If you produce work in the public realm in any way, chances are you’ve been asked to provide a biographical description for publication or an event. That may be a speaker bio for a conference app/program, an author bio for marketing your newly published academic book, or a teaching bio for a department website. Your bio is often people’s first introduction to you and orients them to you and your work. So you want it to be great. Below are some ways to write a quality speaker or author bio that makes your work to shine and helps you build connections across audiences.
Tailor Your Bio to Each Audience
There is no generic speaker or author bio because there is no generic audience. Bios are read and circulated by specific groups of people with specific interests, backgrounds, and goals. Take the time to write audience-specific bios for your speaking and author engagements. What will be interesting or comprehensible to your New York Times op-ed readers is not the same as what will be interesting or comprehensible to academic conference participants in your primary field, feminist music festival attendees, social justice podcast listeners, or any of the other audiences you may be connecting with.
Keep Your Bios Updated
How many times have you read a bio (or an entire website) that clearly hasn’t been updated in years? Having outdated bios undermines your credibility and cuts you out of opportunities you otherwise could have enjoyed. If a podcast host, conference organizer, journalist, or department chair is looking to book someone for a specific event and your public bios leave out your recent book on exactly that topic, you’re never even going to appear on their radar.
Make an appointment in your calendar and/or to-do list app to review and update your bios monthly or quarterly. Some places to update include your own website, social media profiles (having a list of all the places your bio is up will help), department faculty page, and email signature (Just get tenure? Make sure to add that hard-earned “associate” title!).
List Things You Want More of and Leave Out What You Want Less of
A speaker or author bio is a marketing document. It both markets you to a specific audience and it invites further connections from that audience. So make sure that yours attracts the connections, collaborations, and opportunities that you actually want.
Although you can’t control all aspects of this (audiences have their own agency, after all), you can use it to shape how you are approached. For instance, if you have recently changed fields or your research focus, highlight your new stuff to attract interactions and interest in those areas. If you want to get back into community organizing, play up your past organizing work or research you’ve done that engages that area. If you want to do more public writing, cite your op-eds and newspaper articles before any paywalled academic publications (you might even consider leaving out the paywalled academic publications altogether).
If there are projects or affiliations that no longer reflect your focus or priorities, leave them out of your bios or downplay them as much as possible. For instance, if you really hate that journal article you published in graduate school despite the fact that it is the journal’s top-downloaded piece, don’t list it! It will still get downloaded and you’ll still get credit but you’ll avoid inviting more opportunities in that area.
Remember that a speaker or author bio is not your CV. It should not list all the academic work you’ve ever done. In fact, it’s much richer because most of your life has to be left off your CV to fit its required, super narrow research-teaching-service focus. Each speaker and author bio is an opportunity to sketch the professional persona YOU want to fit this specific audience right now.
What to Include in Your Speaker or Author Bio
So now we’re into the nitty gritty. What should actually go in your bio?
Full name, title, and affiliations
Use the name you want to be known by in professional contexts. This may be your legal name or it may be a name you are more commonly known by—for instance it may involve a nickname, a name you’ve chosen for yourself, the presence or absence of a middle or family name/initial, or a different spelling. If you’ve changed your name recently or sometimes use another name for projects, you can indicate that in your bio if you want to make clear those works are also your works (if you don’t want those projects linked, obviously leave this out).
Think creatively about your title and affiliations. Many academics default to “assistant/associate/emeritus professor of X field at Y university,” which can be fine for some contexts. But remember that you are more than your paycheck and thus have a lot of titles that describe your work in the world. For instance, you might also be a gender and sexuality studies scholar, a racial justice advocate, a memoirist, or a cultural producer. If you are an academic, remember that you are also an author/writer, teacher, researcher, scholar, and mentor. These are all titles you can use to introduce yourself in your author and speaker bios.
Affiliations help readers locate you in networks and make sense of who you are through those links. They’re not just who pays your salary. So cite the affiliations that will make sense to and assist the specific readers of that bio. So for instance, when writing an author bio for a book reading at your local independent bookstore, include local community organizations you work with or the public platforms and publications where you’ve done public writing that readers can track down. For an academic conference speaker bio that will be published in the conference app and program, you can foreground journals, associations, or research institutes that the conference attendees will recognize.
Tailoring your titles and affiliations to the audience of the bio lets you highlight the aspects of your work that are of most interest to that specific audience, and frame your contributions in a way that lets you connect with them.
What makes you interesting
Remember that the goal of bios is to introduce you to a specific audience. So let that audience know why they should be interested in you. One easy way to do this is to think about what problems you solve for your audiences. Perhaps you are an oral historian showcasing the stories of LGBTQIA activists of color across the decades, a permaculture designer bringing critical disability studies to bear on urban planning, or a linguistic anthropologist helping to revitalize Indigenous languages.
Where people can find you online
Where can people go online to learn more about you? Always include a link to your professional website in your bio (Don’t have a website yet? Here’s why you need a website and a guide for how to create it). If your social media accounts are public, include links to those as well. Remember that you are sending people to any links you include, so if you don’t want people to follow you on Instagram or message you on Facebook, leave those out of your bios. This also goes for outdated university faculty pages or websites you do not regularly update.
Your most recent projects
What kind of projects to include will vary with the bio’s audience, but most versions of your bio will probably include recently published books if you have them. For author bios, if haven’t published books, you might include a recently published article you’re proud of. Spell out the full titles of projects, books, articles, and publishers, and include dates for publications (ex: Her books include Title of Second Book (X University Press, 2019) and Title of First Book (Trade Press Name, 2017)). Remember that the goal is to give readers of your bio a sense of who you are and the kind of work you do, as well as give them resources for tracking down more information about you.
Your speaker and author bios introduce you to new audiences and enhance your professional projects. Taking the time to figure out what kind of opportunities you want to attract will help you craft bios that serve your goals. And focusing on audience—the specific people who will be reading a particular bio of yours—can bring new opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and community building.
Want more information on author bios? Check out my guide Book Marketing for Academics: A Guide for Authors.
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