Ranked first on the “Top 50 of the best speakers list”

To book Nelly for a talk, please contact Caro Siegl at agent@nellyben.com *

If you’re looking for a dynamic super creative who will (literally) add rocket fuel to your events and campaigns - Dr Nelly Ben Hayoun- Stépanian will deliver in spades.  She is known for electrifying audiences and leaving an impression that resonates long after she has left the room.

Dubbed the Willy Wonka of Design and Science, award-winning director and Designer of Experiences, Nelly is a critical explorer and a fearless and passionate provocateur combining experience, ideas, technology,film, radical pedagogy, music and art.

She has held an astonishing range of first-of-its kind roles. As Designer of Experiences at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) she founded the worlds first International Space Orchestra, a group made up of NASA space scientists and astronauts.

She is founder of the pioneering University of the Underground, a free MA programme taught by an all-star line up that aims to teach students how to “design experiences and events that best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments”. 

Nelly was Chief of Experiences at WeTransfer, Advisor to the United Nations Virtual Reality Labs and She is now Vice-Chair at the International Astronautical Federation. Nelly’s musical collaborations include Kid Cudi, Pussy Riot, Damon Albarn, Bjork, Sigur Ros, Beck, and most recently, with The Avalanches.

In 2023, Design Week awards Nelly with their hall of fame lifetime achievement award which acknowledges 'the achievements of designers and industry figures who have made a significant impact and contribution to the industry and have provided inspiration with incisive thinking.'

Selected Speaking and Consulting Topics 

Invention and Innovation
Space culture and space science
Radical Education
Radical Imagination
Extreme Creativity
Technology and Cultural studies
Politics and philosophy
Large scale production
Decolonial practices
EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) policies
Creative direction

Nelly is...


In a consulting role, Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios has supported creativity at both Mattel and Lego. As a thank you for these collaborations, these iconic toymakers created a Barbie doll and a Lego figurine modelled after her.

Out of this world

Nelly has worked with NASA for over a decade, is Vice Chair for the Cultural Utilization of Space, a member of the IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee and a permanent committee member of the International Academy of Astronautics Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

One of a kind?

Nelly has two doppelgangers who go around the world giving talks, challenging notions of space and time all the while questioning the politics and economics of performance and public speaking.


Ranked first on the Top 50 Best Speakers list, Nelly is a professional public speaker with over a decade of experience.

“A Social Sculptor”

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Gallery

Award-winning experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian PhD has been manufacturing the impossible for over a decade. Advocating for plurality, she creates multi-dimensional projects at the intersection of film, science, tech, theatre, politics, music and design.

Wired awarded Nelly their inaugural Innovation Fellowship, Icon magazine named her as one of the top 50 designers shaping the future. She headed The Drum Magazine’s list of the top 50 women on the speaker circuit. Creative Review named her one of the Creative Leaders 50, Dezeen selected her as one of the 50 inspirational women in architecture and design, most recently she won a Karman fellowship for her unique global cultural achievements in astronautics and space exploration and in June 2023 Design Week awarded her with their Lifetime Achievement Award, Hall of Fame which acknowledges 'the achievements of designers and industry figures who have made a significant impact and contribution to the industry have provided inspiration and incisive thinking'.


Through events, Nelly challenges institutions from within. She has done so at the United Nations, NASA and the International Astronautical Federation, where she is Vice Chair of the Technical Committee on the Cultural Utilization of Space. She is also a member of the IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee and of the International Academy of Astronautics Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence permanent committee.

Supporting the creation of organized communities, Nelly builds platforms for others to experience plurality, decolonial practices, social and racial justice, solidarity and equity, so that history does not repeat itself on earth or beyond. To this end, she is a senior fellow of the Hannah Arendt Center, which supports humanities and human rights across the globe and in 2017 Nelly founded The University of the Underground, a tuition free university that supports free, pluralistic and transnational education.

Nelly is the author and director of five feature-length documentaries: The International Space Orchestra, 2013; Disaster Playground, 2015;  I am (not) a monster, 2019; Tour de moon (2023) and Doppelgangers3 (2024) which have screened at film festivals such as SXSW, CPH DOX, BFI London Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Gothenburg Film Festival, and many more. For them she was awarded grants from Sundance Institute and the British Film Institute Doc Society.

Leading design institutions such as the National Museum of China, MOMA, V&A, La Gaité Lyrique and the MET have exhibited Nelly’s design work.

When she’s not in the studio, Nelly is also a keynote speaker, talking worldwide about experiential design practices in the context of nightlife, outreach, community and education. 

Nelly hosts the Nelly Boum Show on underground radio station Worldwide FM. And she is also an amateur boxer, training at the legendary Gleason's Gym in NYC. How does she fit all of this in? Two doppelgangers work with her to appear at multiple places at the same time, and she has a Barbie doll and a Lego figure of herself to further multiply her presence.

Nelly holds a BA in Textile Design from ENSAAMA Olivier De Serres in Paris, a MA with distinction in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Arts, and a PhD in Geography (human geography and political philosophy) from Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2016, she received the Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London Teaching Award.

Awards & Achievements

  • Ben Hayoun was appointed as "Ambassador for the Underground" by the independent self-declared artist republic Užupis in Lithunia in 2019.

  • Arts Council Exceptional Award 2014 for project Disaster Playground in collaboration with Near Now in Broadway Cinema in Nottingham

  • Best of The Year 2016 and 2017 by the Metropolitan Museum (MET), 2016 and 2017 

  • In 2020-2022 -Nelly was the creative director and founder on new nationwide LGBTQ+ STEAM festival- Tour de moon- for youths touring all around the UK- celebrating youth countercultures and nightlife and working to redistribute wealth and public funds through commissioned project with thousands of youths involved, which led to the creation of both digital and physical assets. For this project, her team and herself brought together thousands of contributors across the globe and they won a multi million pound public grant from the four governments of the UK as a part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK- this was the UK’s most ambitious showcase of creative STEAM collaboration including free large-scale events, installations and globally accessible digital experiences.

  • One of Nelly’s latest immersive experiences and solo show in paris- shiny gold was an exploration of the world's sources of energy, developed in collaboration with the Marie Curie Institute and La Gaité Lyrique.

  • Author and director of five feature-length movies screened and nominated for vision and grierson awards at SXSW, BFI London Film Festival and more film festivals .

  • Indiewire SXSW Highlights Women filmmaker, 2015, Indiewire 

  • Grantee of Sundance Institute and BFI Doc Society Feature Fund for film Red Moon/ Doppelgangers 3 2020-2024

  • Ben Hayoun has origins in Algeria and Armenia, which led to the start of Nelly Boum Show, her radio show on underground radio's Worldwide FM. Every month, the show explores a theme in a multiverse of possible new futures, touching on economy, politics, and other systems through music and conversation, including a focus on North African and Armenian music and experts.It can be heard here

  • Ben Hayoun was the chief of Experiences at file transfer service Wetransfer for 10 years (2012-2022) working with president Damian Bradfield towards building a sustainable B Corp Business, Nelly helped the business development in the USA. During Ben Hayoun time at Wetransfer the company grew its client base from 10,000 users to 90 millions active users a month.

  • In 2018, Ben Hayoun was a part of the executive design team at AirBnB which funded the experience department and technology application at AirBnB

  • From 2018 to 2020, Nelly Ben Hayoun joined the team at Mini/ BMW as their Global Head of Research and programmes. In her role she created a new global curriculum, curated and hosted an international year long programme- providing both strategy, reports, programming development, audience participation and learning and set design.

  • In 2023, Nelly worked with Porsche to create a new electric concept car making use of new 3D software 

  • Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London Teaching Award, 2016 

  • Senior fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Humanities and Politics at Bard College since 2019

  • United Nations Goalkeeper for education since 2017

  • Director and founder of the postgraduate University of the Underground- world's first tuition-free university and charity supporting free, transnational and pluralistic education based under the urban space and teaching unconventional research practices. With board members Noam Chomsky, Prof. Arjun Appadurai and Pussy Riot amongst many others.

  • Nelly is passionately committed to supporting the creation of organized communities in building new beginnings. To this end, she actively works to build platforms for others to experience plurality, decolonial practices, social and racial justice, solidarity and equity, so that History does not repeat itself on earth and beyond. She is one of the director of Union of Justice, a European, independent, people of colour (POC) led organisation dedicated to racial justice and climate justice.

  • Trustee and volunteer at Pedro Youth Club, in Hackney London, one of the oldest functioning youth clubs within the UK.

  • Nelly received a BA in Textile Design at ENSAAMA Olivier De Serres (college of applied arts) in Paris, a MA with distinction from the Royal College of Arts in Design Interactions, she holds a PhD in Geography (Human geography and political philosophy) from Royal Holloway, University of London

  • Principal Investigator and Analogue Astronaut at Astroland Agency in 2023. Ben Hayoun led an expedition to an analog lunar site set in an isolated, confined and extreme environment in a cave in Spain. This mission brought together a group of pluridisciplinary international experts in the field of genetics and epigenetics, collective trauma and space exploration to answer the following question: 'Is collective trauma influencing the definition of our futures in the diasporic population?'.

  • Karman Fellow 2022, The Karman Fellowship is a one-year programme designed to support 15 carefully selected global leaders to strengthen personal relations, meet with thought-leaders in technology, science, business, politics and the arts, and take personal commitments to further advance space-related  agendas for the betterment of humanity.

  • SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute Designer of Experiences at NASA Ames Research Center since 2013. Founder of the Experiences department at the SETI (search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, which extends outreach and education activities in terms of scope, scale, public and methods of engagement towards architecture, installations, immersive environments, social systems, performances, experiences, and narratives as events. 

  • Nelly has led and created multiple large scale scientific and cultural expeditions, trained special forces such as FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the USA or the United Nations on space disasters such as near earth objects and asteroid impacts. Ben Hayoun’s design practice brought her investigation to the empty lands of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the Large Hadron Collider, CERN situated 100m below ground. She has also collided atoms at SLAC (National Accelerator Laboratory), in the Soyuz rocket capsule in Baikonur Cosmodrome,and experienced a sonic Booum in the neutrino Observatory Super Kamiokande in Japan while hunting for extremophiles and the worms of Hell in platinum mines in South Africa.

  • Faculty at the International Space University, Strasbourg, France since 2013

  • Member of the Space Outreach and Education Committee and Vice-Chair of The Committee for the Cultural Utilisation of Space (ITACCUS) at the International Astronautical Federation since 2013

  • Founding member of the International Astronautical Federation Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Administrative (IDEA) committee in 2023

  • Advisory board member of the METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International since 2018

  • Committee member at the IAA (International Academy of Astronautics) SETI permanent Committee since 2017

  • Chair and founder of the Space Culture session at the International Astronautical Congress since 2017

  • Chair and founder of the Decolonial Practices session at the International Astronautical Congress since 2023

  • Director and founder of the International Space Orchestra in NASA Ames Research Center since 2012

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