guidance as you begin to write your story.
Start with your first detail.
For any writing project, getting started is often the hardest part. When writing your bio, I recommend starting with the very first detail you listed in question #4. Even if you thought you were listing your details in no particular order, consider this a subliminal message from your subconscious that your first detail is the most important!
Don’t edit as you write.
Don’t worry about being perfect. Instead, just focus on getting something on paper. It’s perfectly okay to write a messy first draft. In fact, that’s what professional writers do: We write a horrible first draft, and then we go back and edit and polish the draft until we’re satisfied.
If you try to edit yourself as you write, you’ll get bogged down and the draft will be very hard to finish.
Pay attention to length.
Once you’ve completed your first draft, look at the word count. Does what you’ve written fit the space where it will be published?
If your bio is too short, go back to questions #3, #4, and #6 and look for opportunities to elaborate on your story.
If your bio is too long, you’ll need to cut something out. First, identify what absolutely can NOT be cut. Next, look for sentences you can rephrase using fewer words. For example, you could change “Beth has worked in the marketing industry for twenty years” (10 words) to “Beth has two decades of marketing experience” (7 words). Same meaning, but fewer words. Last, cut out any detail that is expendable – i.e., delete anything that doesn’t directly relate to question #3 and the decision your reader needs to make.
Polish your bio mindfully.
When you’re ready to start editing, try to read your draft from a different perspective. It’s best if you can set aside your draft for a day, so when you pick it up again, you’re reading it with fresh eyes. If time doesn’t allow for that, read the draft while standing, or read it in a different room. Changing your perspective can help illuminate areas of your draft that need work.
As you’re reviewing the draft, read it out loud. Does it flow? Is it clear? Should any sentences be rearranged?
Throughout it all, as you’re writing and editing, remember that writing a great bio isn’t about bragging about all the great things you’ve done, and it’s not even about “selling” yourself.
It’s about helping your reader make a decision.
Your reader really does want to learn more about you. If you give your reader too little information, they won’t learn what they need to about you. On the other hand, if you give your reader too much information, they’ll tune you out and won’t receive the story you want to share.
Instead, tell your story with a few, important, carefully chosen details. Keep your reader in mind and understand what decision your reader needs to make. And above all, stay true to your story.
My best advice? Relax, enjoy the process, have fun with the way you put your words together, and you’ll find that your story tells itself.