how to write a bio that people actually enjoy reading or hearing (3 Steps!)

While I love doing things that are public facing — speaking on stage, getting interviewed on podcasts, being part of a panel, writing guest blog posts, running workshops for organization — there’s one part I always used to hate. Being asked that question:

“Could you email over a short bio?”

Because summing up your entire career in one paragraph is harrrrrd.

But also, a bio is one of those things that “you just have to have” — which is entirely the wrong way to think about it. Instead, you should be asking yourself my favourite two questions:

What am I trying to achieve with this?
What do I want to be different in the world as a result of me doing this?

When it comes to a bio, the answer to these is usually:

1. Credibility
You want people to know that it’s worth listening to/reading what you have to say.

2. Visibility
Your bio can let potential clients/collaborators/mailing list members understand what it is that you do, and wanting to get involved.

3. Entertainment
As a rule, bios are SO. BORING. If you can add life into yours, you’ll engage people immediately and they’ll warm to you before you’ve spoken a word.

So, how do you cover those three things in one short bio? Here are some suggestions:

1. Credibility
If you’ve worked with some big-deal companies / done some really impressive things, then this is easy. But don’t be too freaked out if you haven’t. The most important thing you need to know about this part is…

IT IS MOSTLY SMOKE AND MIRRORS.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Part of the credibility portion of my bio is the part where I talk about which media I’ve been featured in. On the list is Forbes.
Big business magazine, the reader thinks. Impressive.

In 2015, my friend Amanda Berlin was writing a piece about networking for an online magazine called The Muse. At the time, I was teaching Networking, so we had a quick call. In the end, she used one sentence from our chat. Not even a mind-blowing sentence: “You want to look at everything from a ‘friendship-y’ point of view,” I said. Right.

(side note: AB is a wonderful writer who chose the best sentence for her purposes. I was just clearly not on mind-blowing form that day)

About a month later, for reasons I can’t entirely understand, Forbes decided to reprint the entire article on their website.

VOILA. I HAVE BEEN FEATURED IN FORBES!

I tell you this story to show that often, we have things we can make look fancy. Have you done a job for a company that has won any kind of award, however small? Then you’ve “worked with award-winning companies.” Have you had at least one client in a country outside your own — even if that country was just across the border? Then you have “clients across the globe.”

Remember — this part is just about convincing them that you’re not some rando off the street who picked a subject out of a hat. You KNOW what you’re talking about, and sometimes you need a little smoke and mirrors to get that across in just a few words.

(nb: thanks to a FB group I’m in where someone asked about favourite quotes, I’ve now been in it twice)

2. Visibility
This is where you think about what your ideal client (/collaborator/mailing list member)’s pain points are, and what their desires are. (Need some more convincing that this is important? Here you can watch this vid). You don’t need to go into great depth. Just make sure you mention what you do, for whom and what they get from it.

3. Entertainment
If you are a hilarious comedian who can make their bio laugh-out-loud funny, then amazing! But most of us aren’t. So I suggest an alternative:

Ask yourself why you REALLY care about what you do. Then put that into your bio.

Here’s an example of how to include all three — with a real-life, before and after example.

With permission, my (brilliant!!) friend and former client Jeff Harry (of Rediscover Your Play) has allowed me to share the bio he and I worked on.

Here’s his old bio before we worked on it. Feel free to skim.

Jeffrey joined Play-Well TEKnologies in 2003 as a LEGO’ Engineering Instructor and by 2007 he had expanded Play-Well’s outreach to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco’s East Bay area. As a Senior Manager, he now oversees Play-Well’s Human Resources and Marketing efforts. Jeffrey holds a Mechanical Engineering degree from Tufts University and he has worked in the toy industry for such companies as Sega of America, Toys R Us International, and the Times Square Toys R Us. He has over ten years of experience working with children, as an educator, coach, and mentor. At his Alma Mater, Jeffrey was part of the team that test piloted the early educational manipulative of the LEGO Mindstorms’ system, LEGO DACTA’ and the LEGO ROBOLAB’ system. Jeffrey enjoys challenging children to explore the world through engineering and in the process, discovering new possibilities.

Lots of history. Lots of credibility. But it’s pretty dry and in no way gets across the genius and joyous human Jeff is in real life.

During our session, here’s what what we came up with instead:

Jeff Harry believes that there’s nothing quite like watching a Senior Executive screaming with delight while skipping after a tiny LEGO car. As the VP of Fun at Play-Well TEKnologies, he and his team show kids and adults how to tap into their true selves and feel their happiest and most fulfilled — all by playing with tiny LEGO pieces.

Jeff has worked with Google, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, Adobe, the NFL, Amazon and Facebook, helping their staff to infuse more play into the day-to-day. It turns out that giving people permission to be really silly helps them be more productive, learn faster and love their work. His play work has been featured on AJ+, SoulPancake, the SF Chronicle and CNN.

Jeff understands that, while we spend most of our time pretending to be important and serious grown-ups, when we can let go of that facade and just play, magic happens. Fully embracing your own nerdy genius — whatever that is — gives you the power to make a difference and change lives.

Big diff, right? Doesn’t that make you want to see him talk/listen to the podcast/read the guest blog post??

So, please: stop writing bios for the sake of writing a bio. Instead, think about why you’re doing it and what you want to happen differently as a result. Then include:

1. Credibility
2. Visibility
3. Entertainment

Why? Because the benefit of having a great bio isn’t just having a great bio. Once you’ve distilled what you do, why you’re awesome and why your people should care about you into a couple of paragraphs, you can use it as the foundation for all sorts of things — an About page, a mission statement, even an answer to the dreaded question, “So….what do you do?”

And if you’d like a hand with writing your bio, it’s something I can help you do within 45 mins. For a limited time, I’m offering a small number of spots in a new service which I’m provisionally calling A Bio That You Actually Feel Good About, or ABTYAFGA (catchy). It costs $350USD, meaning it’s also the cheapest way to work with me (the next step up is a two-hour session at $1000USD).

During the 45 min session, I’ll dig into what functions you need your bio to have (from getting you clients to making you look cool), and how to make sure you have the right balance of credibility, visibility and entertainment, so that your ideal people will flock to your site and feel desperate to work with you.

Plus, if it ever gets read out loud, instead of squirming with embarrassment, you’ll be beaming with pride! Here’s what my client Ginny Santos from NeOlé said about a bio we worked on literally yesterday:

“Before working with Marsha, I had five different versions of my bio and didn’t like any of them. Within 45 mins, Marsha helped me craft a bio that I love. It feels super-authentic and makes me look accomplished and interesting. For the first time, I have a bio that will make people want to hire me before even meeting me!”

Want to grab one of those spots before they go? Click HERE. Got any questions? Drop me a line.

Thanks so much for reading! If you know anyone who does a lot of speaking or podcast interviews — or who’s just been agonizing about writing their bio — you can share this post with them using one of the round buttons below, or click HERE to share it on Facebook.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS I know telling you how to write your own bio is kind of shooting myself in the foot as far as getting new customers is concerned. Honestly, my #1 hope in writing this is that you can use those pointers and figure it out for yourself. But I also know that sometimes, I can have all the pointers in the world, and won’t get anything half-decent done unless I have someone holding my hand through the process. So if that’s you, grab yourself one of the A Bio That You Actually Feel Good About spots by clicking HERE.

PPS if you want more free advice on storytelling, business, speaking and how to Be Unforgettable, AND my free guide for the magic bullet when it comes to telling compelling stories, come and join the Yes Yes Family. It’s free! Pop your details in below:

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