Professional portraits rarely need to be justified anymore. Most professionals understand their value, and have paid a photographer to do what a photographer does best.
My goal on this page is to show why that same thought and care of presentation should also go into the words that accompany that portrait.
Dancers, musicians, visual artists, inventors and others often need a short biography for marketing or introductory purposes.
For example, to accompany a piece of art, introduce one’s self to a prospective employer or highlight accomplishments in the program for an event or show.
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There are three types of bios that are useful in different contexts.
- The one-liner
- The short bio — one paragraph, less than 100 words
- The longer bio — still concise and focused, but up to one page
Your one-liner is your personal hook, your blog signature, your Twitter profile. It’s designed to give a glimpse of your personality and pique interest:
Betty Awesome is a portrait painter in watercolors who uses her spare time to rehabilitate dogs rescued from abusive situations.
The short bio is the type most often called for, and is tailored to a specific purpose and audience. If you are trying to reach more than one audience, it is best to craft a separate bio for each context. This will be much more effective than a more generic bio that you hope to appeal to everyone.
Bilbo Baggins, introduced in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, and in the recently released movie with the same title, had a wide range of abilities. If you’re familiar with the story you remember that Baggins was the garden-club type until he was roped into an adventure with 13 dwarves and a wizard.
For the role of garden-club president in comfortable, mellow Hobbiton I would write:
Bilbo Baggins has lived in Bag End, Underhill for the last 50 years. He maintains an immaculate yard and garden, like his father before him, and is especially fond of flowers. He has a property (and larder) big enough for large meetings, and is quite respectable in every way. You can know what a Baggins will say on any subject without the bother of asking him, and expect a good joke if you have the patience to hear him anyway.
He had the adventure coming whether he wanted it or not, but I like to consider how his bio would sound with the dwarves as his intended audience. This is an equally accurate description of our intrepid hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit of good family, and unimpeachable reputation. He has a tremendous ability to think on his feet, has more than the usual amount of luck, and the ability to move more stealthily than any dwarf. These qualities, even untrained, uniquely qualify him within your company to act as a scout, guide and, if the occasion arises, burglar (AKA expert treasure hunter). You can count on his generosity, loyalty and integrity to keep him close and to contribute to the success of the group.
Knowing his audience—a rather self-serving race that was both goal-oriented, and fixated on family roots, the hobbit could emphasize both respectability and burglary in a way that would not have worked for any other audience.
This is the advantage of multiple audience-specific bios.
Other examples of useful bios include speaker introductions, author blurbs for the back of a book, or a first-person variation for an informal setting or when you introduce yourself.
The function of a professional bio is to introduce people to you and the value of your work. My ultimate goal in writing bios for people is not just to say This is a person or This is what they do, but to engage the reader, the audience, in considering possibilities.
By focusing on your audience and showing them you are one who can provide what they need, your professional bio will be a tool to help you reach your goals.
People often feel uncomfortable writing about themselves, or don’t know what belongs in a bio and what should be left out.
Untangling Tales offers two services to help with this frustration.
For the do-it-yourself crowd, I offer a workshop that covers assembling an effective professional bio. We take about three hours to unpack a four-part formula and brainstorm the components (the what) for individual bios, along with the why. The how is left to the individual, and I’m available to answer questions and provide feedback during the writing exercises at the end.
A simple talk without the writing exercises is also available for a quarter of the time and half the price.
For those more interested in delegating the work, I offer a process that includes a personal interview and an email dialogue of up to three revisions as we work together to create the words that will best represent your purpose.
Ultimately, creating a personal bio means taking the amazing complexity that is all of you and focusing down to the flaming point of why you are here, whichever here you choose to be in at a given moment.
This means I listen, ask questions, pick at knots from different angles, and generally serve your purpose by being a mirror for your awesome uniqueness.
The goal of this work is to leave you with a clear focus and a core of identity to work from with confidence.
For more information or to set up an appointment, please fill out the contact form below.
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