The SXSW Keynotes You Cannot Skip

the 4 sxsw keynotes you can't afford to miss

Over the years SXSW has grown and grown, until it’s become a conference with something for everyone. That bigness extends even to the conferences keynotes, with one for every major conference track. This year they’ve got entertainment heavy hitters like director Darren Aronofsky and music executive Lyor Cohen. They’ve also booked stars of the business and philanthropy world, like Melinda Gates. While it’s tempting to think you’ll be able to make time for all of them – you won’t.

And while it might be cool to say you stood two feet away from Barry Jenkins and even got to gush to him about Moonlight, if you’re at SXSW at your employer’s expense, you want to choose the keynotes (and for that matter sessions and meet ups) that will bring you the most value and insight, not the ones most likely to impress your friends.

The SXSW Keynotes You Cannot Skip

These are the NUMBER unstoppable keynotes for HR and recruiting pros, and business leadership.


Mar 13, 2018: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D
500 E Cesar Chavez

whurley is founder and CEO of Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup based in Austin, Texas. He is the Chair of the Quantum Standards Working Group at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and blogs about quantum computing on His latest book Endless Impossibilities brings the realities of a quantum future into the present, helping readers understand and prepare for the coming age of quantum computing. Learn more here.

Why You Need It

Human resources is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, and while there are good reasons for HR being hesitant to experiment with employee data, that doesn’t mean you can be complacent. You need to stay on top of how business technologies are evolving today and what direction they’re likely to take in five and ten years.

Nonny de la Peña

Mar 13, 2018: 11:00am – 12:00pm

Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD
500 E Cesar Chavez

Nonny de la Peña is one of the most influential pioneers in virtual and augmented reality. She is founder and CEO of the award-winning Emblematic Group, renowned for using cutting-edge technologies to tell immersive stories that create intense, empathic engagement on the part of viewers. She was named one of CNET’s 20 Most Influential Latinos In Tech, Wired Magazine’s #MakeTechHuman Agent of Change and has been called the “Godmother of VR” by Forbes, Engadget, and The Guardian. Widely credited with inventing the field of immersive journalism by premiering the first-ever VR experience at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, Hunger In Los Angeles, she is now on the verge of announcing another breakthrough: Emblematic Group’s new REACH web platform, which allows anyone to tell their story in room-scale VR. Learn more here.

Why You Need It

VR and AR are starting to make a real impact on the the day to day realities of big business. As the technology is refined and its applications expanded, VR and AR tools will be relevant (and maybe even essential) to every business, big or small. de la Peña’s insights will help prepare you for what’s to come, and get you thinking about how you can use AR and VR in your business.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Mar 10, 2018: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D
500 E Cesar Chavez

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. His book Between The World And Me won the National Book Award in 2015. He is also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. Coates’ forthcoming book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy will be available on October 3. Learn more here.

Why You Need It

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of America’s leading public intellectuals, whose analysis of politics, and the politics of race, are is essential reading. (And, come on, he writes for Marvel Comics on the side.) Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about his upcoming book, We Were Eight Years in Power, and think about how his insights apply to leaders within your own organization.

Melinda Gates

Mar 11, 2018: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D
500 E Cesar Chavez

Philanthropist Melinda Gates has dedicated her life to achieving transformational improvements in the health and prosperity of families, communities and societies. Core to her work is empowering women and girls to help them realize their full potential. As co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is guided by the belief that every life has equal value, Gates shapes and approves strategies, reviews results, and sets the overall direction of the world’s largest private foundation. Gates recently launched an executive office, Pivotal Ventures, which enables her to bring together the different strands of her advocacy and philanthropic work and create meaningful change. Learn more here.

Why You Need It

In today’s competitive employment market, philanthropy is an essential part of your employer brand. It may sound cold to put it this way, that giving back to communities is a great way to attract top talent, but it’s the truth: employees want to be able to believe in their employer’s good will, and clients want to believe they doing business with good people who get it. And so, through our corporate giving and partnership programs, we try to prove them right. Melinda Gates is one of the leading voices in contemporary philanthropy, social enterprise, and international development. She’s also one of the world’s most recognizable female leaders. So this one? This one you definitely can’t afford to miss.

What else are you looking forward to at SXSW this year? Tell me about your most anticipated sessions and meet ups in the comments and maybe we’ll see each other there.

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Megan Purdy

Former recruiter, HR pro and Workology editor. Comics, cheese and political economy.


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