Category Archives: #data17

Taking notes at the Tableau conference

There are several trains of thought on taking notes at conference, from one end of the spectrum of taking none at all and just enjoying the experience and sessions to the other side of the scale where your employer only signed off on your trip if you promised to capture word for word everything that was said, to categorise and rate its relevance to your business and in the process include pictures of each session as well.

If you are lucky enough to fall into the former category, you can stop reading here, go ahead and really enjoy the conference.

However if you are the later, hopefully the following will help you out.

Now the second example I gave might sound far fetched, but actually, it is a situation I found myself in at my previous employer.  I remember sitting in the front row in Seattle in 2014 with Andy Kriebel next to me, astounded that I had my laptop out with a preconfigured template for every session that I attended.

You may have already gone 10 rounds with your boss or the CFO in justifying the trip in the first place.  Tableau do their best to support this by providing a template on the conference website to help rationalise the trip

Tableau justification letter

However if we are being honest, if the conference was in Nebraska (apologies to anyone from Nebraska) we would have a much easier job getting sign off than Vegas –

sure you are going to work hard for 15 hours every day in the party capital of the world!

So some of you would have gone into battle and won – you are going to Conference, however only if you are bringing back the notes as above.

This was the template I pulled together for Washington – my first conference.  This was the third or fourth version as well that I had to agree with my boss, to cover off how applicable it was to business delivery, IT delivery and Tableau deployment.

Excuse the   RAG status, I was innocent to such things at the time.  But it was a great one pager.  It covered the date, presenter, their role and company.  It allowed me to provide a summary of the session and some background on the presenter and their organisation.  Finally, I had lots of room to provide my session commentary.

Conference template

Notice the detailed explanation of the RAG status I attributed as well :-O

Conference RAG status

This really helped when I got back.  I pulled together a large deck, created a pdf output as well and felt like I was able to justify the conference to the accountants.

It would include all the good things like –

  • An executive summary
  • Customer presentations
  • Contacts made
  • Keynote overview

Conference Summary 2013

Now as the years went on, I still had to do this, but the technology allowed me to get smarter with it.

Rather than having the laptop out, carrying the charger, plus chargers and bricks for the phone for pictures, I can now do it all from the phone.  Specifically, I use an iPhone but there must be the equivalent on Android as well.

I use the inbuilt Notes app.

Notes app

What is great about it is that I can do all the things I want to, take notes, use hashtags, take photos, create a commentary all within the app and on a single device.  However if I do want to use the laptop, I can and just carry on where I left off thanks to iCloud syncing.

When I started using notes, I actually used the Laptop to write and the iPhone for pictures, primarily to preserve battery, but as I have gone on I have now moved to a single device.


My general flow goes something like this –

Make a note of the session, speaker and any # / twitter handle used.  Take notes in the app as I go, and take pictures of the presentations (#protip always sit in the front row to get the best quality pictures without heads in the way) and insert those into the flow of the note.  I take the picture using the native camera app rather than within notes because it gives you access to things like HDR and saves a copy to the camera roll, which the notes app doesn’t do which is frustrating.  The HDR can be a godsend due to the naturally dark rooms for the presentations and especially the keynotes.

I also tend to do a copy of the hashtags, this allows me to multitask and tweet out at the same time rather than wasting time trying to type.

I can use markup to annotate the pictures and bold to highlight a keyword for search later.

Afterwards, if I am asked to present details back, it is simple to copy paste the whole content into Word for distribution.

At the top of each section, I write down any questions or follow ups I have.  This is handy as an aide memoir after and also to ask questions at the end of a session without trying to find them within what you have written.

If I was full on note taking pro – I would be able to do what the awesome Catherine Madden does, through graphic recording, or real time visual note taking.


She does run a course on it so maybe that should be on my to do list for 2018!