September 13, 2021
When was the last time you read and retained the content in a speaker’s bio?
Or got to the end of a bio that actually made you more excited to attend that speaker’s session? Don’t worry if you can’t recall one; speaker bios are notoriously predictable, clinical, and uninspiring. Most deserve little more than a speed read, a distracted skim across their impressive list of achievements, quickly glossed over, quickly forgotten. Even when the person delivering a talk is uniquely impressive or deservedly celebrated, their bios rarely reflect those attributes. Usually they’re nothing more than a condensed self-congratulatory CV, with little thought for the intended audience or indication of any positive experience in hearing that speaker on stage. A great bio is rare, and sets us up for a great story to come. Because a great bio is its own story, the one we use to engage and energize our audience long before we step into the spotlight.
The average speaker bio reads something like this…
[SPEAKER] is a specialist in [SUBJECT] with [#] years of industry expertise. After graduating from [UNIVERSITY] with a [DEGREE] they started their career with [COMPANY] as a [JOB TITLE] in charge of [IMPORTANT WORK]. [SPEAKER] joined [NEXT COMPANY] in [YEAR] as a [NEW JOB TITLE] and served on the board of directors of [MAJOR BRAND/S] where they led a team of [VERY LARGE #] and was awarded the [IMPRESSIVE HONORS]. At [NEXT COMPANY] they helped design and build [WELL-KNOWN WIDGET] and have been invited to speak at [LISTOF MEETINGS/ PUBLICATIONS/MEDIA OUTLETS.] [SPEAKER] is on faculty at [COLLEGE], is an avid [ATHLETE/ PAINTER/COOK/SAILOR/COLLECTOR/ETC], and member of [EXCLUSIVE ORGANIZATION].
As a potential audience member, how much of that story do you care about, connect with, or will you recall after reading it?
Impressive titles and achievements are standard bio fare, but they don’t add up to a story.
Resume highlights typically focus entirely on the speaker and offer nothing but ego to potential attendees. Your bio can and should do so much more, for you and for your viewers. If your name is on the session, we already know you’re qualified and worthy to give that presentation; what your audience prefers is a bio that demonstrates your passion for your subject, insight into your personality, what motivates you personally and professionally, and how you’ll deliver value to us if and when we attend your talk.
Whether your bio is 50 words or 500, it should include five key elements:
Expertise, Value, Experience, Change, and Excitement.
Expertise The first line of your bio should serve as both an introduction and inspiration to your audience. Open with your most impressive area of specialty, the one you are most passionate about and proud of, that makes you want to get up in the morning and get to work. Look beyond the job title to why your expertise matters to viewers. For example, instead of kicking off with, “Joan Johnson is Senior VP of Product Marketing at Millennial Capital and a Fellow in Global Finance at Corlear University,” Joan can personalize and elevate her passion of purpose, aiming beyond her resume to what her audience will care about most: “Joan Johnson is a career veteran of building better marketing teams and finance entrepreneurs, leveraging 25 years of senior leadership to support the next generation of global game changers.” That speaks directly to Joan’s strength and expertise, but also to her audience who recognize she’s clearly focused on their interests.
Value Audiences care about one thing; themselves. Until they recognize the clear and compelling value you offer, they’re unlikely to tune in or prioritize your message. Once you introduce yourself, use the next line of your bio to show you’re speaking for the benefit of your listeners instead of your own glory. Rather than more resume listings, connect your qualifications to audience payoff. “As a Helbert Award-winning author, Jim develops new methods of speed and accuracy in security risk remediation, helping colleagues and IT leaders become security rock stars for their companies.” We get a little Jim CV, plus a lot of promise that gets us excited for Jim’s talk.
Experience Your bio should spotlight the top positions you’ve held, but then connect those positions to what you’ve learned and how you put your laudable experience to work for others. Remember, your audience isn’t as interested in your list of achievements as they are in how those achievements will pay off for them if they attend your talk. No one will remember Barbara’s accolades, but they will remember how “Barbara was on the startup team of Barrier Group and named to Doucy’s 30 Under 30 for her groundbreaking work in analytics streamlining, which she’s eager to share with fellow cloud and infrastructure experts looking for more control over their networks.” Good for Barbara, and good for us.
Change The only talk worth giving is one that promises positive change in status quo for our audience. That change should be alluded to in your bio. You’re not just there to impress, but to create impact and progress for your attendees. A list of job titles won’t do that, but try promising your audience a specific benefit within their first impression of you as a speaker. “As VP of Sales for Courtland since 2014, Martin is a communication expert who gives anyone the interactive skills to leap over their career obstacles.” We see Martin’s credit, and how his talk will change our lives for the better.
Excitement The last piece of your bio should leave your audience anticipating and excited for your presentation. Too many bios end with a university degree, recent publication, or yet another moment of job history. Instead, end with a challenge, an offer, or an enticement. Your best story isn’t just about you, but also about your great professional community, including mentors, team members, partners, and the audience you’ll be speaking to. Don’t be afraid to conclude your bio with passion for what you do, or by letting them know how excited you are to bring your story into their lives. We’ll remember that passion – and you – far more than your CV.
How long should my speaker bio be?
I’m often asked this question, but should is highly subjective, and often controlled by external limitations. You may get 250 words to tell your story or only 25. Longer or shorter, your goal is the same: Tell potential guests a compelling story that combines your expertise with value to your audience. A few extra words allows you to season that goal with how your unique and impressive experience creates real change for attendees, change they should start to get excited about now.
The average sentence runs 15–20 words, so a 25 word bio might fill two sentences and a 250 word bio could stretch to 10 or more sentences.
For sample guidance, a shorter 5- sentence structure might read like this…
1. Your name and current job title plus primary areas of passion and personal success.
2. Years in the industry and largest point of career pride, enthusiastically leveraged to benefit others.
3. Awards and accolades, but only if easily tied to your audience and how your awards pay off to their advantage.
4. Primary career-driven focus that offers a better future for both you as the speaker and also for your audience.
5. Titles, degrees, or memberships and why they’ll prove valuable (not just impressive) once an attendee hears your story.
Challenge yourself to write a bio that’s as much about others as it is about you
Your best and most memorable bio shares your list of accomplishments in a way that clearly demonstrates just what a valuable partner and source of knowledge you will be to those who attend your talk. Remember, you’re not applying for a job; you’re applying to be a trusted and valued mentor for others, and for a commitment of their valuable time and attention. That’s the bio your guests want to read, the one they’ll remember, and that they’ll reward with attendance and follow-up action.