Initially, I felt excited about writing this post.
Even if you don’t need a short bio right now, writing one is a great exercise. You learn how to say more with fewer words. You learn how to position yourself and how to make a big impression from the get go.
But last week, when I started preparing this post, I made a big mistake.
I looked for inspiration on Twitter.
I scrolled through hundreds of Twitter bios, and I almost gave up on this post because most Twitter bios are utterly dull. And they say almost nothing, like this:
social media maven | Twitter enthusiast | mother of John and Stacey | Jesus lover | marathon runner | chocolate addict
If you try to explain a lot about yourself in a few words, you end up saying nothing. No personality. No big impression. No sense of connection. You sound the same as everyone else.
So, I decided to look for inspiration elsewhere. How do fiction writers introduce their characters in a few words?
4 examples of saying a lot with a few words
I skimmed through the books I’ve read recently to look for powerful descriptions of people.
For instance, here’s how William Kent Krueger typifies an FBI agent in “Boundary Waters:”
If he were a dog, he’d have been a pit bull.
How powerful is that comparison to a pit bull! In only 11 words, Krueger gives us a picture of an aggressive guy who’s persistent, too.
It made me wonder, if I were a dog, what dog would I be?
Here’s a longer example by the same author, from “Iron Lake:”
He was an Eagle Scout. Order of the Arrow. Member of Troop 135 out of St. Agnes Catholic Church. He had made himself capable in a hundred ways. He could start a fire with flint and steel; hit a bull’s-eye with a target arrow at thirty yards; tie a bowline, a sheepshank, a slipknot; lash together a bridge strong enough to bear the weight of several men.
Why is this description powerful? Because the author focuses on one aspect of the person and he gives specific examples. The description is visual, so we can picture this guy sparking fires, tying knots and shooting arrows.
The description may be a little long, but you can cut it easily by 50% and still make a strong first impression.
Here’s a shorter character description from “Force of Nature” by Jane Harper:
Even in unflattering office light, Breanna McKenzie had the healthy glow of someone who jogged each morning, practised yoga with intent and deep-conditioned her glossy black ponytail religiously every Sunday.
Three specific details (jogging, yoga, deep-conditioning her hair) help us visualize Breanne, and we can imagine how she glows even in the unflattering office light.
And here’s one last example, from “The Keeper of Lost Things” by Ruth Hogan:
Laura had been lost; hopelessly adrift. Kept afloat, but barely, by an unhappy combination of Prozac, Pinot Grigio and pretending things weren’t happening.
Again, three specific details express a lot: Prozac, Pinot Grigio, and pretending things weren’t happening. The words even alliterate for extra flair.
When you focus on one character trait or skill, you make a strong first impression and you invite readers to learn more. In contrast, if you try to say too much too quickly, a description of a person falls flat and nobody gets a feel of who they really are.
Choose what to tell in your professional bio
Of course, the fiction examples above are different—you wouldn’t write about Prozac in a professional bio.
But the principles of what makes a good bio remain the same. Choose what to tell and, even more importantly, what to leave out. You can’t cram your whole resume into one sentence. You have to be ruthless.
Twitter bios, for instance, are so short, you can only communicate one or two things. That’s it.
The Twitter bio of Unbounce’s Twitter bio explains what their software can do for you plus invites you to try it for free:
Build high-converting landing pages and popups for your marketing campaigns. Explore the builder for free at https://preview.unbounce.com/
Casa Collective’s bio is similar:
Tired of not being in love with your home? Change that in just 7 days – take our free course to create a more stylish space! Enroll: http://bit.ly/2xrPxlz
If you Tweet as a person rather than a company, I like bios that show personality, like this one from Haemin Sunim:
Zen Buddhist Teacher and Writer of “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down”
Or this bio from John Espirian:
The relentlessly helpful technical copywriter. B2B copywriting for websites & blogs. Free blogging guide: http://espirian.co.uk/business-blogging/ … #UnclogYourBlog
Or this bio from Kitty Kilian is one of my favorites (the original is in Dutch, I’ve translated it):
Delicate as a hand grenade. Learn how to write a ridiculously good blog for your business: https://deblogacademie.nl
A Twitter bio is super short, and you can only make a strong impression if you choose carefully what to write.
The 3-step professional bio
If you have three sentences, for instance for an author bio, then you can say a little more. But be careful, the same rule applies as with the one-sentence Twitter bio. Keep it short to make a strong first impression.
For a three-sentence bio, consider these three objectives:
- Tell readers who you are and what you do
- Reveal a glimpse of your personality
- Encourage readers to find out more
For instance, my author bio is:
Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent writer on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook. Get your free 16-Part Snackable Writing Course for Busy People and learn how to enchant your readers and win more business.
In three sentences, I explain what I do (writing), what I’m passionate about (stamping out gobbledygook), and I invite you to join my course so you can learn how to write more persuasively.
Jessica Blanchard’s bio follows a similar pattern:
Jessica Blanchard is a registered dietitian, longtime Ayurvedic practitioner, and yoga teacher. She’s on a mission to dispel dietary myths and make healthy habits accessible to everyone. Grab your free 7-Day Meal Plan at stopfeelingcrappy.com and feel healthier and fitter one bite at a time.
And Ry Schwartz’ bio:
More reclusive than J D Salinger on a rainy day, Ry Schwartz is the email copywriter marketers turn to when they’re launching programs or setting up evergreen funnels. You can’t find him in many places online, but he may be doing some stuff here: http://www.ryschwartz.me/
Ry’s call to action isn’t very strong, but “More reclusive than J D Salinger on a rainy day” is a superb way to sketch a personality in a few words.
How to write a short professional bio
Want to make a big impression with only a few words?
Communicate less instead of more:
- Start with answering the question “What do you do for your clients?” or even better, finish this sentence suggestion from Mark Schaefer: “Only I …”
- Think about an adjective describing you well; Ry Schwartz uses “reclusive,” John Espirian uses “relentlessly helpful” and I use “irreverent” to present a quick glimpse of who we are
- Consider a metaphor to communicate more with fewer words, such as the “pit bull” or “delicate as a hand grenade”
- If you have space, have a clear call to action
In short, communicate what makes you different, and tell clients what you can do for them.
Because a professional bio is not only about you.
It’s about your clients, too.
Books mentioned in this post:
The links below are Amazon affiliate links.
- The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (highly recommended)
- Force of Nature by Jane Harper (highly recommended, her other book The Dry is even better)
- Boundary Waters and Iron Lake, both from the Cork O’Connor Mystery Series by William Kent Krueger (recommended)
Recommended reading on writing about yourself:
How to write a sparkling About page
How to write about yourself
How to share personal stories (even if you’re shy)