Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

March 07 2016

This Conference Just Secured The Most Impressive Keynote Speakers In Its History

Staci Wuokko


When tens of thousands of music fans, tech enthusiasts and film lovers descend on Austin for SXSW 2016, many of them will be aiming to score a seat at two of the most talked-about keynote speeches during this year’s programming: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. President Obama will appear on March 11, the opening day of the Interactive portion of the festival, and First Lady Michelle Obama will speak on March 16 during the Music portion.

“I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate our event’s 30th year than to welcome both the President and First Lady to SXSW,” Roland Swenson, co-founder of SXSW, said in a statement. “As each new generation comes up at SXSW, they look for ways they can be of service, and it’s important to reflect and support that message. President and Mrs. Obama’s visit here will inspire attendees to that purpose.”

Where will it be? Your guess is as good as mine. The conference has not announced the location of either address yet. However, Hugh Forrest, the director of SXSW Interactive, told Christopher Heine at AdWeek that he and his team are aiming to make sure that as many people as possible can be part of the event — even those who aren’t in Austin. “If all goes as planned, it will be at a location that’s conducive to a lot of our attendees being able to see the thing live,” Forrest told AdWeek. “And it will be conducive to a very positive streaming experience for people who cannot make it to watch this as it’s happening.”

SEE ALSO: A Meeting Planner Geeks Out at SXSW

No Strangers to High-Profile Speakers

This year will mark the first time in SXSW history that a sitting President and First Lady will speak during the conference. However, the organizers have plenty of experience welcoming some very notable names to Austin. From Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk to Chelsea Clinton, many of the most sought-after speakers have visited the Texas capital to be part of the experience.

Some of the speakers who have helped continue to build the SXSW buzz haven’t been physically present, though. In 2014, the conference made big headlines for streaming Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. While both men were steering clear of the US government’s efforts for extradition, SXSW leveraged their roles in the privacy debate to elevate the on-site conversation.

SEE ALSO: What You Can Learn About Meeting Safety From SXSW

What Every Conference Organizer Can Learn From SXSW

Most meeting planners will not be able to contact the White House and add the President’s name to upcoming agendas, and most meeting planners are working with much smaller audiences than the SXSW crowd: nearly 85,000 people came to Austin for the 2015 edition. However, while the Austin experience may be very different from most conferences, every meeting planner can take away some valuable lessons from the way organizers determine their educational offerings. Click here to check out the innovative approach that includes crowdsourced input from the public, an Advisory Board and the SXSW staff to see how you can apply it to your next meeting or convention.

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