“Networking” is often used to describe this group. But when you move beyond the handshakes and exchange of credentials and business cards, what really matters are personal stories. Maybe it’s because there’s always a story behind the foods we love to eat, or the cuisines we decide to master. Family tradition, foreign travel, childhood fixation, self-emancipation — no dish is simply a sum of its ingredients. And one of the most rewarding aspects of last night was hearing people share what made them who they are today.
By lucky accident I facilitated the session on personal bios. I can’t but wonder why so many of us (myself included) struggle to describe who we are and proudly put our achievements out there. Perhaps it’s because our interests and skills are too complex to boil down into a few paragraphs. Or because historically, women are raised to be “good girls” which includes not bragging. Maybe our passions create a blind spot because we’re inseparable from that which drives us to create.
Fortunately, with some brainstorming, gentle coaching, and instructive examples provided by Lizzy Caston (which you can download at the end of this post), most everyone was able to capture some bio ideas on paper that will get put to good use in a web site, blog, resume or press kit.
Here are some key takeaways from that discussion:
- Even if you don’t have a current business need for a bio, creating one is an exercise in focus and expression that enables you to clearly articulate what you have to offer and what sets you apart. Cover letters, informational interviews, cocktail party conversation — you never know what leads to your personal pot of gold. Create a bio so you’re know what to say when the opportunity of a lifetime lands in your lap. And because many people in the food business do end up starting their own businesses, you’ll be that much farther ahead of the game when you’re ready to do so.
- Ask someone who knows you really well to tell you why you’re so great. Seriously. We do a lousy job holding up mirror to ourselves so let our biggest fans — be they family, a friend, a co-worker or significant other — point out the strengths we didn’t realize we had.
- Treat the bio writing process like you’re doing a performance appraisal on yourself. What have you accomplished this past year? So much time gets diverted into so many different directions we don’t realize that, cumulatively, that volunteering or seemingly small projects all add up to something worth crowing about.
- Different aspects of our bios expand and contract based on the experience we accumulate. So, out of school, we tend to go deep into our educational background. As our careers progress, it’s totally fine to discard aspects of our experience that don’t apply anymore, or to severely scale back certain details. Don’t try to say it all; focus on what’s important and relevant.
- What if your background includes a radical departure or shift from what you used to do? Use it if it’s relevant to who you are now. If your anthropology degree inspires and informs your baking, explain why. If you’re much happier doing something that has nothing to do with your MBA, talk about the wake-up call. People — customers — connect with stories, not resumes.
- Produce long and short versions of your bio for different purposes. Who are you in 50 words? 100? 250? Having these for different circumstances will help prevent someone else butchering your bio into something unintelligible.
Since I facilitated the bios all evening, I don’t have notes from the other roundtables. Lizzy ran the discussion about developing a communications timeline, and Julia Wood of Litmus Design & Architecture led the discussion about developing a company description. However, the attached documents from Lizzy provide step-by-step guidelines along with handy templates for tackling all of last night’s exercises.
Many thanks to Amanda Oborne for hosting everyone in her lovely home last night. There was plenty of room to spread out and the buffalo burgers were awesome!
Next meeting topic: Social Media for your Business
In about six weeks (mid-May), we’re going to have a full-blown session on social media. In January everyone learned, from a public relations perspective, how much buzz can be generated with a personal blog. And there have been numerous questions about how to optimally use Twitter and Facebook to promote your business. With Portland being the Silicon Forest, we have a number of local experts to tap in to for this next session. It will be an ambitious agenda that includes a ground-level tutorial on “What is Twitter?” for the uninitiated.
As soon as we set a date and location, I’ll send post an update here.
What’s in a name?
Lastly, I want to point out we’re going to rename this group. Originally we had aspirations to be the regional chapter of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, but we’re more of a grassroots organization that embraces people from outside that strict definition of membership. So while we don’t have the final answer, don’t be surprised when you see an email that doesn’t say “PDX WCR” (perhaps the most awkward combination of letters possible).