Hope Springs Internal™

April 25, 2015

Create Buzz for Your Business With an Attention-Grabbing Biography

Filed under: coaching — by latancs @ 12:30 pm
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By Linda Tancs

Biographies are increasingly important as part of a digital toolkit and make compelling introductions for book covers and presentations.  So why do so many executives treat biographies like the literary equivalent of canned soup?

To best maximize its effect, understand what a bio is—and isn’t.

A Bio is not a Résumé

Avoid thinking of a bio as a short-form résumé.  A résumé matches up one’s challenges, actions and results with a prospective employer’s needs as suggested by the job posting.  A bio, on the other hand, provides context and texture to a professional’s work and overall life experience.  Of course, you’ll list your accomplishments—whatever makes you appealing to the audience for which the bio is written (more on that below)—but you’ll highlight your most compelling attributes.

A Bio is not a Novel

Research indicates that the general attention span of a human adult is nine seconds.  That’s eight seconds more than a squirrel.  As a result, you need to write a focused piece that will convert a reader’s general attention span to one that is active and engaged with the subject matter.  A single page (or part thereof) is generally the norm.  Otherwise, you risk putting your readers into a sleep-inducing haze and losing them.

A Bio is not Self-Serving

A bio is written with a target audience in mind, illustrating how your experience is best suited to their needs.  There’s an adage in marketing that stories sell and facts tell.  You need to understand how your story advances your position in the mind of the target audience.  You won’t win consumer attachment if the statements you make are self-serving.

So how do you write a succinct, audience-targeted piece that survives a digitally-induced short attention span?  Here are some pointers.

Interview Yourself

It’s easy to rely on a résumé or other historical data to write a bio.  However, résumés typically lack personality.  We’re all unique; you want your attributes to shine through the document.  To do that, you need to dig deep.  Ask yourself probing questions:

  • If you could write your own testimonial, what would it say?
  • Professionally speaking, how would you want to be remembered in an obituary?
  • What makes you special/better/unique at what you do?
  • What would your family/friends/colleagues say is one outstanding thing about you? (Better yet, interview them yourself.)

Then think like a journalist writing an article and work the best of your who, what, when, where, how and why of your background into the narrative (paying particular attention to the how and why):

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • When did you start doing it?
  • Where have you worked?
  • How do you stand out?
  • Why should the reader care?

Think Like a Landing Page

A landing page is arguably the most important of all web pages on a website because that’s where conversion events take place.  It’s where you capture visitors’ information and process it along the sales funnel from lead to customer (hopefully).  However, visitors don’t provide information on landing pages unless they’re captivated by the offer—the content—on the page.  You need to think of your bio the same way, and capture the audience before their attention span wanders.  Remember the old adage (now used in the web context) that important information needs to be placed “above the fold.”  Put the best of your journalistic story early in the narrative.  Save the education, industry certifications and affiliations for the end.

Know Your Audience

Every bio should be written with a target audience in mind and a statement of a unique selling proposition—something that you want to “own” in the mind of the target audience.  A list of credentials that reads like alphabet soup or a narrative of subject matter expertise is not unique.  Consider the following example of a bio of a (fictionalized) corporate lawyer:

Huey Dewey serves as chair of the firm’s Corporate Practice Group. Mr. Dewey has expertise in business law, with a particular emphasis on small and medium-sized privately held companies. His experience and capabilities include:

  • Formation and Dissolution Of Business Entities
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Business Planning
  • Corporate Governance
  • Shareholder Agreements
  • Employment Contracts
  • Non-Disclosure and Non-Competition Agreements
  • Commercial Litigation

A frequent speaker and lecturer, Mr. Dewey earned his J.D. from New York Law School and his B.A. from Duke University.

This bio is an illustration of the maxim that facts tell.  In other words, facts don’t sell.  Huey’s target audience appears to be small and medium-sized privately held companies.  If you were Huey, then you would need to ask yourself: What are the needs of this population and how are you uniquely suited to address them?

The Anatomy of a Bio

Use third-person voice. It’s the generally accepted format for biographies.

  • Photo (optional). If you use one, make sure it’s a current, professional headshot. Don’t use a cropped vacation or cocktail party photo.
  • Start with your name—in bold type. Your name may be set off as a headline or as the start of the narrative. If you use it as a headline, consider adding a subhead that highlights your value.
  • Summarize your unique selling proposition in a short paragraph. Think of it as a 30-second elevator speech.
  • Back up the unique selling proposition with evidence of your ability to deliver on it. This may include quotes or testimonials from customers. Avoid the use of industry jargon or acronyms.
  • Follow up with education and relevant industry certifications, affiliations and awards.
  • End with contact information (email, business address and phone number) and links to appropriate media such as a website, Twitter account, LinkedIn account or Facebook page.
  • Don’t exceed one page in length.

Summary

A compelling bio establishes your brand promise in the mind of the reader.  Probe your background and the needs of your clients to uncover what makes you unique enough to establish your value.  And don’t be afraid of change.  A bio shouldn’t be a static document.  It should be revisited frequently to assess the feasibility of adding compelling statistics or current events to the narrative.  For instance, an executive in the field of education could use a bio to address current events and important issues like cyberbullying, Common Core and skills testing, showcasing the executive’s thought leadership.   These writing techniques will help you craft a story that’s worthy of generating buzz for your business.

This post is an adaptation of the article, “Create Media Buzz with an Attention-Grabbing Biography or Backgrounder.” The article appears in PR News’ first edition of The Writer’s Guidebook.

 

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