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I Am Not the President

Lately I have been invited by several professional groups to present to them on business writing. I have also traveled across the country to present to important people in large companies (we are all important: sales managers, engineers, customer service reps, etc.). For me, one of the challenges of such experiences is this: I am not the president.

When I sit down to update my bio for the person who will introduce me, I recognize once again that I am not the president of my professional organization. I am not the chairperson of a renowned board of directors. I have not received prestigious honors from national academies. I have never discovered the cure for anything–not even my own disorganization.

Without that evidence of acclaim, what can I put in my bio that will engage the group? If I am not the president or at least the vice president of something, why should they want to listen to me?

Have you ever asked yourself questions like those? Have you too lived a “nonpresidential” life? Perhaps like me, you have focused on other aspects of your life–things like helping your children with their homework, going to the movies, walking the dogs, and sleeping.

But then there is that insistent bio. To get it written, we need to focus on why we have been asked to present to the group. What is it about us that made the sponsor decide to hire us? What unique experience and insights will we offer?

Here are a few steps I have found helpful.

1. Start with a concise statement that gives a sense of the length or breadth of your career.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has been writing, teaching, and presenting for over 20 years.

2. State something less formal that builds from your expertise.

During that time she has become convinced that any kind of business writing can be clear, concise, and successful.

3. Mention some of the companies you have worked for. Mention several jobs or responsibilities within them.

Lynn has worked as a writer for Nintendo, the National Cancer Institute, Esterline Technologies, Coinstar, and other organizations. She has written newsletters, training programs. . . .

4. State something that is unique about you.

She currently writes a blog on business writing that gets hundreds of daily visitors from six continents. (She is still hoping for a visitor from Antarctica.)

5. State something about your training, if applicable.

Lynn’s academic background includes a master’s degree in communication from the University of Notre Dame, a bachelor’s in English. . . .

6. End with something that ties to your presentation.

She promises to share the wisdom of that long experience–without any of the pain of acquiring it.

You can expand or shrink that basic format as needed. Here are a couple of other suggestions:

  • Be very cautious about using jargon and abbreviations. I got my undergraduate degree at BU, for example, but that means Bradley University to me–not Boston University or another B school.
  • Avoid putdowns or negative statements, unless you are certain everyone will appreciate them.
  • Type your bio in large type–16 point or larger–so that the person who introduces you will be able to read it easily.
  • Bring a copy with you to the event. The person who will introduce you may have many other details to manage.
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself, using slightly different language, of course.

Those who are presidents or prestigious academics are likely to have longer bios than ours, but will they have more fun? No. They will just earn higher fees!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.