The first- or third-person conundrum

Oct 27, 2022 | Strategic communication

Do I talk about what I have done? Or what she/ he/ they did?

‘Oh, it depends on the context’, I hear you say, ‘or on the vibe you are trying to create’. Of course, it does. So, let’s weigh it up, and think in more detail about the mood that is created by talking about yourself, and recounting your experience and expertise, in the first person as opposed to the third person.

The use of the first person is more relaxed, and has the feel of a personal conversation. There is an immediacy that is created using the first person; there are no barriers. This is particularly appropriate for online communication, for fast, here-today-lost-in-cyber-space-tomorrow posts on social media, for example. The use of the first person helps add a personal touch to communicating in a format that is, perversely, anything but personal. We are communicating with anyone who will listen, all the while trying to make each reader feel as though we are talking just to them.

The use of the third person, naturally, sounds as if someone else has written it. This creates an immediate distance, but also has the advantage of adding an edge of authority to what is being said. The implicit suggestion is that if someone else is saying it about you, then it is more likely to be true. Similarly, it implies you are quite simply important enough to be written about! The third person, therefore, is more appropriate for a bio that will appear in a programme, on a web site or any communication that positions you as an expert.

Still finding it hard to decide?

Consider the distance you feel comfortable with in the communication, or at least the impression of distance.

If you are trying to create a strong connection, or a sense of immediacy, go for the first person, the friendly, personable ‘I’. If the key emphasis should be on your expertise or your authority, go for the third person.

What do you think? Can you think of any situations you have been in where you needed to write about yourself and your experience? What did you choose to use, and why? Also, did you find it hard to talk about yourself?… Because this final point is for next time.