If it feels comfortable to you it’s probably underwhelming for them.
The first person is unconventional
Why do people write their biographies in the third person? Why describe yourself as if you’re describing someone else? Why detach the person from the profile? Nearly everyone does it. Third person is the grammatical convention for website bios and proposal bios. It’s a convention that mostly goes unchallenged. People assume that the done thing is the right thing. People assume that third person detachment is professional detachment. And yet, for b2b and service businesses, detachment is unprofessional. You live or die on the strength of relationships. Your clients do business with your people, not with your company. Detachment is commercial suicide.
The unconventional approach is the uncomfortable approach, which is also why it’s the impressive approach. Writing about yourself in the first person is the equivalent of meeting in real life rather than on Zoom. It’s the equivalent of making eye contact. Writing in the first person makes for more visceral prose. It comes from a more vulnerable place. That’s why you shy away from it. But it’s also why your readers (your potential clients) will thank you for it.
The first person is charismatic
It’s cosy and safe to make a presentation sitting in amongst your colleagues and clients at the boardroom table. You can take cover behind your laptop. The stakes feel lower and so does your pulse rate. But you’re performing with a safety net, which makes your feats of communication less compelling.
When you move away from the table your content is lifted by your personality. This is true regardless of who you are – introvert or extrovert, beginner or TED veteran, able-bodied or wheelchair user. Charisma comes in many varieties, a lot of them quiet and understated. No matter how your charisma manifests, it manifests more when you make yourself conspicuous to hold the room.
Writing about yourself in the first person helps you hold the room when you’re not there. It’s the written equivalent of presenting from the front of the room. It’s more vulnerable and therefore more captivating than third person ‘professional detachment.’ When you write about yourself in the first person your words have a pulse. By comparison, third-person biographies are undead stories, written in zombie prose.
The first person is vital
You often hear people lament the loss of the personal touch in important professional relationships. We used to be much closer with our GP and our bank manager, and we got better advice and better service as a result. That personal touch is vital to any business that has ongoing relationships with its clients or customers. So shouldn’t potential clients feel that kind of connection from the very top of the funnel, from first exposure to your website? If your relationships are vital, surely your writing should have vitality.
Here’s some introductory text from a client of mine, a headhunter.
I don’t do volume. I don’t do visibility. I provide a dedicated, personal headhunting service. I do all the relationship building and matchmaking work myself. Nothing is delegated. My approach is rigorous and discreet. Privacy is my watchword.
And here’s the ‘professionally detached’ version.
He doesn’t do volume. He doesn’t do visibility. He provides a dedicated, personal headhunting service. He does all the relationship building and matchmaking work himself. Nothing is delegated. His approach is rigorous and discreet. Privacy is his watchword.
You, dear reader, might feel that the change is subtle or even inconsequential. I beg to differ. The factual content is unchanged, but meaning and connection have been lost. The amended version feels ghost-written. It’s a waxwork facsimile. It’s the text equivalent of a badly dubbed foreign film.
You’re not convinced. I can tell. So try this instead. Freddy Mercury was a master of first-person songwriting. Some of his best songs are lyrical soliloquies. He was a modern-day bard. His lyrics have a biographical quality. So the following comparison is, to my mind, entirely valid in this context.
I’ve paid my dues, time after time. I’ve done my sentence but committed no crime. And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few. I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face but I’ve come through.
He paid his dues, time after time. He did his sentence but committed no crime. And bad mistakes, he made a few. He had his share of sand kicked in his face but he came through.
If you want to tell a story of resilience and learning from failure in your biography, and you want it to be authentic, write it in the first person. First-person biographies are the champions.
The first person is authentic
I work a lot with company founders. They all have origin stories. A good founder story frames a business idea as the almost inevitable entrepreneurial consequence of formative experiences. And they work better in the first person. This is an extract from the biography of the founder of a connectivity consultancy (another client of mine.)
Believe it or not, I was once aspiring lobster fisherman from the village of Achiltibuie in North West Scotland. My hometown and rural upbringing drive my interest in remote communities and the importance of connectivity.
There is no straightforward way to transpose this into the third person. You simply wouldn’t use a phrase like, ‘believe it or not’ if you were writing about yourself in the third person. ‘Believe it or not, he was once an aspiring lobster fisherman’ sounds ridiculous in the context of a website profile. Writing in the first person allows you to be yourself, literally, through your language.
The first person is you in your words
More often than not, people who write about themselves in the third person on their company website are happy to use the first person for their LinkedIn profile. First person profiles are the convention on LinkedIn in the way that third person biographies are the convention for meet-the-team website pages. Maybe it’s an ownership thing. I’ll refer to me on ‘my’ LinkedIn profile but I become they on ‘their’ website.
Conventions are powerful but they are there to be broken. Writing about yourself in the third person is incongruously formal. You sound like a ridiculously polite Victorian child addressing its seldom-seen father. Fortunately parental relationships have moved on since then. And the way we write bio copy should move on too. You can choose to sound like someone it would be good to do business with. You can be you, in your own words.
It may seem like I’m making a big deal about something relatively trivial. However, judging by the reaction I sometimes get when I recommend first person bios, I don’t think I’m over-egging this at all. The pushback can be forceful. People cling to the third person like they cling to the boardroom table when they present. The first person is less comfortable but more powerful, and I think they know it.
This is why I’m the first person to recommend the first person and the last person to recommend the third person.
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