Featured Speakers

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

Stacey Abrams - SXSW 2019. Photo by Danny Matson/Getty Images for SXSW

Stacey Abrams - SXSW 2019. Photo by Danny Matson/Getty Images for SXSW

About Featured Speakers


Looking for mind-expanding presentations by industry leaders? Spanning the many themes and trends of SXSW, Featured Speakers present a snapshot of the ideas that can most transform our future.

SXSW Conference Featured Sessions bring together some of the biggest and brightest names of our time. Explore the latest announcement including Keynote Willie Nelson as well as Featured Speakers including The Chainsmokers, Queen Latifah, Taraji P. Henson, Barry Jenkins, Matthew McConaughey, and more.

2021 SXSW Keynote Willie Nelson - Photo by Pamela Springsteen; and Featured Speakers The Chainsmokers – Alex Pall and Drew Taggart; and Queen Latifah - Photo by Sophy Holland (CBS)

Dive into the first Conference announcement for SXSW Online 2021 with Featured Speakers including Cynthia Erivo, Mark Mothersbaugh, Beatie Wolfe, Baratunde Thurston and more. Check out all announced speakers and sessions below.

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

For more high-profile speakers at SXSW, browse the Keynotes page.

2021 Featured Speakers

  • International yoga teacher, actress, writer, and entrepreneur Adriene Mishler

  • Actor, filmmaker, author, and Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas

  • Quantitative futurist, author and founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute Amy Webb

  • Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Streamlytics, Angela Benton

  • Riot Games Chief Diversity Officer Angela Roseboro

  • Leadership strategist and author Ann Hiatt

  • Comedian, writer and How to Citizen podcast host Baratunde Thurston

  • Award-winning design entrepreneur and founder of the creative agency, LAYER, Benjamin Hubert

  • Author, entrepreneur and Freeman Chief Design Officer Bruce Mau

  • Future of Sex founder and podcast host Bryony Cole

  • Mathematician, data scientist and author Cathy O’Neil

  • Executive Director of Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation Cat Packer

  • Award-winning writer and publisher of the Water & Music newsletter Cherie Hu

  • Latin Grammy-winning recording artist (singer/songwriter), businesswoman, author, and television star Chiquis

  • Academy Award-winning actor, author, and Minister of Culture and part-owner for expansion club Austin FC Matthew McConaughey in conversation with Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber

  • Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) Dr. Michael Watkins

  • Author and co-founder and CEO of Affectiva Dr. Rana el Kaliouby

  • Square co-founder Jim McKelvey

  • Entrepreneur, author, and academic Joost van Dreunen

  • Emmy-nominated creative director and choreographer Laurieann Gibson

  • Author, behavioral scientist, and modern love expert Logan Ury

  • New York Times bestselling author Michael Lewis

  • Schwab EVP and Chief Digital Officer Neesha Hathi

  • Emmy Award-winning host of TBS’Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Samantha Bee

  • Entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson

  • Cannabis rights activist Steve DeAngelo

  • Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actor, writer, and producer Taraji P. Henson in conversation with SELF magazine Editor-in-Chief Carolyn Kylstra

  • Co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space Tim Ellis

2021 Featured Sessions

  • AI and Great Power Competition – President Xi Jinping claims China will be the AI world leader by 2025. Russian President Vladimir Putin says whatever country leads in AI will be the ruler of the world. Google’s former Chairman Eric Schmidt warned there is a digital Berlin Wall being erected. The link between AI and great power competition will set the stage for the rest of this century. How will the private and public sector in western democracies work together to survive and thrive? More importantly, how can we create technologies that are authentic to our values? Join experts at the intersection of AI and national security who are on the frontlines of this fight – Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman and CEO of Pryon Igor Jablokov. Gain insights on AI advancements and explore what role you can play in this challenge.

  • Aquaculture, Food Systems and Climate Change – Food is simply the biggest lever we have to combat climate change and improve the health and wellbeing of the planet’s growing population. Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic animals and plants, is vital as the planet’s fastest growing food production system. Seafood is one of the healthiest proteins to consume and one of the most efficient and sustainable to produce. Done well, aquaculture can be a powerful force for ecological and social good. The moderated panel of experts will discuss aquaculture’s key role. Join award-winning ocean activist Alexandra Cousteau; four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern; multi award-winning writer and producer David E. Kelley; and organic seaweed farmer and entrepreneur Sarah Redmond to explore the context of the global climate crisis and aquaculture’s key role in transforming our food systems.

  • Breaking the Sonic Color Line: A discussion about authenticity of voice in media, defeating racial stereotypes in voice acting, the impact of race in audio ads and how the industry can come together and make real change featuring DJ, actress and entrepreneur MC Lyte; Pandora Group Creative Director Roger Sho Gehrmann; and voice-over and television actress Joan Baker.

  • Can VR Create Real Change? – VR has gotten quite a reputation for creating impact. But does the hype really add up? We are at a pivotal moment in history, with socio-political division at an all-time high and less than a decade left to prevent climate crisis. Could creating virtual realities actually help move us towards a better tomorrow? Join AR/VR producer and director Fifer Garbesi; award-winning immersive artist and professor Gabo Arora; Director of EarthXR Tiffany Kieran; and founder of Emblematic Group Nonny de la Peña as they dig into the impacts of this medium, putting real change and direct action front and center.

  • The Chainsmokers on launching MANTIS VC: Grammy Award-winning and Billboard Chart topping artist/producer duo, The Chainsmokers, are a dominating musical force with a diverse repertoire of songs that have led them to become one of world’s biggest recording artists. Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have expanded The Chainsmokers’ empire into film and television, tequila, philanthropy, and most recently their venture capital firm Mantis. Hear their story on how the duo have evolved their music career into so much more.

  • A Conversation with Icons Queen Latifah and LL COOL J: From the mic to the big screen, award-winning rappers, actors and producers Queen Latifah and LL COOL J have been major forces in the entertainment industry for over three decades. Queen Latifah executive produces and stars as the first female Equalizer, Robyn McCall, in the reimagining of the series Equalizer, and LL COOL J stars as Special Agent Sam Hanna on NCIS: Los Angeles. Join them for a lively, in-depth conversation about their illustrious careers in music, television and movies (in front and behind the cameras), the cultural resonance and timeliness of their series, and much more.

  • Driving Action & Advocacy Through Online Community – Online communities are not new; but as the world has adapted to 2020, these digital spaces have proven their worth in a whole new way. Reddit has witnessed this first hand, as more people have joined its many thousands of communities for connection, distraction, and belonging in a time of unprecedented disconnection. While IRL experiences continue to evolve in unexpected ways, the communities on Reddit remain a constant source of conversation and companionship, as well as a valuable lens from which to examine human psychology, behavior, and sentiment. Join Reddit’s COO Jen Wong and CNN’s Kerry Flynn for a conversation about why online communities were made for this moment, their role in the digital ecosystem, and the value they bring to brands looking to build real connection, advocacy, and drive action.

  • Hi, I’m Dave: Hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the best TV shows of 2020, FXX’s DAVE is based on the life of Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), and centered on a neurotic man who’s convinced himself that he’s destined to be one of the best rappers of all time. The critically-acclaimed first season explored ambition, mental illness and masculinity in the world of hip-hop. Join co-creator/executive producer/writer/star Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), co-creator/executive producer Jeff Schaffer, executive producer Saladin Patterson and series star GaTa for DAVE’s first panel at SXSW. Season 1 is available on FX on Hulu; season two will premiere on FXX in 2021.

  • How GenZ Duets the News on TikTok: Hear about tactics publishers are using to build relationships with young audiences on TikTok, and the content that moves audiences to action with The Washington Post video producer Dave Jorgenson; NowThis politics producer Ian McKenna; and content creator Jackie James.

  • How to Scale a Mission-Driven Brand – Join Supergoop! CEO and Founder Holly Thaggard and her early-stage investor, world-class tennis champion and entrepreneur Maria Sharapova, for an inspiring conversation sharing insights on how Thaggard scaled her company from a mission to end the skin cancer epidemic to a business with millions in revenue, all while innovating a category and changing consumer behavior. Hear from Sharapova first-hand about how she identified a promising investment opportunity in a young, but high-growth brand with an authentic mission as its north star, and advice for other emerging entrepreneurs prioritizing mission and doing good.

  • Inside GENIUS: ARETHA, the Story of the Queen of Soul – National Geographic’s GENIUS is an Emmy-winning anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate, and complex personal relationships. The third season will explore Aretha Franklin’s musical genius, incomparable career and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. She will be portrayed by Oscar-nominated Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, The Color Purple) and Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) will play Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin. Our acclaimed panelists including GENIUS: ARETHA executive producer and director Anthony Hemingway; multi award-winning producer and author Brian Grazer, multi award-winning actress and singer Cynthia Erivo; Broadway and television costume designer Jennifer Bryan; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks will explore the craft and care that goes into honoring her legacy and bringing her story to life.

  • Leading Safely + Motivating Empathetically: Learn how the hospitality industry have changed their tactics to adapt to the ever-changing health and wellness regulations and lead, motivate and engage their employees, colleagues and communities; eaturing Blackberry Farm Vice President of Food & Beverage Andy Chabot; Food & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis; executive chef and Cúrate Bar de Tapas and La Bodega by Cúrate co-owner Katie Button; and award-winning chef and activist Marcus Samuelsson.

  • Making Emotional Connections With Volumetric Video: Hear from three seasoned creatives on the most effective way to make emotional connections through volumetric video with writer, director, and new media artist Illya Szilak; Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios creative director Jason Waskey, and producer and Atlas V co-founder Antoine Cayrol.

  • The New Marketplace of Music Royalties – The Music Modernization Act takes effect this year, mechanical streaming royalty rates are on the rise, and the newly formed MLC, along with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, SoundExchange and others, is tracking music royalties using new technologies. These changes are empowering creatives and independent artists, especially in the wake of Covid-19. As music royalty rights grow in value, what do royalty holders need to know in order to maximize and leverage their royalty assets? This panel of global thought leaders will help royalty owners, managers and advisors make informed decisions regarding the potential value and versatility of royalty copyrights and licenses. Join Founder and CEO of Sound Royalties Alex Heiche; CMO of The Mechanical Licensing Collective Ellen Truley; entertainment lawyer Robert A. Celetsin, and Grammy award-winning musician and actor Wyclef Jean for a discussion on the democratization of the music industry is underway as the expansion of digital streaming transforms the landscape of music royalties.

  • Postcards for Democracy: A Collective Art Demo – Artistic visionaries DEVO cofounder Mark Mothersbaugh and self-proclaimed “musical weirdo” Beatie Wolfe share a love of tangible artforms, in and amongst their futuristic explorations. In light of the threat to our 225yr old postal service, at a time that could jeopardize the democracy of the country, Mothersbaugh and Wolfe joined forces for this collective postcard art demonstration. The aim of this campaign is to encourage as many people as possible to support USPS (if we don’t use it we’ll lose it!), our right to vote, and democracy as a whole via the power of art.

  • RIP Live Shows? Concerts in the Time of COVID: A conversation about the ways the live/touring industry are trying to stay afloat, what’s working, what isn’t, and what still needs to be done to save the music we love, featuring Driift general manager Adam Shore; Panache Booking and Panache Management founder Michelle Cable; and Paradigm Talent Agency Executive, Wilder Records founder and Home School co-founder Tom Windish.

  • What is Taste? – Without taste, the experience of eating would be a routine and joyless chore. Taste is an almost magical part of our individual experience because everyone’s perceptions and preferences are so unique; but what IS taste, really, and what informs it? It is so much more than a chemical reaction on our taste buds. Taste is made up of shifting cultural norms, food science and technology, and the art of cooking, of bringing a dish to life through careful preparation and the right ingredients. And by better understanding how all of these elements work together, you can develop an even deeper appreciation for your favorite food experiences. Cofounder of So Vegan Ben Pook, three-Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, CEO of Motif FoodWorks Jonathan McIntyre, Ph.D, author and scientist of senses and emotion Rachel Herz, Ph.D. will discuss how culture, science, and technology shape one of the most important aspects of our lives.

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