Note: This article is one of a series originally written by Andi Lightheart in the run-up to TCUK 2014.
This is Andi Lightheart, the complex-topic presentation coach. TCUK have asked me write some articles that will help speakers through the presentation planning and delivery process.
TCUK need to get your speaker bio, and your talk title and description up on the website, so I thought this would be a good time to give you some guidance on how to put those things together. If you’re not used to writing what amounts to marketing copy, it can be feel a bit clunky and mysterious to approach.
Use what you find in this article to get something up on the site, then you’ve got a few weeks before the final version for the printed programme is due, so there is some flexibility to tweak.
As always it’s not about you
What is the purpose of the talk title and description? In a conference, there are a lot of people, and probably other talks going on at the same time as yours.
You want the right people to come to your session, and to dissuade the people who will find it less appropriate, so they don’t waste their time.
The same, weirdly, can be said about your speaker bio. Ostensibly about you, really about attracting the people who will get the most out of your talk. More about that later.
There are three ways your title and description attract people.
1. Create curiosity
The mechanism of curiosity is creating questions in people’s heads, and not answering them just yet. There are heavy-handed ways of doing this (those “shocking truths” Buzzfeed article links, anyone?) but a bit of curiosity is a good thing. If people know everything about your talk before they come (or feel like they do, which is effectively the same thing), they’re not going to turn up.
2. Set the tone
What are you like as a speaker? Okay: what are you like in conversation? How would your friends describe you, your significant other?
Laugh-a-minute or serious business?
Zoomed-in or 1:25000 scale?
Up-close-and-personal or that’s-quite-close-enough?
Richard Dawkins or Doreen Virtue?
By-the-book or iconoclast?
Everything pertaining to your talk has to match how you’re going to be in the session. And, yes, you can be a little aspirational, but mainly go with what you’re comfortable with. A frivolous bio will bring in the frivolous-prone, so if you turn out to be all headmistress in person, it’s going to be a bad surprise.
3. Show value
People will come to your talk because you offer them some value. That might be entertainment, it might be learning. Go back to the planning questions you did when you were planning your session way back in April. What’s important to your listeners? What do they need and want, in this domain? Your talk title and description have to clearly show what they’ll get by coming.
Marketing is about attraction.
Whereas when you’re planning your talk, you’re designing it for the people who will be there, we’re kind of doing the opposite here: designing communication that will attract those people to be there in the first place.
Clear, then clever.
An old saw in marketing circles is “Clear, then clever.”
~ First off write your title to clearly describe what it’s about.
~ Can you add in a benefit?
“How to… so that…”
“How to make … more…”
~ Want to add a number?
“Three ways to… so that…”
“Four questions that make… more…”
~ Specify who it’s good for?
“…for [job title]”
“…for people who…”
~ Get the right level in.
“The least you need to know about how to…”
“Beyond the basics of… ”
“Delving into the depths of…”
“… for advanced practitioners.”
(You’ll be glad you did this – avoids questions that you can’t answer!)
~ Add in an adverb?
Smoothly, easily, quickly. Reliably. Finally.
There’re boatloads of material out there on writing headlines. It’s a dark and sometimes sleazy art.
You can get a grounding in it quite quickly. Note what articles you actually click through on Twitter/Facebook, or from the mainpage of your online newspaper. What blog posts do you click through to? What generic emails do you open?
What about the headline made you click? You can take the format, and just replace with your info. Replace process with process, noun with noun, adjective with adjective, number with number.
(If you’re ever stuck in the WHSmiths at the train station, it can be very educational to spot patterns in the headlines that go on the covers of magazines. Which are so overblown you would never go near them? Which make you curious to open the magazine just for a peek?)
Caveat: Disappointment happens when we picture something, then the reality doesn’t match. Make sure you’re not promising something you can’t deliver. It better really be a hilarious rollercoaster through five life-changing paradigm shifts, otherwise, probably best not to say it is.
Writing your talk blurb
Here’s a down-and-dirty template for writing your talk blurb. You might remember it from when you wrote your proposal. I’m deliberately not giving you examples of actual sentences, as I want you to write this in your style.
Life without: One sentence describing the downsides of life before they’ve experienced your recommendation. Maybe a sentence describing a trend which makes this talk particularly timely.
Life with: One or two sentences describing the benefits people will enjoy after they implement your recommendation.
Specific benefits: What (three to five things) specifically will they be able to do better as a result of attending your talk. Remember curiosity… Don’t make them feel like they’ve already heard your talk before you give it!
Optional extras: Who is this particularly good for? Do they get a handout? Is it worshop-style session? You could ask a question too, if you like.
Writing the dreaded speaker bio.
Yup. Writing about yourself is awkward and weird. Also, you’ve not got much space. This is not the time to write out your CV. Again, the purpose of writing your bio is to get the right people to your talk, and put off the ones who won’t get benefit. Curiosity, tone and value still count here.
Particularly let them know why you’re the person who can help them with this specific topic. Numbers can help to do this efficiently: number of projects, number of years, number of systems.
What in your job history means you care about this topic? What lead you to want to pass on your knowledge?
Yes, you can talk a bit about something private too, if you like. Quirky things about what you’re like: fine. Loving coffee and chocolate is not quirky though.
Tone is particularly important here. Jokers can joke (a bit). Serious people? It’s okay to just be serious.
How to cheat writing your speaker bio.
1. Google “conference”, click on a few conference sites and check out the speaker bios.
2. Find one that sounds like you.
3. Replace their details with yours. (I don’t mean just change the name, I mean rewrite each sentence with your information.)
4. Never tell them.
And if this completely stumps you, pick and mix from the below:
[Name] has been a [job title] for [x years].
She particularly likes [job thing you particularly like].
A memorable project she was involved with was [project] where she [fact].
One thing she is proud of is [thing you’re proud of].
In her spare time you’ll find [name] [activity].
She can’t bear [thing that your listeners might not like either].
She particularly cares about [talk topic] because [reason].
Her dream is [publicly acceptable dream].
Notice the word limits. And if you have a question, email me, with “TCUK Question” in the subject line, and I’ll answer them all in another article.
Andi Lightheart, the author of Presentation Now: Prepare a perfect presentation in less than 3 hours (Pearson 2015) is the UK’s leading complex-topic presentation coach. This article is one of a series Andi wrote in the run-up to TCUK 2014 where they gave a workshop on presentation planning. If you ever want some one-to-one help with presentations, check out andrewlightheart.com. Andi is also an unrepentant overtweeter at @alightheart.
Check out all the articles in this series: