This is a question that I’m always asked, and while there is no set rule on the matter, it’s certainly something that divides opinion. Just glance through a handful of LinkedIn profiles to see what I mean. But as our personal bio becomes more important in a world where our digital profiles are read before our voices are heard, understanding how best to write your bio is definitely something worth figuring out.
Your personal bio serves several functions. Firstly, it needs to tell people who you are and what you’re about and it’s a great opportunity for you to tell people what makes you great/different/interesting/unique/qualified for the job/credible/worth listening to (*delete as appropriate). Ideally it should tell people what you think they will be interested in knowing about you and help you to stand out and be memorable. What you don’t want, are people giving up on reading your personal bio half way through because they’re bored or they think you’re an idiot. Anyway, back to the question; “Should my personal bio be written in the first person or third person?”
As part of my research for this post, I put the question to my Twitter followers, and here are some of the responses I received.
@Story_Jon Jon Thomas “If its your own site, I would say first. Otherwise, third.”
@colinjbrowne Colin J Browne “Third. That way people can cut and paste it, which is really the point, I reckon.”
@CopyFountain “Personal bios: 1st or 3rd person RT @colinjbrowne: @AlexiaL Third. That way people can cut and paste it. <- Mark likes this.”
@gspress4attnpr Greg Simpson “hmmm re personal bio, I would say 3rd person as often used by people who do not know you”
When I ran a poll on my Facebook page, the votes were 67% – first person and 33% – third person. What does that tell you? We don’t really know! So, to help us figure this out, I think the first question we need to ask ourselves is this:
Where is it going to be used?
Is it on your personal website? Is it for a speaker bio at a conference? Is it for the “Meet our team” page on the company website? Is it for a book? All these are very different environments and the reader will have a different expectation of “who” is doing the talking. For example, at a conference, all literature and collateral is likely to be produced by the event organiser. So, in this situation, most people would probably expect a bio to be written in the third person. Just as if the organiser is standing there on stage introducing this person who’s about to come on.
However, if it’s for your personal website or your LinkedIn profile they are going to have a different expectation. People are going to be engaging directly with you (you hope!). So, in this environment you want to be able to create that connection as effortlessly and as naturally as possible. Imagine being at an event and introducing yourself: would you do it in the 3rd person? NO! Not unless you’re an idiot or you’ve multiple personalities. People are going to assume that you are responsible for your own website or LinkedIn profile and that you write it yourself. That is, unless you want to create the impression that you have a team of minions that do everything for you. But even if you did, would you still outsource the bit where you meet and engage with new people? Probably not. A great bio will encourage people want to find out more about you. People are more likely to want to find out more about you if you’ve helped to create a connection with them and in this situation, a connection is better created when you’re speaking as you rather than through someone else.
@StoryJon ‘s response “If its your own site, I would say first. Otherwise, third.” highlights my next point.
Your personal bio never exists in the singular
You have several. It is likely after all, that you will be engaging with different audiences, in different places, in different contexts. Different audiences have different needs and will be interested in different aspects of you. In some instances your bio will need to be four or five lines, whereas others may be two or three paragraphs. Do you have the same bio in your Twitter profile as your LinkedIn profile? Knowing what to say, where, and to who is the art of communicating. So having one bio to fit all these is just not going to work. You don’t have just one way of introducing yourself when you meet people; you have several depending on who you meet, where you are and what you think they’ll be interested in. The same goes for your bio.
Free for all?
@ColinJBrown ’s comment “Third. That way people can cut and paste it, which is really the point, I reckon.“ is interesting. Personally I’d never considered that someone would copy and paste my bio from my site. Why would anyone be using your bio without your knowledge? In my mind, if someone wants a bio from you, it’s very likely that you’re already engaging with them on some level and that you know that they will want your bio. Maybe you’re speaking at their event, or contributing to their magazine or blog. In this case I would send them a bio that is tailored to the audience and message I want to get across. This may well be a standard bio that you have ready to send, even if it is a direct copy of your first person bio.
Keep control of your message
Mark (@copyFountain) likes the fact that people can copy and paste a bio from the online home where it may be living. Personally, I find this a risky strategy. If anything, you DO NOT want people to copy it. If someone wants your bio, then it’s worth taking the time finding out where it’s going to be used and who’s likely to be reading it. This then offers you the opportunity to tailor your bio appropriately thus ensuring that you are saying exactly what you want to say to that particular audience.
This close management of your message will go a long way in helping you to build and maintain the kind of reputation that you can be proud of. The lazy approach of letting people copy and paste what they like, maybe even writing it for you, means that you are relinquishing control of one of the most important opportunities for you to be clear on what you’re about and thus extend your reach and your network in the way that you want. In a world where people will first meet you through your personal bio, can you afford to take the lazy approach?