How To Write Your Bio: It’s about you. And it’s not.
May 01 2015
People like working with people they like. Above all, clients want a quality product that meets their needs, but they can usually get that from a choice of providers. Who to choose, and who they look forward to giving repeat business to, is often decided by who will be most fun, interesting, easy, and/or productive (etc.) to work with. That’s why every voice over talent should have a bio on their website and be ready to give it to whoever can use it. That way, when a client makes the all-important choice of talent, your bio moves them to choose you.
With the vast majority of voice over jobs being produced off-site (that is, from your own studio), a professional bio is more important than ever. It helps a client feel they know you, even though they’ve never met you, and it gives them an idea of what makes you special.
A good professional bio is therefore much more than a resume. In fact, it may not be a resume at all – you already have one of those, right? (Right?)
Your bio is more about your personality, about the background that is the foundation of your ideas and contributions, about special personal qualities that you bring to the session. It might hint that you have some interesting (constructive) stories to tell. Or, if you have a celebrity quality about you (or if you travel in celebrity circles), your bio even suggests (tacitly or subconsciously) that a bit of that celebrity might rub off on the client. (Or make the client feel like a celebrity, too.)
So, to that extent, your bio is about you.
But it’s not all about you. It’s also about matching you to your prospective client and their needs. There are lots of things about you that don’t relate to their needs — things that aren’t relevant to what you’ll contribute … things they don’t want or need to know.
Inquiring clients want to know
What the reader needs to know depends on the selling environment. If your profile is among a collection of other bios (like the coaches at EdgeStudio.com, for example), you should probably follow the typical format in terms of length, tone and content.
If it is to accompany an article you’ve written (e.g., for a business publication or a website or blog), look at the publication’s other articles to compare length, content and style.
The tone might be formal, it might be fun, even irreverent. At Edge Studio, we aim for a happy medium, telling something about the coach’s professional experience, and also something about their personality and outside interests, since ours is very much a personal-interaction field.
Your bio at an industry source such as IMDB.com would be different. Bios there are more matter-of-fact. (Here are some samples; click through the actresses’ names to see their full bios: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls000579961/) Although many IMDB bios include a distinctive personal note – for example the actor’s unusual eyes, or childhood acting experience – an IMDB bio is much more like a resume and list of credits. And most of the people reading it don’t expect ever to meet the person.
On your own website, you can take whatever approach you like. Here are some things to include, to do, not to do, and to consider:
- Writing about yourself is often the hardest subject to tackle, so don’t think of it as writing. Just make a list, or stream whatever comes to mind. Check your resume, past emails and client list to see what you might have forgotten. What do your favorite clients find most interesting or valuable about you. What do you value most in them? You might even ask your closest clients for their thoughts. (It depends on how personal and long the relationship.) Save that list, then start cutting mercilessly. (Psychologically, drastic cutting is easier when the original is there to revert to.)
- On your own website and marketing materials, you can write it in the first person (“I”) or third person (he/she). Published elsewhere, third person is the norm.
- How to convey your name? Full name, first name, nickname, Mr./Ms., or what? Again, check similar or surrounding bios for style. Typically your lead sentence would include your full name (meaning your full stage name – what it says on your business card). Or, if your full name will already appear right above your bio, start with your first name. In a really formal environment, you might prefer the last name, or even Mr./Ms. (showing yourself a little respect). It’s okay to vary between using your first name and pronouns, or your last name and pronouns, but be consistent; it would be odd to refer to yourself as “John” in one sentence, then as “Mr. Smith” in the next. (“John” and just “Smith” is marginally okay, depending on the tone of the respective sentences.) And try to construct your writing so that only one paragraph begins with your name.
- Don’t “bury the lead.” Start your bio with the most interesting or most persuasive thing about you. Have you met the President of the United States? It may not be relevant to your VO capabilities, but it captures attention and garners respect. Find a way to work it in. (E.g., “Not ever VO job is as exciting as the time I met the President, but I try to find a reason for enthusiasm in every script.”) More likely, you’ll lead with something of a professional nature, like “I’ve been the voice of Major Corporation for the past 10 years” or “How I manage to get my 8 years of professional acting experience into a little voice booth, I don’t know. But it’s with me wherever I go.”
- List your major accomplishments, but don’t go on-and-on about any one of them. For example, if you’ve won 17 major awards, readers don’t need details on all of them. Just say you’ve won 17 Exxy Awards, the latest being for such-and-such. Similarly, don’t list every client. Say “such as” or “including” and give a list that shows your range and your most impressive clients.
- Client names sometimes change. For example, cable networks change their names and formats and get bought and sold by other companies. Did you work for “Discovery” or “Discovery Channel” or “The Discovery Channel” or “Discovery Family” or “Discovery Health Channel” or “Discovery Science Channel” or “The Science Channel” or “Science”? If your work for them is ongoing, use their current name. If you worked for them long ago, the old name would be more appropriate, but it might date you. Is it really needed on your list? Whether retaining it will be a net gain depends partly on how else on your list you can fill that niche.
- When ready, spell-check it, then ask a friend to proofread it. Obviously, correct spelling and capitalization is an important part of being professional. But it’s not just that. A knowledgeable reader might note any inattention to detail, and (rightly or wrongly) extrapolate – If you’ve made writing errors, can you read accurately? Will you be on time? How well did you really know that client?
- Customize your bio for the readership. On your website, you’ll want it to match your target market. But in an audiobooks magazine, you should skew it to that audience. In a magazine aimed at entrepreneurs, skew your client list to show your work for corporate or technology, etc.
- Be careful about what personal details you include. That you’re married may or may not be relevant (usually not). That you have a dog isn’t relevant to your VO work, either. Neither are your kids’ names, and so on. But if you’re married to an actor, or you have a pet parrot who also does VO, or you read children’s books, then these become strengths or points of genuine interest. One way to draw the line is to ask yourself, “How many other voice artists can say this?” Another is, “How is this fact relevant to my work?” Maybe it gives a breadth or depth of life experience that you can apply in the booth. Or maybe it’s your occasional escape from a life of 9-to-9 voicing. Or maybe it’s me-to, not relevant, and you should leave it out. Take your spouse out to dinner instead.
- Use active verb forms, rather than passive. That is, say “I built my career on …” rather than “My career was built on …”. Or “My studio contains …” rather than “My studio was built to …”.
- Have versions of various lengths, even one as short as a single sentence. Some publishers (including websites) have space limitations that your bio must meet, so have these versions ready to go. You can edit your bio in various ways. One is to write it entirely in the classic “inverted triangle” format. Writing it that way, wherever you end it, the remainder will be still contain your most essential copy points. Another editing technique is to approach each paragraph this way – rather than cut the whole bio at the middle (for example), you cut each paragraph in half. Or you can go through it with a scalpel, cutting here and there, shortening lists, tightening phrases, and stripping out anything non-essential.
- In fact, “Saying the same thing shorter” is a tried-and-true way of improving any prose. For example, if you’ve led a list with “for example,” “including,” or “such as,” you don’t need to put “etc.” at the end – you’ve already said that it’s a partial list. Wordy phrases can be shortened. For example, “There were a lot of times when I thought …” can be said as “I often thought …”. Don’t confuse verbosity with wordiness. “Verbose” means the writing is detailed and probably long(ish). “Wordy” means the writer has used more words than necessary. Sometimes verbosity is better, sometimes not. Wordiness never is.
So write it all down, and pare away. In fact, once you’ve done that paring, you might find that it’s better than the original and should be your standard version. Have that friend proof it one more time, and get it online!