7 business leadership conferences to explore in 2021

These virtual leadership conferences will give both IT and line-of-business executives new perspectives in 2021. Check them out to reframe business and leadership problems or reignite your enthusiasm – no travel required
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business leadership conferences 2020

In a typical year, we like to recommend several standout business leadership conferences to get you outside the four walls of your organization and the confines of your team. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that sent a multitude of teams home to work, many of you may be anxious to either safely return to those workplace walls or to take a break from your home offices.

These virtual leadership conferences won't get you out of the house – but they can get you outside of your own head.

While we can’t offer either of those options, we have gathered together a group of virtual leadership events that can at least get you outside of your own head. As always, we looked for conferences designed to offer new or different perspectives, reframe business and leadership problems, or reignite your enthusiasm.

These conferences may lack the face-to-face connection that can be so valuable in their real-world corollaries, but event organizers have done their best to offer up opportunities that might not have been possible in the past. In some cases, localized events are going global and accommodating a variety of timeframes. Others are conferences you might otherwise be unable to afford, which now are more feasible. And thanks to their online format, some are offering more breakout sessions and one-to-one workshops and assessments.

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Here are seven business leadership conferences you can consider checking out ­– no travel required.

The 2021 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

April 5-May 28, 2021

MIT Sloan is putting a positive spin on this period of time with its theme, The Big Reset: Digital Enterprises Shift into High Gear. The first digital edition of this well-regarded annual IT leader convocation will take place over an eight-week period: The first week will get attendees acclimated by introducing the program and the virtual setup; the middle weeks will feature panel discussions and traditional chats; and the program will close with a week of town-hall meetings. A ticket to the symposium includes two years of community membership and an invitation to events and discussions held throughout the year. Read more in our recent preview: MIT Sloan CIO Symposium preview: Digital transformation shifts into high gear.


April 20-22, 2021

Politico has called this conference “the Olympics of tech,” although it’s worth noting that the gathering takes place every year. Despite ongoing uncertainty, that remains true, with event planners predicting that some 40,000 attendees will connect online this spring. Collision has lined up more than 250 speakers so far, including Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Reddit COO Jen Wong, Facebook App’s Fidji Simo, and a variety of actors/founders including Mark Ruffalo, Ryan Reynolds, and Ashton Kutcher.

Red Hat Summit

April 27-28, 2021

Open your perspective: At Red Hat Summit 2021, a no-cost event, you can explore tech trends, hear real-world lessons from IT leaders at companies including Citi, Volkswagen, and DBS Bank, and ask experts your technology questions on topics such as containers and cloud. You’ll also learn how open source is helping IT and business leaders innovate the future of the enterprise. This two‑part immersive virtual experience starts in April and continues in June. Special guests include Mick Ebeling, founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, musician Ben Folds, and actor and filmmaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

[ Register now for the free, two-part Red Hat Summit Virtual Experience. ]

Executive Leadership Development: Analysis to Action

May 10-28, 2021

This is not technically a conference, but if you are an IT leader on the verge of a career breakthrough, it could be even better. This intensive program from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is like an MBA without the MBA for busy leaders – and this year you can participate without leaving home. It will certainly require taking some time off still to immerse yourself in the program. The program’s format mimics the Stanford MBA’s three key themes: business acumen, innovation, and leadership.

Among the unique learning opportunities highlighted: modules in design thinking (a Stanford expertise featuring design thinking tools and techniques developed at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) and “acting with power” as well as personal leadership development using Stanford’s own 360-degree in-depth leadership assessment tool, LEAP (Leadership, Evaluation, and Action Planning). The program is optimized for a virtual environment – and is still a significant investment. Other opportunities worth exploring here include The Innovative Technology Leader (Jul 12-23, 2021), Executive Program for Growing Companies (July 2021), and The Brains and Guts of Decision Making (May 10-13, 2021).

Future of Everything Festival

May 11-13, 2021

A three-day pass to this Wall Street Journal extravaganza of trend-watching includes extras like ongoing access to content-on-demand, one-on-one networking opportunities, and the “future lounge” for sponsor content and product demos. The business publication produces an ongoing series of “Future of Everything” articles that hint at the wide-ranging topics that may be covered. Featured speakers include CEOs from Delta Air Lines, Rite Aid, Poshmark, and Mattel, along with world-renowned chefs, songwriters, athletes, and actors.

Leadercast Shift

August 11, 2021

Leadercast has been a real-life event also simulcast to hundreds of locations around the world, and it appears that this year will be no different (organizers say the in-person event will take place in Cincinnati). This year's event will focus on the major shifts leaders must often make in order to achieve their purpose personally and professionally. Speakers include actor Rainn Wilson (“The Office”), former pro football player and commentator Cris Carter, and podcast host Guy Raz.

Future Festival World Summit

Sept. 21-23, 2021

At the opposite end of the expense spectrum from the Stanford opportunities is this popular future trends and innovation conference ­– now a free virtual event series. Organizers note that 30,000 of the world’s brightest insight leaders from Starbucks, Samsung, Google, NASA, and other leading companies have come to Future Festival “to step back, think big, and spot opportunity with fresh, data-driven insights.” Full details for this year’s online event are not yet available, but in the meantime, a number of free webinars recorded during the last few months are worth diving into, including “Top 20 Trends for 2021,” “Tech and the New Normal,” and “Recharting Customer Experience in the Age of Customer Freedom.”


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Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.