By David Gould, Staff Editor
Someone interested in playing better golf hears about a teaching professional and goes to that pro’s website. A question forms in the golfer’s mind: Should I seek you out for help with my game? Before that can be answered, another question pops up: Who exactly are you?
Virtually every Proponent Group member addresses this scenario by writing a professional bio of themselves and, if nothing else, posting it in a prominent spot online. Indeed, in the digital age of web-browsing and social media, more attention is being paid to these bios. They are short-form descriptions of who we are, why we’re qualified and what we have to offer.
Members who have read this far may think to themselves, “I took care of that already.” But not so fast. To begin with, you really can’t get by with just one version of your bio—if for no other reason than length. Think about it: You need a fairly complete description of yourself and your career as a “base bio” that you save as a simple document and can customize as needed. This multi-paragraph writeup may be the actual text you show under the “About Us” or “Meet the Instructors” tab on your website. Alternatively, you may trim down that full-bore version before posting it on your site.
You will need other versions of your bio to insert in any professional directory that lists you—these are generally just a few sentences long. When you volunteer yourself as a speaker at gatherings such as chapter or section events, still another version of the bio is needed—this one can leave out all information and references that any PGA professional would already know. If you are offering to do radio appearances or write short articles for golf publications (both print and digital), still another version would be appropriate.
And since the audience for any such offers will be editors and producers, a more casual, breezy, make-you-sound-interesting tone will be needed—compared to what you would send to the education chairman of your PGA section. In fact, something interesting is happening with bio-writing lately, even in fields that once called for a strait-laced approach. Go to the Faculty tab on any prominent liberal-arts college or university and scroll down toward the end of a few bios—you’ll find some extremely casual and conversational chit-chat, undoubtedly meant to add personality and charm after all those dry references to scholarly articles and research.
Even in legal circles, uniqueness and off-beat traits are starting to rival conventional qualifications: An attorney whose bio was cited by human-resources expert for its originality actually admitted—in the bio—to being arrested for a petty crime as a teenager. Will this offhanded style be the case in golf soon? Not likely, and that’s because a standard bio of a golf professional will never be as loaded with dull, dry career facts as that of an academic or a lawyer. Therefore it won’t have the same need for attention-getting informality.
With all this as context, here are five reminders that should help you produce the kind of self-description that will persuade people they should work with you:
1. Style Question: First Name vs. Last: The first sentence of his Wikipedia entry states that William Henry “Bill” Gates is an American entrepreneur, business leader and philanthropist. The next sentence begins, “In 1975, Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft…” If Gates were a golf instructor, his official bio on his facility’s website would have used his first name “Bill” in that second reference. One approach is more journalistic and cooly objective, the other is warmer and more casual—it’s the very beginning of your attempt to forge a relationship with the customer.
2. Finishing up with a Personal Nugget: Open a hardcover book at the back and you’ll see the section of the dust jacket that describes the person who wrote it—a photo and about five sentences usually does the trick. Scan immediately to the bottom and you’ll see that this author “lives with his wife and three children in Towson, Maryland” or “lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two sons and a sheepdog named Angus.” It’s almost automatic, and not for no reason—people want to know these details of residence, family and lifestyle.
3. Storytelling is possible, in certain cases: When Will Robins makes presentations to fellow professionals or business groups, he often begins his talk by briefly recounting his 2004 honeymoon trip to Thailand, in which he and his wife miraculously survived the famous December 26 tsunami, which in mere seconds blew open the room they were standing in and plunged an entire hotel underwater. Such an experience opens the possibility for an atypical and fairly dramatic opening statement in a professional bio, along the lines of: “The most significant career decisions we make are the decisions dictated by once-in-a-lifetime events. In 2004, when Will was an aspiring tour pro…. etc.” Structuring a bio in this manner makes it very likely that people will read it through to the end.
4. Strange problem to have—too many impressive achievements: Ironically, professional bios of the very top people in any given industry are perhaps most likely not to be read through to the end, especially by a consumer trying to decide if their money would be well-spent on this person. Instead the would-be customer reads along, nodding their head as the highlight reel continues, then quits reading and proceeds to take action. If you’re in that top tier of accomplished practitioners, make sure your bio starts with the flashiest data points and works its way down to the small stuff—don’t bother going in chronological order and don’t worry that you’re droning on for too long.
5. Chronological order does work well, when you’re starting out: Descriptions of anything or anyone that follow a chronological sequence can be satisfying to the reader, as long as they are fairly short and the pieces of information are fairly uniform in their importance. That tends to be the case with people early in their career. When you use the sequential approach, there isn’t a lot of pressure to come up with impressive-sounding attainments—instead you go with a fairly humble tone and finish up expressing the immense enthusiasm of youth for helping golfers and honing your craft.
If You Learn Just One Grammar Lesson, Learn about the “Dangling Modifier:” A professional bio is a collection of data points about one person. For that reason, it’s sometimes a challenge to avoid repetitious sentence structure. Consider the following: “Amy studied at Indiana University. She played on the golf team there and was captain her senior year. She has a degree in kinesiology with a minor in communications. She began her teaching career at Lakeside Golf Resort. Amy is a student of martial arts with a brown belt in aikido.” And so on.
These are examples of what’s called a “simple sentence.” To avoid the monotony they can create, we write what are called “compound-complex sentences”—basically taking two of those facts and capturing them in one sentence. That sentence will have a dependent clause and a main clause, with the main clause usually coming second. A fine way to do it in Amy’s case would be to say: “A four-year member of the Hoosier women’s golf team, Amy served as captain her senior year.” But be careful not to simply cram two pieces of information together, creating something like: “A student of martial arts, she began her teaching career at Lakeside Golf Resort.” Readers expect there to be at least a shred of connection between the two parts of the sentence.
What’s worse is when the jamming together of two descriptive statements results in a “dangling modifier.” This is a grammar shank in which the two clauses don’t “agree” on what their subject is.
Almost bizarrely, a recent article in Forbes magazine, of all places, heaped praise on a real-life professional bio that committed this momentum-killing grammatical error. Its subject is a merchant marine officer from the Caribbean named Phil who founded a real estate company in Boston. Here is the culprit sentence: “Passionate about the water, the move to East Boston was a natural fit.”
Ouch. When you start a sentence with a dependent clause—meaning, a clause that doesn’t have all the ingredients of a full sentence—the first thing or person you mention in the main clause is the thing or person to which the dependent clause will apply. Translation: In this sentence, the thing or person that is “passionate about the water” isn’t Phil, it’s the move he made. Moves aren’t capable of being passionate, only people are. This is a common mistake, but it’s still an embarrassing one. And it borders on the absurd that Forbes chose a bio containing such a blooper as an example for others to follow.
For additional help putting together your bio, go to the Branding and Marketing tile on our homepage and scroll down to the Guides section until you find Golf Instructor’s Guide to Writing a Professional Biography.