How to Write a Biography for a Speaking Engagement
After you have accepted an engagement as a speaker, you may be asked for a biography, or "bio." The bio is used for two purposes. First, the sponsoring organization may include it in announcements mailed out to publicize your talk. Secondly, it will probably be used to introduce you before your actual speech. Most organizations appreciate bios that can be publicized or read aloud with little or no editing.
Not a Resume
Do not confuse a bio with a resume. A resume convinces an organization to select you as a speaker or employee, while the bio helps an organization persuade potential audience members to attend your talk or contextualizes your speech for an audience. You can send a complete resume or curriculum vitae along with your bio for reference, but your biography should be a short narrative rather than a comprehensive list of accomplishments.
The length of your biography varies with your specific speaking role. If you are on a program with several speakers, a few sentences suffice. If you are the sole or featured speaker at an event, extend the bio to one or two paragraphs. Remember that the audience has come to hear you, not your presenter, and the longer the introduction, the less time for your speech and audience questions.
Your bio should focus on those aspects of your life specifically relevant to the speech and audience. For example, if you are giving a talk to a bird-watching group about a rare bird you spotted, your bio should focus on your experience as a bird-watcher, not the patents you have earned in your day job as an engineer. At an engineering convention, though, include your engineering credentials only.
Begin with your name and current position. Next, highlight, in chronological order, your major relevant accomplishments, including promotions, publications, awards, public appearances and media coverage of your work. Conclude with a sentence about your current work-in-progress or future plans. Be selective, including only the information most likely to interest or impress the audience for the specific talk.
Always refer to yourself in the third person in a biography. Your first self-reference should include your full name, title and current position, such as "The Most Reverend Richard Whately," "the Lord Archbishop of Dublin," "John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department," or "Miss Elizabeth Bennet." Subsequent references should include title and last name, such as "Archbishop Whately," "Dr. Watson" or "Miss Bennet." Women, unless they are heroines of Regency novels, should use "Ms." rather than "Miss" or "Mrs." in business contexts.
- University of Massachusetts Amherst: Alumni Association: The Seven Steps to Writing a Professional Bio
- Roane State Community College: Top Ten Tips for Writing a Professional Overview or Biography
- Crockford's Clerical Directory: How to Address the Clergy
- Work Etiquette: What Title Should I Give if I Only Have a Name?
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.