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Jo O'Reilly

Host: Isaline Muelhauser

Guest: Jo O’Reilly

In this week's episode, Jo O’Reilly, Digital PR Manager, shares how she approaches public speaking as a first time speaker down to the nitty-gritty of preparing her pitch as a speaker, dealing with rejection and preparing for the D-day. We also find out what inspires Jo and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.

You can connect with Jo through her LinkedIn and Twitter.

Follow Women in Tech SEO on Twitter.

Episode Transcript

Isaline: Hi, it's Isaline. And today, we discuss how to break through as a conference speaker and podcast speaker, why to speak at conferences, and where to start. This is the story Jo will be sharing with us today. A warm welcome to Jo. Hi!

Jo: Hi. It's great to be here. It's great to be here on my first podcast talking about how to get on podcasts. Yeah, really excited to be here. 

Isaline: Thank you so much for being here. Of course, we can find Jo on Twitter. Just search for the handle @JoMarieOReilly. Living in Chester, United Kingdom, you work as the digital PR manager at Science Search Marketing. And you've been working in digital marketing for the last five years, both in-house and agency side. Interesting fact, before that, you worked as a journalist. 

Jo: I did. 

Jo: You love everything PR, especially reactive PR. As a senior -- because you are senior at this point in your career, you decided that you want to start talking at conferences and podcasts. Tell me, how did you come to this decision at this point in your career? What triggered this choice? 

Jo: I think, during the pandemic, I logged into the digital PR, oh, sorry, the online PR conference that brightonSEO run. And I think I was watching all these talks and I was learning so much. It's kind of like that thing, you go to an art gallery and you see a great piece of art and you think, "Oh, I could do that." But actually, the majority of the time, you really couldn't. But kind of with this, I felt, "I have something to add here actually."
There's topics here that people are talking about that I can elaborate on, or there's advice here that people are sharing, or questions here that people are asking that I could answer and I could share some of the insights I've found. I'm completely self-taught in digital PR. I've got no marketing training formally. Everything I learn, effectively, comes from being a journalist and trying to kind of almost reverse engineer that to how I would want a PR to contact me and how I would want to receive PR stories or information or insight. I think that that's an unusual insight, potentially, in the industry. Where a lot of people do come from either a technical SEO background, or a marketing background. 

Isaline: I heard there was like sort of a ‘teacher's feeling’. Like you knew you had something to share and that you could explain something to others and answer the questions. Right?

Jo: Yeah, I think so. I'm going to out my age a bit here. But I think compared to the average age of a digital PR in the industry, I've been around a few more years. I've had more life experience, I guess, in the media industry. And one of the best things you can do in life is to share what you know to those younger than you, potentially, or to those starting out in their careers. I think one of the things I enjoy most about my job now is kind of teaching other people, I guess, and passing that information down. 

One of the great things about our industry is how people share information. I have learned so much from my peers. You know, whether it be Twitter threads, LinkedIn posts, conferences. I want to give back to that. I don't want to just keep taking other people's tips and advice. It's I want to be a part of giving back and sharing that information in the industry.

Isaline: I understand totally that feeling of giving back and putting the effort into sharing something. But what I don't quite get is like -- because talking at a conference is a difficult thing. Especially, you know, starting something that you don't know how to do. It's kind of scary. Like what do you do to tackle that? What did you do to get started, really? 

Jo: You've kind of got to the second point there. The nice point is obviously I want to give back, I want to share information. The kind of next point is very much that you don't grow if you don't step outside the comfort zone. I hate public speaking. I hate the idea of public speaking. It would be silly of me to pretend otherwise. But I also know how important it is in the industry to share information. I know how important it is to step outside your comfort zone and to do things that terrify you. So I kind of made a decision that, "I'm going to do this. I'm not sure how I'm going to do this. I've never done it before, but I'm going to do this. And if I hate it, I'll never do it again." I hope I won't hate it. 

I guess that's where, you know, I put it on my kind of to-do list at the beginning of 2022. I said, "This year in my career, I'm going to go speak publicly about what I do, and why I love what I do, and how other people can do what I do." And then, I left it because it was the thing I did not want to do. So it got pushed down and pushed down. And then, when Areej announced in the Women in Tech SEO Slack channel that she was putting on this training course, I thought, this is a sign here that I've got to stop leaving that at the bottom of my to-do list. That's how I ended up on the training course. 

Isaline: Oh, congrats! That's very impressive. As someone who would not like to speak publicly with in-person, because it's way too scary. I'm very impressed that you're taking the leap. You're like, "Oh my God. I'm going on stage. I'm doing it." 

And so, tell me what's happened with the WTS training? Did it help tackle this fear or did it help on other levels? What did you take out of it? 

Jo: I mean the course was amazing. As me and the other women on the course will tell you. It was Hannah who led the course. I'm sure she won't mind me saying this, but she's clearly a veteran of speaking at conferences. She's done them all and she can talk about it in a really kind of practical and supportive way. But also, she answered the questions that perhaps we all have as women, that perhaps you couldn't ask outside of that kind of safe space that the training created. 

I think, I know one of the questions that was asked was about, "What clothes do you wear?" We all know women. If you are standing in bright light, sometimes a dress that perhaps looks very, very secure, suddenly looks a bit flimsy and a bit see-through. We see what happens to women in the public eye and the paparazzi. These are serious worries that people have.

One of the questions I ask and it's a very silly worry, was, "How do you focus on giving a talk when you know people are filming or taking photos?" That's something that's always concerned me. If I'm in a room and talking to people in a kind of casual setting, I'm quite comfortable. But the idea of being the center of attention in the sense that I've got a room of people looking at me. I've got cameras on me shooting me for video, for photos. How do I not be distracted by that and how do I not find that intimidating? And some of the best responses from Areej and Hannah were, "It is really hard." That is intimidating and that is off-putting. You will end up with very silly photos of you, mid-flow. But that's not what you're there for. You're there to give a speech and to give a talk. You can't let these kinds of things kind of put you off, doing something that could really benefit your career and give back to the community. 

Isaline: That's very interesting. Because first of all, everybody loves Hannah. I love Hannah. I think she's wonderful. 

Jo: She's great. 

Isaline: Anyone who's listening, if you don't follow Hannah or her newsletter, just do it now. Second thing, you said something really interesting. Because you just mentioned how -- it was about accepting that it's terrible. That it's accepting that it's a terrible feeling. We are going to feel that, and it's okay. And accepting that there will be awful pictures of you and that it doesn't matter. How did you solve the questions of the clothes? Because I didn't even think about that, but that's true. 

Jo: Hannah gave some really, really good advice about if you're wearing a dress, make sure it's structured. You're going to have a mic pack on you. So if you've not got jeans or a really solid piece of clothing to put it in, it needs to not pull your dress down. It needs to not pull a flimsy kind of blouse down. Really practical stuff I hadn't thought of. Because if you've not been on stage, you don't know what goes into it in terms of mic packs, and speakers, and headsets, and things. So that was really useful. 

Like I said, a lot of the information that was shared was really practical information that you just wouldn't necessarily get anywhere else. It was just having those kind of conversations about like you said. Actually, some of it is awful. It is scary. What's that kind of classic thing? Feel the fear and do it anyway. I think that's kind of where we got to as a group that yes, it's scary. I know that if I'm going to get to the part where I'm standing at the side of the stage thinking, "God, why have I done this to myself? I could just go back to my desk, get on with my job. I don't need to be here." But that's how we end up in these situations. I think where conferences have lineups full of men that perhaps are quite comfortable going out and doing this and think that they need to be on stage and aren't held back by, potentially, our concerns. That we're not good enough or our concerns. It's scary. So we might be nervous or we might not speak clearly. So I think very much, "feel the fear and do it anyway," was the end result.

Isaline: How brave. Congrats. And so, there are these parts like how one looks on stage and how one feels on stage. And there are also the parts that you briefly mentioned, "What we say on stage." And so, do you tackle the parts of pitching, having the idea? Because you know so much, but how do you pinpoint what it is actually you're going to talk about during these 20 minutes that you have this talk? Or how do you choose which topic exactly you're going to pitch to a conference speaker? 

Jo: That again was, it's really good having, obviously, Hannah was leading the course. But we Areej there as well. They've both got so much experience with kind of pitching these talks and giving them. I think the best advice on that, that I got from, it was finding a problem and being able to talk. A problem you've had with your career, with an issue you've encountered, and what you did to solve that. I guess it sort of goes back to kind of anything really. It's having that narrative arc, isn't it? That idea that I've encountered this issue, this is how I worked through it, this is what you can do if you encountered this issue. Loads of really practical tips about actually going and getting your own data. Even if it be something like a Twitter poll. Where you ask others in the industry, "Hey, have you encountered this in your career? Have you encountered this with this particular technical problem or with clients that want X when you can only provide Y?" And having something like that to provide. 

Some really simple stuff that sounds really simple but you don't necessarily think of being able to break your talk down into sections. Do you have an intro? Do you have kind of the first? The bit where you talk about the issue, the bit where you talk about how you solved it, and then that bit at the end with key takeaways. When I've watched conference talks, I've always found that really useful where at the end someone's kind of almost recapped. Particularly, if you're a BrightonSEO, or you are at one of these big conferences where you're seeing several talks in a day, it's really good when a speaker recaps at the end. "This is what we've talked about. This is what, you know -- I hope you get from this." 

Other things we talked about slide decks and how you put together slide decks. The one thing that's always kind of intimidated me about doing it is, I don't just want to turn up, spend weeks putting a slide deck together, turn up and just talk through a load of information on a slide that people will just think, "Well, actually you could have just emailed me that." How do you weigh up? How much is on the deck and how much you are talking about and speaking? 

The other thing that was a bit of a surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn't have been. Hannah was talking about how long it takes to put a slide deck together. I don't think until that point, I appreciated the work that goes into this and the work that all these speakers at the conferences we attend are putting into these presentations. I know one of the things that I will take away from that is even if I sit for a talk and think, "Oh, actually, I've learned too much because I already knew that topic really well." Or, "Actually, it wasn't necessarily aimed at me that talk. I think I will have just such a better appreciation of you. I'm going to sit in this really intently anyway." I'm going to know now how many hours and evenings people have spent of their own time usually to put into these talks. So, yeah, it's just as a conference attendee, it was valuable to actually really get a grasp of that as well.

Isaline: What other steps have you taken towards this goal today? We mentioned the WTS workshops, but anything else you did?

Jo: Since the workshop, I've been brave. I've been applying to everything. One of the obvious things you're going to get, particularly when you're new, is you're going to get rejected. I applied to a conference in Dublin. I think it was Learn Inbound. I was rejected. I had a really lovely email from them. "Thanks. We've already got people talking on these kind of topics, but actually, can we keep you in mind and we'll contact you later in the year." I think the nature of kind of my career, so far, means I'm quite good with rejection. Anyone that works in digital PR knows rejections are a really big part of the job. So I'm quite hard into that, so it didn't feel so bad. But I think perhaps if you didn't experience that constantly as part of your kind of natural role, it could be quite upsetting. 

Isaline: Yeah, you jumped exactly in the part I was aiming at. You said you're experienced into dealing with rejection because it's already happened a lot in your work due to the nature of the work. But just tell me, how can folks who fear this moment, fear opening the inbox and seeing the "No, thank you" notes? How do you deal with that and how? And how do you keep sending your topic? If people say, "No. We don't want your topic." That's a terrible feeling. 

Jo: Go and be a digital PR. You'll get so many "nos" in your inbox every morning that you'll -- It is a serious thing. People do fear rejection. The worry is if you get rejected on your first pitch, well, perhaps you won't pitch again. You just have to do. You just have to keep trying and trying. Eventually, something will land and someone will go, "Yeah, do you know what? We loved your pitch. Come and talk." Your pitches will get better. Maybe this isn't something that I can control, but maybe -- and I know that conferences get so many pitches. Any feedback they're able to offer, I think will help people. And if you do get feedback, obviously, take that on board. But often, it will just be a kind of polite "Thanks, but no thanks." But you just have to keep going. 

Isaline: Did you keep sending the same pitch after the first rejection, or did you tweak something? Did you update something in your proposal?

Jo: For the first kind of batch I sent out, I kind of -- and the great thing about the training course, Hannah gave us an amazing template by the way. We all kind of got to look at each other's pitches on this template that Hannah had used and shared with us. The first batch that I sent out, completely the same. I thought, "I'll send it out. If they all get rejected --" It's different lead times, isn't it? So like I said, I've had one kind of rejection -- I've sent it to a few other places. I'm waiting to hear back. If everywhere gets rejected, then yeah, I'll go back to the drawing board. I think, actually, is this topic not wide enough, not niche enough? What can I do to kind of give it more success next time? But it's hard. 

I saw a tweet from the guy that runs brightonSEO about just how many pitches they do receive now. There's a lot of competition out there. It's not always personal. It might not always about your pitch. It might be about other pitches they've already received that have kind of filled that section or that track of the conference. So it's hard to know, I guess, when to go back to the drawing board and when to go, "Well, actually, I'll just try again with the same pitch." I'm not an expert yet. I don't have the answers to that yet.

Isaline: I understand there is sort of a testing part. You create a pitch and you test it out to see what kind of feedback you get and if it works. Did you try bigger conferences or smaller conferences, in-person, or online? What's your aim currently? 

Jo: So I've not been fussy. I knew if I sat down and was like, "I'm only going to apply to set conferences that I know or I feel comfortable with," I would narrow the opportunity. I've just anything that I thought, "Yeah, I can get there. I can talk there." They've already kind of had people that have talked about digital PR, that kind of had an interest in this I've applied to. Yeah, I've been quite sort of open about where I apply. I've not kind of tried to narrow that pool yet. 

I imagine that if you get to the point where people that have spoken at a lot of conferences, will get to the point where they go, "Actually, I really like this conference. The speakers are treating you really well. I'll apply there." Or, you know, "I spoke at this conference before. And, actually, I wasn't too keen on the way things are run, so I won't apply there." I'm not at that point yet. I'm just going to apply everywhere and see what happens. 

Isaline: I love how you took that decision. And now, I can hear in your voice that you really leaped into it, and you are just there for the experience and open to trying things, and that's wonderful to hear. I love it. 

Jo: Thank you. 

Isaline: Now, you are in this moment where you are trying to pitch out to conference organizers. Do you have any specific goals for this year? Because you're putting lots of effort into pitching and going out of your comfort zone. How will you decide, "Oh, I'm happy with what I've done. It's great."? Do you have a specific objective or goals, or something specific you're trying to achieve? 

Jo: I said at the beginning of 2022, I said, "I'm just going to go speak at a conference." That was on my to-do list. And then, I ignored it because it was scary. I didn't want to do that. It was also quite naive to just put, "I'm going to go speak at a conference." There's a process. You've got to have an idea. You've got to pitch an idea. 

Now, having done the training course, having spent time speaking to Hannah and the other members of the training cohort -- actually this is not as simple as just going around, "I'm going to speak at a conference next week." Honestly, I've pitched and I've actually sent pictures to conferences. That is something that I never did in 2022 when I said was going to speak at a conference. So I've already achieved something. I hope I get the chance to put this into practice this year. But if I don't, I've still done what I said I was going to do. I've still kind of fulfilled my part of my bargain with myself that I'm going to step outside of my comfort zone just by sending the pictures. 

I'm here. This is a start. This is my first podcast. I've got another podcast, hopefully, lined up in March. And if that's all that happens in 2023, I've still stepped outside my comfort zone. I'm still really proud of myself. 

Isaline: All right. I love how you embrace things and how matter-of-factly you are. Because I've heard other speakers who are much more nervous and anxious about the process and about trying out. You have to tell us how you do it. Like, seriously. I want to be this calm and zen when I do something out of my comfort zone. So, what's your secret? 

Jo: I don't know. I mean, I am nervous. If it's coming across like I'm not nervous, no. I think once you make a decision, you just have to jump in. I definitely have had the benefit of that training course and spending that time thinking about it properly and thinking about the process. I guess also there's a bit of -- I don't want to say in any way indebted. Areej and Hannah would never make me feel that way but I know that I had a great opportunity doing that training course. I know there was a lot of applications. I'm very lucky that I was chosen. It would be a real shame for me to go, "Right, I've done the training course. But, actually, yeah, I'm not going to do it now." You know, that would be a shame. It would be a waste of an opportunity that I've had, that perhaps someone else could have had. So there's that. 

But also, I've said I'm going to do this. So I just have to do it and try. It'll work out or it won't. But I'm not as zen as I'm making it appear. I will be really nervous. If I was to get a call tomorrow, say, "You know what, we want you on a stage at some point in this year." I'd probably be straight on the Snapchat. It's Hannah going, "Oh, my God! It's happened. It's happened. What do I do now?" 

Isaline: How do you deal with these nervous moments? Because apparently, you know they're going to happen at some point. 

Jo: There's a lot of really great techniques. Deep breathing, meditation. There's all these great techniques that we all talk about. But I actually think sometimes, you just have to live through the nerves. Often, when I'm really scared or nervous about something, whether it be an exam or having to speak publicly, that 30 seconds when you are waiting for it to happen is terrifying. It's horrible. It's not going to be enjoyable. But I don't think you can not have that experience. You just have to have that experience. And then, when you'll be, when you are on stage and you are in the flow of talking, you'll be fine. 

And then, after it, you might feel a bit, "Oh, my God, that was horrendous." You might feel a bit sick. But, actually, it's not the experience. It's the anticipation of the experience. One thing I try and do with myself a lot or tell myself a lot is that nerves are just excitement. If you reframe this idea that nervousness is a really negative emotion -- actually, nerves are just excitement, and excitement's a positive effect.

Isaline: Oh, I love this. I totally love this, "Nerves is just excitement." Yeah, it's true. It's the joy of doing something new that you're experiencing. I've also heard that there is a very high degree of awareness. You know this is going to happen, the 30 seconds before you go on stage. That you should just be there and live through it. I really like how you phrased that, "Be aware. That's happening, and that's okay." 

Jo: Yeah, I've been nervous before in my life. We've all been nervous before in our lives where we felt sick and we've had stage fright or whatever. We're alive. We lived through it, and it was fine. So it will happen again, and it'll be all right, and I will live through it, and I'll be fine

Isaline: Thank you for normalizing that feeling for us. For making it, "Yeah, it's okay, actually. It happens to everyone." 

Oh, I see that time is going so fast. So you say you have no problem doing conferences because you have so many things to say. That's awesome. I love it. But we still have to go. So our last question that I wanted to ask you is, so as we are here as a community and we like to help each other, what is the one tool or reading, or things you did recently that help you grow?

Jo: Because I have a really bad short-term memory, I'm going to talk about the thing I've read most recently that I thought made me think differently. At the beginning of the year, I get book vouchers for Christmas every year. I read so much. I bought a book that I thought was going to be about time management. Because I am forever buying books about time management. It's called, "Four Thousand Weeks." It's by a man called Oliver Burkeman. I buy a lot of books about time management because I'm not very good at time management. It's one of the things I struggle with in my career and my personal life. It's not about time management, it's the anti-book about time management, I guess. It's made me think differently about how we use time, both professionally and personally, and how we try and control time. I try and control my time. We all do. It kind of talks through why actually that that's not helping us and we should let go a bit. I've just found it interesting both professionally and personally, and how I think about monitoring my time and segmenting my time, and the Pomodoro method, and all these things I do to control my time. It's just been a really interesting read, so I recommend it. 

Isaline: Thank you. I'll share the name and the title of the book, of course, to make it easy to find. Thanks for sharing and thank you so much for joining us today. That was great. 

Jo: That was my first podcast appearance, by the way. So I hope I did a good job. I was nervous before I did it, but I enjoyed the process for everyone to talk about. 

Isaline: It was great. Honestly, I loved it. I loved how fluid you were in everything you said and your enthusiasm. So anyone who's listening, if you're nervous before a podcast, you'll be fine during. Look at Jo. That was awesome, right? 

Jo: Yeah. I was nervous and I lived through it, and I had a great time. That's the takeaway from this, I hope. 

Isaline: Yay! Thanks for joining me, and thank you everyone for listening to the WTS Podcast. We are on a mission to amplify women in the industry. If you haven't yet, do join the community if you identify as a woman. We have a fantastic Slack channel where you can ask questions and answer questions in a safe space. And also, open to all, we have, of course, the podcast with many more episodes to come, and the newsletters, and we are on Twitter. So really, there's no reason not to follow what we do. 

I've been your host. Isaline Muelhauser. You can find me on Twitter, and you can find Jo on Twitter, if you have any follow-up questions. Thank you so much for being here, everyone. Thank you, Jo. 

Jo: Thank you.

Isaline: Goodbye. Thanks.