President Obama To Add Big Star Power to SXSW

The leader of the free world will encourage attendees to help make technology work better for solving big challenges.

President Obama To Add Big Star Power to SXSW
[Photo: Pete Souza, Official White House Photo]

Just when it was looking like the slate of keynote speakers at this year’s South by Southwest was a wee short on big names, festival organizers shocked the world by announcing a guest who unquestionably ups the star wattage.


That’s President Barack Obama, to be precise. Scheduled to speak on Friday with Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, Obama will share his thoughts about civic engagement in the 21st Century, SXSW wrote in an excited release about snagging the president.

“The President will call on the audience to apply their ideas and talents to make technology work for us,” the SXSW statement read, “especially when it comes to tackling big challenges like increasing participation in the political process and fighting climate change.”

President Obama previews his visit to SXSW.

The president isn’t the only Obama speaking at SXSW this year. First Lady Michelle Obama will also be keynoting, at SXSW Music, next Wednesday. She’ll speak about girls’ education, specifically focusing on the Let Girls Learn initiative, “which aims to break barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school today, more than half of whom are adolescent.”

In past years, SXSW has attracted a star-studded collection of keynote and featured speakers, ranging from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, controversial NSA leaker Edward Snowden, scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, futurist Ray Kurzweil, Twitter founder Evan Williams, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver, PostSecret founder Farnk Warren, video game researcher Jane McGonigal, and many others.

Casey Gerald(Right) on stage with Texas Monthly editor Jeff Salamon at SXSWi 2016Photo: Drew Anthony Smith for Fast Company

This year, the list of keynotes includes MBAs Across America CEO Casey Gerald; best-selling author and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks, Brene Brown; “Elephant in the Valley” authors Michele Madansky and Trae Vassallo; Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank (interviewed by Fast Company editor-in-chief Bob Safian); and Headspace cofounder Andy Puddicombe.

Here’s how to go about trying to get a ticket for the president’s keynote.

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.