Written by Alexis Wong
Crafting a professional bio, for many of us, can be an incredibly daunting task. How could one person, with a lifetime of experiences try to boil down their existence into a meaningful 20–200 words? Equally important, how can someone with less work experience write a bio that stands out and gives them intellectual heft? With that kind of stress, why even create one at all? Articles like the following from 99U, “The Resume is Dead, The Bio is King”, explain why bios are the best chance to make a striking first impression:
People work with people they can relate to and identify with. Trust comes from personal disclosure. And that kind of sharing is hard to convey in a resume. Your bio needs to tell the bigger story. Especially, when you’re in business for yourself, or in the business of relationships. It’s your bio that’s read first.
When applying to speak at at a conference via a CFP or Call for Proposal, bios are often a mandatory part of the process. Professional bios are meant to give a short but impactful description of who you are, why you do what you do and why your talk matters. In other words, what makes you most uniquely qualified to talk about your topic. Never fear! Here at Women Talk Design, we wanted to offer quick guidelines to help you make it work.
Before you start, make sure you read all the CFP requirements. Much like writing a cover letter, having a great template bio is fantastic and easy — but you want organizers to know that you pay attention to details. For example, if they want a bio that’s less than 100 words and the submitted one is 200 words, it’s not a good look. Or if you submit a personal bio when organizers are specifically calling for a professional bio. Being present and aware of the requirements when creating your professional bio will provide peace of mind that you’re off on the right foot.
Quick Tip: Look for our next post on breaking down a CFP and what Creative Commons licenses mean for presenters!
Keeping it Simple. Sure, it’s fun and feels great to start naming all your accomplishments, like the time you were the top 10 finisher in your high school magazine sale, but let’s make sure it’s relevant to your current interests and the topic of the conference (see Step 1)
- Pick your top 1–3 professional accomplishments.
- What organizations do you work with and what positions do you fulfill within them?
- What makes you uniquely qualified to give the talk you are proposing?
Women Talk Design CEO, Danielle Barnes, offers her tips on a “mad-libs” format for crafting an effective and short-form bio.
- Currently _____ at _____
- Before that I was _____ at/with _____
- Also, what’s something fun or related that you’d like us to know?
Danielle Barnes currently serves as CEO of Women Talk Design, an organization elevating brilliant talks by women and non-binary individuals, training new speakers of diverse backgrounds and empowering organizers to create more inclusive events. She also founded Austin Design Week in 2016 where she serves as the Lead Communications organizer. An avid runner, Danielle has set a goal to run a marathon on every continent. (65 words)
Quick tip: Most word processing programs have a Word Count tool. In MS Word, →highlight your text → Go to the Tools Menu → pull down to Word Count
Write your bio in the 3rd Person. This is the most universally recognized format for professional bios. While writing a first person perspective bio (“I am…” “I’ve worked in…” or “My personal experience…”) is great for an online portfolio or blog and comes across personable and friendly, a conference bio necessitates something a bit more formal. That doesn’t mean stiff, but you want to be taken seriously when you’re speaking with other industry pros.
Use action words. This is going to be the most effective way to succinctly express your accomplishments without using the passive voice.
This: Alexis innovated and implemented new processes that led to 27% increases in revenue for the company.
Instead of this: New processes leading to 27% increases in revenue were implemented by Alexis’ efforts.
It can be difficult for all of us to own our power when it comes to accomplishments. Think of it as writing a bio for a best friend, not just yourself. Keep it short, truthful and action packed!
Quick tip: Here’s a link to a compiled list of action words you can use in your bio or resume: 65 Action Words For Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile
Be you! Sure, copying a bio or a styling it like someone in the industry you admire is a great start, but eventually, you’re going to want to be known as a speaker on your own terms. Christina Wodtke, the founder of WTD, developed the following five questions that attendees of our bi-monthly workshops use to interview one another and develop a personal statement. Grab a friend or trusted colleague and spend 10 minutes on these statements.
- What lights you up
- What’s the coolest thing you’ve accomplished?
- What are you a product of?
- What are some of your talk ideas? Why you?
- What’s important about you that’s not on your resume?
Ask for help. Here’s a secret that not many of us take advantage of, other people LOVE to be asked for help in the form of their opinion or advice. It’s generally referred to as the “Ben Franklin Effect” (read more on it here)
By asking someone else for feedback on what you’ve written, you’ll be able to walk away with interesting insights on yourself as well as potentially gaining an ally — WIN WIN!
If you’re still interested in more information and advice on crafting your bio, here are some of our favorites:
- The product designer, developer and game maker, Catt Small has also written a fantastic blog post on crafting your bio. As an experienced public speaker, Catt has some amazing advice on writing bios of different lengths and encourages us all to not be afraid to brag about our accomplishments. Brava Catt!
- In this recommendation, authors Poornima Vijayashanker and Karen Catlin offer sage advice on discovering your expertise, sharing that expertise confidently and publicly and leveling up your career. The book serves as a resource for technology professionals who want or need to develop the skills to communicate their expertise effectively, whether in a meeting at work or delivering an engaging talk at a conference.
- Authors Russ Unger and Samantha Starmer dedicate an entire chapter in their book to crafting your bio with an added plus of feedback and advice on what makes a great bio from conference organizers.
At Women Talk Design, we’re your biggest believers and advocates. We know you can do it and we’re here to help you along the way. Your feedback is a gift, so we’d love to hear back from you and share the tips for a winning bio!
Say hello: email@example.com
Attend or speak at the next Women Talk Design Lightning Talk Event coming up on May 2nd, 2018 in San Francisco, CA, or check out our other upcoming events: https://womentalkdesign.com/events/