Featured Speakers

March 13-22, 2020

SXSW Featured Speakers are leading figures in society and industry, presenting mind-expanding ideas to shape today and tomorrow.


2019 Featured Speaker, Zoe Saldana - Photo by John Feinberg

2019 Featured Speaker, Zoe Saldana - Photo by John Feinberg

About Featured Speakers

 

Spanning the many themes and trends of SXSW, Featured Speakers present a snapshot of the ideas that can most transform our future.

Browse 2019 Featured Speakers video highlights below. Explore more videos on the SXSW Youtube Channel and listen to sessions on the SXSW Schedule by clicking the audio symbol next to each item.

For more influential speakers at SXSW, visit the Keynotes page.

Stay tuned for 2020 SXSW programming announcements throughout the season at SXSW News.

2020 Featured Speakers

 

Activating Change with a Cello and a Shovel Featured Session – An exploration of how to use culture to transform social problems that create division and uncertainty into moments that confirm community and activate change, featuring musician Yo-Yo Ma and artist Pedro Reyes. Moderated by NPR’s Peter Sagal.

Rohit Bhargava – Founder of the Non-Obvious Company, Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to help the world be more open-minded by teaching others how to be non-obvious thinkers. He previously spent 15 years in leadership roles at two renowned ad agencies: Leo Burnett and Ogilvy. Rohit is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of six books and has delivered presentations in 32 countries around the world. His signature workshops have been used by the World Bank, NASA, Intel, Disney, Colgate, Swissotel, Coca-Cola, Schwab, Under Armour, NBC Universal, American Express, and hundreds of others. Rohit is a popular Adjunct Professor of storytelling at Georgetown University and also writes a monthly column for GQ magazine in Brazil.

Benny Blanco – Award-wining record producer, songwriter, and artist, Benny Blanco is a five-time BMI Songwriter of the Year award recipient as well as the winner of the 2013 Hal David Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and 2017 iHeartRadio Producer of the Year. Blanco’s producer and writing collaborations have garnered over hundreds of millions in album sales globally from chart-topping artists like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Halsey, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Keith Urban, Kanye West, and more. He is also the founder of two record labels in collaboration with Interscope Records, Mad Love Records and Friends Keep Secrets.

Changing the Immersive Storytelling Wild West Featured Session – A conversation about how to collaborate to create sustainable, transformative and inclusive work in immersive storytelling, between Royal Shakespeare Company Director of Digital Development Sarah Ellis; anthropologist, technologist, professor and Intel senior fellow Genevieve Bell; and Guild of Future Architects Executive Director Kamal Sinclair. Moderated by Watershed CEO Clare Reddington.

Steve DeAngelo – A globally recognized cannabis leader, Steve DeAngelo was dubbed “the father of the legal industry” by former Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown. As a lifelong activist, author, educator, investor, and entrepreneur, he has spent over four decades on the front lines of the cannabis reform movement. DeAngelo is the Co-Founder of Harborside, one of the first six dispensaries licensed in the US and now a publicly-traded company on the CSE; Steep Hill Laboratory, the first cannabis analytics company; and the Arc View Group, the first dedicated cannabis investment network. He is also author of The Cannabis Manifesto; starred in Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars; and launched the Last Prisoner Project in 2019.

Van Espahbodi – As Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Starburst, Van Espahbodi is championing today’s aerospace renaissance, uniting early-stage technology innovators with private investment to modernize infrastructure in mobility, communications, and intelligence. Espahbodi launched Starburst in the US in 2015, operating globally today with offices in Los Angeles, Paris, Munich, San Francisco, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, and Montreal. His team works alongside 500+ technology startups developing new aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, drones, sensors, autonomy, robotics, and much more.

Camille François – As the Chief Innovation Officer at Graphika, Camille François leads the company’s work to detect and mitigate disinformation, media manipulation, and harassment. François has advised governments and parliamentary committees on both sides of the Atlantic on policy issues related to cybersecurity and digital rights. She served as a special advisor to the Chief Technology Officer of France in the Prime Minister’s office, working on France’s first Open Government roadmap. François is a Mozilla Fellow, a Berkman-Klein Center affiliate, and a Fulbright scholar.

Chip and Joanna Gaines – What started as a Waco, Texas-based home decor shop in 2003 has since grown into Magnolia, a national home and lifestyle brand spanning retail, home design and construction, media, and more founded by Chip and Joanna Gaines. They are also the Chief Creative Officers for Magnolia’s joint-venture with Discovery, Inc., which was announced late last year and includes plans for the couple’s very own, Magnolia-inspired television network set to launch in late 2020.

Chris Hughes in conversation with Josh Constine – Chris Hughes is the Co-Chair of the Economic Security Project, a non-profit working to make the modern economy more dynamic and fair by reinvigorating anti-monopoly policy and creating a guaranteed income for all Americans. He is also a Senior Advisor at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank working to reimagine the rules of the economy. In 2018, he published his first book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn. Josh Constine is the Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch where he’s written four thousand blog posts about tech giants and startups over the past eight years with focuses on social networks, streaming music, and early stage companies. He’s been ranked the #1 most-cited technology journalist by news aggregator Techmeme.

Dr. Rana el Kaliouby – A pioneer in artificial emotional intelligence (Emotion AI), Rana el Kaliouby, Ph.D., is Co-Founder and CEO of Affectiva, and author of the forthcoming book Girl Decoded. She grew up in Cairo, Egypt, earning her BSc and MSc in computer science at the American University in Cairo, and her Ph.D. from Cambridge University. She then joined the MIT Media Lab as a research scientist, where she spearheaded the applications of emotion recognition technology in mental health and autism. An acclaimed TED speaker, she was named one of Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech and was included on Fortune Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and co-hosted a PBS NOVA series on AI.

Guy Laliberté – Founder of Cirque du Soleil, One Drop Foundation, and Lune Rouge, Guy Laliberté was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential personalities in the world and has been recognized as one of the most creative and innovative minds by Condé Nast. An inventive entrepreneur and great philanthropist, he now dedicates his time and talent to his new company, Lune Rouge. Through inspiration and the transfer of values and knowledge to young entrepreneurs, Laliberté continues his commitment to young creators by supporting several innovative initiatives. For this true ambassador of creativity, there is nothing more precious than humanity. Human relations and interactions are at the heart of every project that he contributes to or develops.

Hear to Slay Featured Session – A live podcast recording offering compelling conversations and uncommonly incisive reads of the politics and pop culture that shape the world we live in, featuring writer, editor and podcaster Roxane Gay; award-winning professor and author Tressie McMillan Cottom; and Special Guest.

John Maeda – Named as one of the “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century” by Esquire, Maeda draws on his diverse background as an MIT-trained engineer, award-winning designer, and executive leader to bring people and ideas together at scale. He was recently appointed chief experience officer at Publicis Sapient, the technology consulting and delivery arm of communications and marketing conglomerate Publicis. Maeda has held positions with Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com; the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins; led research at the MIT Media Lab; and served as president of the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the author of several celebrated books, including The Laws of Simplicity and Redesigning Leadership and his upcoming book How to Speak Machine will be available November 2019.

Cheech Marin in conversation with Robert Rodriguez – Actor and comedian Cheech Marin and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez discuss Chicano art, filmmaking, and their collaboration to support the national Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry of Riverside Art Museum. The conversation will include the screening of an 11-minute documentary film by Edward Tyndall and a student film crew about Marin and his art collection, and may include a short musical performance by El Dusty who wrote and performed the score for the film.

Col Needham – Founder and CEO of IMDb, the #1 movie website in the world, Col Needham has had a lifelong interest in both technology and movies. After starting a computer games software business at the age of 14, he completed a computer science degree at Leeds University before commencing a career in technology research in Bristol, England. IMDb grew out of a personal database of movie information which Needham created as a teenager, combined with similar data collected on the Internet in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Published in 1990, Needham coordinated IMDb as a worldwide volunteer effort through 1996. IMDb was incorporated in January 1996 and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com in 1998. Needham continues in his original role to this day, working from an office in Bristol with IMDb staff members in countries around the world.

Kwame Onwuachi – James Beard Award winner Kwame Onwuachi is the executive chef at Kith/Kin and owner of the Philly Wing Fry franchise in Washington, D.C. He was born on Long Island and raised in New York City, Nigeria, and Louisiana. Onwuachi was first exposed to cooking by his mother, in the family’s modest Bronx apartment, and he took that spark of passion and turned it into a career. From toiling in the bowels of oil cleanup ships to working at some of the best restaurants in the world, he has seen and lived his fair share of diversity. Onwuachi trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has opened five restaurants before turning thirty. A former Top Chef contestant, he has been named one of Food & Wine‘s “Best New Chefs” and a “30 Under 30” honoree by both Zagat and Forbes.

Cat Packer – As the first Executive Director and General Manager of the Department of Cannabis Regulation, Cat Packer leads the licensing and regulation of commercial cannabis activity within the City of Los Angeles and furthermore, manages the implementation of the City’s cannabis related policies and programs. Packer previously served as California Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, where she worked to ensure the successful and equitable implementation of various cannabis policy reforms, as well as Campaign Coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, a social justice-centered campaign in support of the 2016 Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

Huston Powell – Promoter at C3 Presents, Huston Powell is a world-renowned music industry veteran with over 15 years of experience in concert promotion. Powell most notably books Lollapalooza, bringing top talent to hundreds of thousands of fans around the world each year from the likes of Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, The Killers, Radiohead, Jay Z, Foo Fighters, Chance The Rapper, and White Reaper. Additionally, Powell oversees the international Lolla editions in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Sweden and has grown the footprint of the festivals in South America and Chicago with sold out years.

Nile Rodgers in conversation with Merck Mercuriadis – The legendary Nile Rodgers is a multiple Grammy-winning composer, producer, arranger, and guitarist who constantly traverses new musical terrain. Rodgers transcends all styles of music with a body of work that’s garnered him inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame (Rodgers is also the Chairman of the SHOF), and most recently the appointment of Chief Creative Advisor for the Abbey Road studios. His work in the CHIC Organization and his productions for artists like David Bowie, Diana Ross, and Madonna have sold over 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide while his trendsetting collaborations with Daft Punk, Avicii, Sigala, Disclosure, and Sam Smith reflect the vanguard of contemporary music. Rodgers will be in conversation with manager Merck Mercuriadis, the CEO, Founder and managing partner of Hipgnosis Songs Ltd, an artist management firm, publisher, and record label based in London and Los Angeles. Mercuriadis is a Canadian-American music executive and former manager to artists including Sir Elton John, Guns N’Roses, Iron Maiden, Pet Shop Boys, and Mary J. Blige. Most recently, Hipgnosis Songs Fund has raised over $500 million in investment capital and has acquired hit songs and copyrights.

Amy Webb – Quantitative futurist Amy Webb is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and the Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. Webb is a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University’s Säid School of Business, a Fellow in the United States-Japan Leadership Program, a Foresight Fellow in the U.S. Government Accountability Office Center for Strategic Foresight, and was a Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She is the bestselling, award-winning author of several books, including The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity and The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream. Webb serves as a technical, script, and creative consultant for films and shows set in the future. All of her futures research, frameworks, and tools are open source and made freely available to the public.

Shoshana Zuboff – In the hugely influential book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, author Shoshana Zuboff outlines the challenges to humanity posed by the digital future. Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor emerita, Harvard Business School. She is also the author of In The Age of the Smart Machine: the Future of Work and Power and The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism.

Brandi Carlile Interviews Elisabeth Moss at SXSW 2019

Grammy winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile interviews Emmy Award-winning actress Elisabeth Moss about her intense transformation to play punk rocker Becky Something in the acclaimed film Her Smell.

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Featured Session: Elisabeth Moss with Brandi Carlile - Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW

Featured Session: Elisabeth Moss with Brandi Carlile - Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW

Trevor Noah and The Daily Show News Team on Changing Media at SXSW 2019

CNN Anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper sat down with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and correspondents Ronny Chieng, Michael Kosta, Desi Lydic, Dulcé Sloan, Roy Wood Jr., and Jaboukie Young-White to panel harder than anyone has ever paneled before at SXSW 2019.

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Trevor Noah and Jake Tapper at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Featured Session – Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW

Trevor Noah and Jake Tapper at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Featured Session – Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW

Stacey Abrams: Making Change Out of Defeat at SXSW 2019

Sit down with Stacey Abrams for a conversation covering how to stay mad but stay busy and ultimately drive lasting and meaningful change.

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2019 Featured Speaker, Stacey Abrams - Photo by Danny Matson/Getty Images for SXSW

2019 Featured Speaker, Stacey Abrams - Photo by Danny Matson/Getty Images for SXSW

Neil Gaiman on Taking Good Omens from Book to Screen

Prepare thyself, something wickedly good this way comes. Best-selling author Neil Gaiman took to the SXSW stage for a conversation with writer and actress Kirsten Vangsness about his mini-series adaptation of Good Omens.

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2019 SXSW Featured Speaker, Neil Gaiman – Photo by Alexa Gonzalez Wagner

2019 SXSW Featured Speaker, Neil Gaiman – Photo by Alexa Gonzalez Wagner

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Government and Courage at SXSW 2019

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sat down with The Intercept‘s Senior Politics Editor Brihna Gray for a conversation at SXSW 2019 about identity, the race/class divide, and how these factors are likely to play out in the years ahead.

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2019 SXSW Featured Speaker, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – By Merrick Ales

2019 SXSW Featured Speaker, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – By Merrick Ales

Tinker Hatfield on Design with Scott Dadich at SXSW 2019

Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s VP of Creative Concepts and legend among sneaker-heads, breaks down the creative process, exploring how different disciplines of design influence, inform, and inspire each other along with Abstract co-creator Scott Dadich.

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2019 Featured Session, Tinker Hatfield with Scott Dadich - Photo by Christopher Bouie

2019 Featured Session, Tinker Hatfield with Scott Dadich - Photo by Christopher Bouie

Amanda Palmer on Crowdfunding and Songwriting at SXSW 2019

At SXSW 2019, songwriter and Dresden Dolls member, Amanda Palmer, spoke about the benefits of self-releasing, how crowd-funding music can greatly benefit artists trying to maintain the integrity of their work, and more.

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Amanda Palmer - Photo by Lauren Simpson

Amanda Palmer - Photo by Lauren Simpson

Pamela Adlon Embraces Better Things at SXSW 2019

In this candid conversation, Pamela Adlon — Emmy®-winning actress and acclaimed executive producer, writer, and director of the award-winning FX series Better Things — discussed her storied career including the return of her semi-autobiographical and critically-acclaimed series.

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Featured Session: Unfiltered: Pamela Adlon Embraces Better Things

Featured Session: Unfiltered: Pamela Adlon Embraces Better Things

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