I was recently looking at a cookbook that had the bios of its three authors at the beginning.
Two of the three authors began their bios with where they had lived. For example, Jane Smith grew up in San Diego. If you begin your bio with where you’re from, it has to be relevant to what you do. And, in this case, they did make the connection later in the bio (specialization in California cuisine or how living in international cities has influenced the recipes). However, even if you were the mayor of San Diego, I would argue that starting the first sentence of your bio with where you grew up is not the best approach.
How many people grew up in San Diego? How many people have lived in multiple international cities? Millions! So, those statements are not differentiating enough to be in the first sentence. Something like this would have been better for Jane:
Jane Smith is a light recipe developer known for cuisine influenced by the beaches of California.
With this version, I immediately know Jane is a developer of light recipes related to California cuisine. That piques my interest so much more than knowing she grew up in San Diego, and I’m more likely to keep reading her bio.
The third author of this cookbook began her bio with the fact that she has a passion for food. Really? I wouldn’t have guessed. So, what differentiates her from every other person who has ever written a cookbook—or even a diet cookbook for that matter?
You may be thinking, “But I’m not a cookbook author, I’m an MBA student or a CxO or a PMP or a V.P. of Marketing, so what would I write in the first sentence of my branded bio? Let’s break it down.
Your first sentence can include some combination of the following elements:
- The overall role you’d want to be known for going forward (more on this below)
- Target audience and how you benefit them
- Competitive positioning (Are you the first, leading, top, pioneering?)
- Differentiating strengths and attributes
Similar to an elevator pitch, you want to state what you can do for your target audience. In a professional context, when someone asks you, “Tell me about yourself?” or “What do you do?” you wouldn’t start off with, “I grew up in San Diego …”
These are some first sentences of bios I’ve written (names changed):
- Adrian Gupta is an international development executive with a record of expedient problem solving and opportunity capitalization.
- Daniel Viser is an HR Expert who helps large, creative global companies make giant leaps in performance by maximizing their people assets.
- Lori West is a change agent for smart planning, simple, eco-friendly living and sustainable decision-making.
There’s evidence of their brand in this first sentence. If you only read this one sentence, and not the rest of their bio, it would stand alone. You could simply take this sentence and use it for the 160-character Twitter bio.
For contrast, here are the opening sentences of three random bios:
- Sarah Jeffrey began her performing arts career at a young age with dance and magic shows.
- I am an artist, young entrepreneur, Christian, cancer survivor, crazy, creative, kind kinda guy.
- My ideas and strategies speed a company’s selling process, catapulting their brand, while preempting their competition.
Where’s the branding? In these three opening sentences, do you know exactly what these people do today, or how they want to be positioned going forward? Is Sarah now a dancer, magician, or in another type of performing art? Is she still in performing arts at all, or is this something she just did as a child? Is #2 making his living as an entrepreneur? If so, what kind of entrepreneur? Is he selling his art, or is that a sideline? There are too many unanswered questions. This is all good information, just not opening material.
The third example really just needs the addition of a name, role, and company focus. Such as, Mandy Burton is a Customer Engagement Strategist who specializes in helping dental practices win new clients, catapult their brands, and preempt their competition. With this sentence, I’d know exactly the type of business to refer to Mandy. Whereas, before, I had no idea what type of companies she worked with or in what capacity she helped them speed their sales process.
Notice I wrote “role” and not necessarily a job title. In branding, you are not your job title. If you write that you are a V.P. of Marketing, it doesn’t give you room to grow and change within marketing. So, maybe you are a marketing maven, marketing executive, or a marketing leader. These examples are specific, but there is flexibility going forward. If you can include a title that will be lasting for you, then great! For example, I’m comfortable with “Brand Strategist” in my own opening sentence because anything I do going forward will be related to that.
How will I know when I have a solid first sentence?
- It can stand alone, and people will understand what you do
- You’ve expressed some differentiators
- It’s as specific/niched as possible
- You’ve used the strongest, descriptive, most accurate language possible, and each word is thoughtfully chosen
What about the rest of my bio?
The rest of your bio would then be written to support whatever you’re claiming in the first sentence. Your bio should be projective—positioning you for how you want to be known, while making the connection to your past. You’d include:
- Your story of why this is your specialty or why you chose to serve this target audience
- What qualifies you to do this work (credibly)
- The value you consistently provide to others—what’s the experience like of working with you?
- A few interests/passions that add a little more color and make you more, well, interesting and relatable
The next time you are reading someone’s bio or online profile, notice whether the first sentence brands them. Can you ascertain what they do uniquely in a way that would help you to connect them to relevant opportunities? I think you’ll find that most people don’t put enough thought into this all-important leading sentence, and there is huge opportunity for you when you nail it.