What to expect from SXSW 2020

In the light of Covid and worldwide cancellations

SXSW — One of the world's largest events about Creativity and Technology is about to kick off. Even though Covid is threatening to put a stop to most large gatherings worldwide, the Austin team still seemed determined to pull it off. So, what can we expect? What will be the most interesting speaks and topics? I have decided to go to Austin if it's not cancelled, and here are my highlights and what I am looking forward to.

A huge black swan is flying across the world these days in the form of the Coronavirus, and the impact is spreading and growing day by day. So far it has led to the cancellation of MWC-2020 (the world’s largest phone show in Barcelona), Geneva Car show, Google IO and Adobe Summit.

But it looks like the brave people behind SXSW and the city of Austin are standing behind the decision to go through with the execution of the world’s largest melting pot between interactive, film and music — an event that last year drew 440.000 people to Austin from 126 different countries.

Not everybody agrees on this decision, though. More than 40.000 people to date have signed a petition on to have SXSW cancelled. Companies like Facebook, Intel and SXSW veterans like Mashable have all pulled out. And keynote speakers like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Podcast Superstar Tim Ferris are some of the first to join the list of no-shows this year, which is sad, since they were both on my high priority-list of this year. And they probably won't be the last.

So, what can we expect of this year's SXSW? Is it going to be heavily decimated? Or will we, who decide to go anyway just have more room to play? And is it worth to go? It's hard to tell and the situation is changing day by day. But here is what I will be looking forward to, when going there. Unless of course these sessions and keynotes get cancelled as well.

The themes

With more than 2000 sessions and +4500 speakers, there's room for a few cancellations. And it can be pretty hard to navigate and choose what to go for. This is why SXSW is more and more divided into themes — mini-conferences within the big one. Among the 23 themes this year, there are a few of these, that I want to follow with particular interest:

  • Fantastic future
  • XR
  • Experiential Storytelling
  • Design
  • Health & Medtech

Each of these has a plethora of great speakers.

Just to mention a few of the sessions I will be looking forward to, here are some examples: Susan Hockfield, former CEO, MIT, talking about The age of Living machines.

David m. Solomon, chairman, and CEO of Goldman Sachs Group talking about Building the Consumer Bank of the Future From Scratch

Bob Chapek, Chief Executive officer of The Walt Disney Company talking about Technology + Storytelling = Magic

Paul Dabrowski, Co-Founder, And Ceo, Synthego talking about Genomic Ethics in the Age of CRISPR

Mark webster from adobe, talking about Designing for a world beyond screens

The classics

There are a few things that have almost become a tradition at SXSW, and which I am always looking forward to:

That is John Maeda's yearly launch of his Design in Tech report — this year called the CX report (Customer Experience × Computational Experience) for the first time.

And Amy Webb's keynote where she introduces her company The Future today Institute's yearly Tech Trends report is also always very thought-provoking.

Then there is Rohit Bhargava's yearly launch of his book about nonobvious trends — this year called Nonobvious megatrends.

Finally, Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive) usually also give a deep dive into their 2020 trend report.

The famous

Another repeating phenomenon of SXSW is the appearance of different kinds of superstars — often speaking outside their comfort zone. This year is no exception (unless they all decide to stay home). One of the biggest celebs to show up and take the stage is Kim Kardashian who will be talking about her justice project — and who knows, maybe her husband Kanye West will give a surprise performance at the same time.

Kim Kardashian will visit SXSW to talk about her justice project.

Stephen Colbert — the host from the late show will come.

The artist (actor, singer, songwriter, producer, performer, activist, and fashion icon) Janelle Monae will give a keynote.

Former CEO of WPP, Sir Martin Sorell will be joining SXSW for the first time. His 33-year career, building one of the world´s largest advertising agencies, ended after a board room investigation into his personal spending of corporate money. I guess he has an exciting story to tell. The title of his keynote: The Media Revolution is Now and It's digital.

And finally, I will be looking forward to hearing the founder of Cirque du Soleil: Guy Laliberté tell his story about the importance of play.

The unexpected

Finally, a huge ingredient of a successful visit to SXSW is all the stuff you
didn´t anticipate: the sessions you just happen to bump into, out of curiosity, the unexpected events, the surprises, the happenings outside the official program, the meet-ups, the demos, and the exhibitions.


  • Lufthansa's FlyingLab
  • Accenture's Experience Cantina
  • Immersive Futures Lab by UK Research & Innovation
  • and the SXSW Virtual Cinema with the latest VR/AR storytelling from some of the most creative minds in the world.

So, I for one, sincerely hope that team SXSW doesn't end up cancelling and that speakers and participants don't succumb to the fear of Covid-19 but instead decide to go to Austin for another great experience with respect for each other, the hands washed and the mouth covered.

Have a great festival!


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