What’s a bio? And if you’re asked for one, do you have one to give them?
Absolutely! Most places where you speak will ask for a bio that someone can read to introduce you. You should have one featured prominently on your website, but even if you do, never assume that the event organizers printed it out and brought it with them. Instead, everytime you speak, update your bio and make it personal for where you’re speaking, print it out, and present it to them!
In your bio, write exactly what you want people to say. I often will write, “We’re so glad to have Sheila visit us today, from two hours east on the 401!” Or something. I won’t just start with, “Sheila hails from Belleville….” Why? Because usually the person reading the bio is not actually comfortable speaking in public. They won’t ad lib. They will read exactly what is there, so if you want it to sound funny, or you want it to sound personal, then you have to put the personal touches in there. If the person is comfortable speaking in public, they’ll change it anyway and add their own stuff, so you haven’t lost anything.
And what should go into a bio?
1. Where you’re from and some basic demographic details.
Make sure to emphasize those that would make the group you’re speaking to most comfortable with you. For instance, when I’m speaking in the Maritimes, I mention that we have family all over New Brunswick. When I’m speaking in Michigan, I mention that my publisher is in beautiful Grand Rapids. But I don’t mention my publisher is in Grand Rapids when I’m in the Maritimes!
When I’m speaking to an older group, I talk more about my work writing a column in the paper. When I’m speaking to a younger group, I talk about the fact that I’m often a featured speaker at MOPS groups. So make sure that you’re including what will make the audience relate to you!
2. Do not give away details that are important in your talk
If much of your talk revolves around abuse you suffered as a child, don’t mention that in your bio. Just say something like, “Jane had a difficult upbringing, but she credits God will seeing her through and helping her find Him in the midst of it”, or something. You don’t want to get people worried about the abuse before you talk about it.
Similarly, a large part of my talk is that I had a son who died, so when I mention my family, I always say that I homeschool my two children, rather than my two daughters, or else I give away the fact that he passed away before I even start my talk. And I don’t want people, as soon as I mention my son, to start saying to themselves, “but I thought she said she had two daughters. Where’s the son? What’s going on?”
3. Do mention your credentials to speak
If you have any kind of university degree, mention it. “Jane studied at Columbia University, where she studied Business, and went on to….” You don’t NEED to mention degrees, though, if you have more relevant contemporary experience. I have several university degrees, but I don’t mention them, because the more relevant credentials today would be the columns that I write and the books I’ve written.
What counts as credentials? Ministry that you’ve done–heading up ministry, or women’s Bible studies, or children’s ministry. Anything you’ve written. Anything you’ve studied. Missions trips you’ve taken. Just make sure to emphasize the important things. In other words, instead of saying, “Mary Jane has led women’s Bible studies for eight years”, say, “Mary Jane has taught Bible studies for the last few years, focusing on Galatians, Paul’s writings, and delving deeply into the nature of prayer.” The latter sounds much more scholarly, and people now begin to think of you as someone who has studied in this area. If you are teaching on pain, or forgiveness, and you’ve volunteered in soup kitchens or pregnancy crisis centres, make sure to mention that, too! Just steer clear of mentioning anything political.
4. Do stress what you are aiming to become
If you want to become a frequent speaker at women’s retreats, for instance, mention in your bio that you speak at women’s retreats. If you want to be hired to do more Christmas outreaches, mention in your bio that you’re still recovering from Christmas, the busiest speaking season.
Get people to think of you along the lines of what you want to be hired for!
5. Get the person to HOLD UP whatever item you want to emphasize on your book table
It is always easiest if other people advertise our merchandise for us, but rather than just reading the title of a book, or saying that “Jane has CDs of her talks”, it works so much better with a visual, if the person actually holds up a copy of it. So hand the bio and the item to the person, and ask them to HOLD IT UP. If you don’t ask them to do exactly that, they likely won’t.
6. Put at least one joke, or funny line, in your bio.
I often say this: “Sheila loves knitting. Even in line at the grocerystore”. Or “Sheila is the author of Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight. Apparently her husband liked the research.” These aren’t long jokes, but they tend to get a few snickers, and it loosens people up.
One last thing: a bio should never be very long. One hundred words is more than enough. But do write it yourself, rather than counting on other people to put one together, because then you can make sure that the right things are stressed.
What do you think? Do you have a bio that works well? Do you have a line you always put in? Let me know!