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A How To Guide for Giving A Keynote Speech

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two! This means that to the average person going to a funeral, they would feel better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. Can you believe it?!

-Jerry Seinfeld   

I had a taste of this during my first keynote speech this April at the CIMC conference – which had over 750 attendees.

In this post, I’ll share how I obtained and approached my keynote speech. The result has been fantastic for our team at RTOWN (a digital marketing company I founded almost four years ago). It expanded our company’s brand presence, increased the number of our inbound leads and has expanded our professional network. I hope this helps you land and nail your first keynote speech to aid in your own company’s success.

Step 1: Get the Keynote Slot by Being Bold (i.e., don’t be too Canadian)

a)  State your intention publicly to become more accountable:

Earlier this year, I publicly committed to our team that I would put myself out there more to spread our brand into more areas across the country. Our mission, after all, is to make every town RTOWN. More public speaking engagements was one of my publicly stated goals.

Building a culture of accountability starts with being accountable yourself. So putting it out there publicly, helped hold myself accountable to doing it. Commit to it, write it down and then deliver it.

 b) Approach the conference organizers (for the conference in your target market):

Last year, I formed a relationship with CIMC conference organizers, Darian Kovacs and Christian Thompson. Wicked guys building great companies in BC. RTOWN had a booth at the conference and threw a kick ass after-party last year.

This year, I approached Darian and Christian and promised this: “Guys, get me on stage this year and I’ll deliver the talk of the conference.”

Bold, I know. But most of us aren’t bold enough. Especially in Canada where being ‘nice’ is our default setting. Being bold turns heads.

But being bold is not enough. You also need to deliver.

Luke Aulin on stage

Step 2: Prepare the Keynote Speech By Working Your Ass Off

Two days after they agreed to give me the keynote slot, they asked for my talk’s title. (Inside voice: ‘Shit! I have no idea what I’m even going to talk about.’ I only knew I wanted it and knew I’d work my ass off to make it good.)

Being an entrepreneur, I’m no stranger to jumping off the cliff and building a parachute on the way down. So I gave them a title to my yet-to-be-written talk – “Tribal Marketing”. I knew I’d figure out my content later by staying in my strength zone. I believe I know a bit about building a tribe. So there it was.

Then they also needed three learning objectives. (Inside voice: ‘Double shit!)

So I provided those. It actually helped the framework for what was to come later….the meat. So I was thankful for their process helping mine.

Then time passed….about two months…

Until three weeks before the conference, it dawned on me again that I promised to give the talk of the conference. Triple shit! The nerves started but it was a combination of committing publicly to the RTOWN tribe and then being bold to the conference organizers that was the necessary fire I lit under my own ass.

So here’s what I did:

1)     Cleared my schedule and booked a trip to Thailand to get my thoughts together (I don’t think Thailand is necessary but somewhere you can ‘get away’ from the distractions of day-to-day is definitely recommended)

2)     Bought the book “Talk Like Ted” by Carmine Gallo and read it on the trip. (Here’s the book, second from the bottom. And that’s Thailand in the background.)

I learned a lot in that book. But mostly that great talks are comprised of great stories. I thought about the entrepreneurs I respected and what interesting stories they might share with me about building their own tribes.

3)     Upon my return home, I interviewed them and gathered their stories. These people included:

  1. Cameron Harold (Founder of the COO Alliance)
  2. Brian Scudamore (CEO of 800-GOT-JUNK)
  3. Jason Paige (CEO of Acres Enterprise – an RTOWN customer)
  4. Jeff Booth (CEO of BuildDirect and a member of RTOWN’s Board of Directors)

4)     I feathered their stories into my theme of what it means to find and be in a tribe.

5)     I also included an RTOWN story about our tribe hunkering down together during a very hard phase in our journey where I actually almost lost the company about two years ago. (You can watch the video to see how close RTOWN came to missing payroll when we had about 9 full time staff).

6)     “Talk Like Ted” also taught me that facts and figures help your credibility and give your audience more reason to lean into everything else you’ll share. So I looked inside my industry for data (not hard as I leave and breathe helping local businesses succeed day in and day out) and feathered a lot of that into my talk. I also studied Hans Rosling‘s Ted Talk. Hans delivers stats with such passion. I love his talks!

7)     If you’re planning on filming your talk, I also learned that limiting your talk to 20 minutes will help it get more views online which is why most Ted Talks are that length. (Note: I failed to keep my talk within this time frame. But I hope everyone still goes the distance because the things I talk about have truly worked in helping us build RTOWN into what is now one of the top 20 largest digital marketing companies in BC according to Business in Vancouver).

8)     I crafted a presentation deck with immense support from RTOWN’s very own Tom Wood, (aka RTOM). Tom makes everything at RTOWN look and feel amazing. He perfected the presentation and our branding (the Trojan horse as my talk is NOT a company pitch – a no-no for any great talk – but we definitely wanted to highlight our brand). If you don’t have a good design person on your tribe, I recommend finding one for your deck. Your deck’s look and feel will set you apart. And hint: don’t make your slides too wordy. Nothing puts the audience to sleep more than wordy slides.

9)     I then practiced, practiced, and practiced some more. Truth be told, I’m super anxious about public speaking. No matter how many times I do it (and I get asked a lot), I’m always a bag of nerves about it. Until I get on stage…and then something else entirely takes over.

Talk Like Ted Taking some time away to prepare.

Step 3: Accept The Nerves and Deliver the Keynote Speech

  1. I arrived at the conference the day before so I could see the space and test my video slides and audio. Getting acquainted with the room I would speak in helped me sleep that night.
  2. The next morning, I woke up slowly. I ate slowly. I practiced my speech one more time. It was probably my 30th time going over the speech and I nailed it in this last practice. I felt like it was my best run through.
  3. I went into the conference hall and walked around (like a sack of nerves, btw). 
  4. About an hour before my call time, went back stage to stretch, breathe and pace. I watched the audience engage with the speakers before me. I talked to strangers to get my mind off of things. Then I stretched, breathed and paced some more. All of this helped calm my nerves to some extent.
  5. One my friends took the conference MC aside and got her to get the audience to do the wave as I came out. This was NOT expected but TOTALLY helped my nerves. I even started dancing.

Game Time:



This was one of the most memorable and amazing experiences in my professional life. I felt like I did justice to RTOWN’s tribe, the conference organizers, and everyone in the audience. The feedback from this talk has been amazing!

If you got through the 27 minutes, I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear from you on it. I’ve had company leaders contacting me about profit sharing for their employees, people asking for time to find their tribe and, as I mentioned, as host of leads for our growing sales team. Other entrepreneurs have even approached me to share their stories of near company loss. A cathartic event (that happens all too often) in the great game of business.

I know in my heart there are tidbits in my talk that all companies can apply to help their organizations get better aligned and grow. Some of the tools, for business leaders, are available here to download for free: www.rtown.ca/cimc

In the end, I do not know if I gave the talk of the conference. That’s not for me to judge. What I do know is I was genuine in my promise to deliver it and worked like hell towards it. Personally, I learned a great deal from Meagan Tanner at Google, Caroline Carter at C-Suite ContentBritney Muller at Moz, and Matthew Luhn at Pixar.

I cannot wait for CIMC in 2018!