I know I know, there are already several posts about this, but you can never have too much advice and experience shared can you?
The conference this year is in Austin, Texas and takes place between November 7th and 10th. It will be bigger and better than ever, with over 15,000 customers, employees, partners and sponsors attending.
However thinking about the upcoming conference takes me back to where my first blog post started
I know it is hard to believe, but back then I was not the social butterfly I have blossomed into but was very shy and nervous and knew practically nobody at the Conference.
In fact, the people I knew I could place on one hand –
- Tom Brown, purchasing licences through him
- Andy Cotgreave – met him once at a Tableau event and asked him to demo plotting paths (which he did)
- Peter Gilks & Carl Allchin (Met them once at a Stephen Few workshop)
Sitting in the bar at the Conference venue in Washington about to have some dinner and tweeting this picture (I was knew to Twitter as well!)
Only to find out that I was not alone –
Susan came and joined me and we had a good chat.
Then Andy Cotgreave and Tom Brown joined as well. I wasn’t too sure who the next person was but it was a young and enthusiastic Brit named Matt Francis! He was very excited about the other people to join us which included Tableau Zen Masters (Tableau what?) namely Chuck Hooper and Craig Bloodworth.
I was no longer alone at a Tableau Conference.
The point of this intro, is that all of us, at some time, have discovered Tableau and its community. Either at user groups, roadshows, via Twitter. We would have seen or heard of people but never met them and potentially never had contact with them. We could be in a position where we have persuaded our boss to buy a ticket for conference, but not for our colleague so we arrive on our own.
Once you arrive though, you are no longer alone.
Do not worry about reaching out to the community. They generally do not bite and will seek you out if you write a similar tweet or invite you to join them on their table. There is no hierarchy, no clicky in clubs, we are all passionate about Tableau and so are you, so that automatically makes you a member of the club. If you currently follow someone on Twitter or their blogs, drop them a message and they will be happy to say hi.
Oh and a great tip from Chuck Hooper, make your social media avatars a proper head shot before the trip as it makes it a lot easier to work out who somebody is. On that point, don’t worry if people come up to you and you have no idea who they are and have to look down at their name badge, it happens all the time and the subtlety which people look down has evolved into an art form.
Once you meet people though, that is only half the battle. How on earth do you plan for all of the sessions? Which to attend, when to see the Tableau Doctor, how to meet up with people you met at the bar last night?
Hopefully the following should help you with this.
For a few years, Matt Francis and Emily Kund ran a newbie session before the conference started in anger. This was great for helping people orientate themselves and pick up hints and tips. This year that session is being run by Tableau on Monday (see below)
Before you leave home
Ok so before you head to the conference, work with your network or send a tweet to find out who is on your plane or arriving at the same time. This can be useful for sharing a taxi and reducing costs. My flight is BA191 from Heathrow to Austin, arriving at 5pm local on Saturday 5th November and there is about 15 attendees on that flight, so arranging a car share will be fine. Let us know if you are on the flight at well.
Pack clothing that you feel comfortable wearing. You will be in these clothes for a long time during the day, potentially 12-18hrs, so think about that including your choice of shoes. If you have any Tableau t-shirts, bring them along, always a good conversation starter when wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else, especially when you have got them for a particular competition.
Download the conference app, which will be available for Android and Apple. Use this to book in your sessions (you can change these at any time) and plan using the floor maps where sessions are (more on this later). I generally go to sessions based on the speaker rather than the title, as I feel I know somebody’s work in the community from Twitter or their blogs and know that I will learn something or understand who are already good presenters.
If you are arriving on the Saturday or Sunday, there will be time to do some sightseeing activities. Plan ahead and book these in advance, including travel. See what others are doing as you might be able to join a group and save costs.
Plan what technology you will need during the day and pack appropriate chargers for this. Are you the kind of person that takes notes? In my previous role, I had to take a lot of notes like this for each session
If you are bringing your laptop, ensure you have adequate power. Mobile / tablets, bring cables and power bricks a plenty.
Make sure you let the Community know you are coming. There are several hashtags you can use, the main event one will be #data16, some will use #tc16 or even the legacy #tcc16. To help, save this as a shortcut to save typing each time you tweet.
If you have friends going along, set up a Whatsapp group, this worked great last year for keeping in touch, arranging to meet up and keeps the mobile charges down.
Arriving in Austin
If not from the US then TURN OFF YOUR DATA! I had a terribly nasty surprise a few years ago, and even last year when I thought I was on Wifi I ran up a bill of over £1,500 which I had to negotiate with my provider on. To be sure, turn it off.
Once at the hotel and unpacked, work out your plans for that day / evening and arrange a meet up.
Work out the logistics from your hotel to the conference venue. Is there a decent Coffee house en route?
Double check any activities you have booked and the relevant transport.
On the Sunday afternoon, registration opens at 4pm. If you are in town, this is a good point to register at it can get crazy busy on the Monday. This is also a good time to meet up with other people, chat in the queue etc.
It is also an opportunity to walk the halls. By this I mean look at some of the key sessions you want to attend, then walk from the previous session room to the next. How long does it take? Remember that you are doing this on a Sunday in an empty venue. Come Tuesday, there will be 15,000 other people doing the same so add a lot onto this. Also remember that this year the conference will be spread across several hotels so you may have to leave the building you are in.
Also scope out where the Expo hall is. On the Sunday this probably won’t be set up, but if it is take a look and definitely book in a few hours to really look around the Expo. When doing so, think about what could help your Tableau deployment and concentrate on these first. Also, this is where the Tableau shop is to purchase T-shirts etc, but they sell out of things fast so shop early.
This is the day for training, potentially exams, registration (if you didn’t on the Sunday) and a few other cool events. The Tableau Hackathon is on all day and this year will cover all data platforms #DataDev.
There will also be a live #makeovermonday #data16MakeoverMonday, hosted by Andy Kriebel and Andy Cotgreave, well worth attending.
The Intro to TC16 for Conference Newbies is being run this year by Tableau’s own Vanessa Au, details here and is repeated in case you cannot make either session. Follow the hashtag #TCNewbie for all the tips
This year also see’s the third Annual Data + Women event #DataPlusWomen
Monday evening will consist of informal events, potentially meeting up with your Tableau representative or partners for dinner.
Monday Morning also has the first #RunData16 event, starting at 5:30am and with two distances available – 5k and 10k, come and meet in the reception at the Four Seasons and get to meet members of the community (and me!). If you are interested in taking part, join our group on Strava
The most important activity you can take part in though is to have your #picwiththepauls
A annual highlight of the conference with a bit of a twist this year as well.
Tuesday – Thursday
This is the real meat and bones of the Conference, with over 500+ sessions which are broken down into a few sections
- KEYNOTES – Attend all of these to gain product insight, learn from industry leaders and be engaged with entertaining presentations
- BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Generally 60 minute long presentations by Customers, partners, Zen Masters and Tableau themselves.
- HANDS ON TRAINING – Normally two hours long, in front of a screen led by Tableau experts and trainers (pre registration is recommended)
For these days you really need to be prepared. These will be long days so comfortable clothing is a must. Ensure all of your tech is charged, and you have power bricks and cables where necessary. Put your phone on low power mode where possible to preserve battery (unless you are using it for notes / pictures / twitter).
You will need fuel, so stock up where you can. Save things from Breakfast, have spare water and in between sessions there are food stations available (Bits and bytes), but you may struggle for time to get to these.
Plan your day by the hour, starting at 7am (5:30am if taking part in #rundata16), work out breakfast, travel time, sessions, snacking, lunch, dinner, evening activities. Do not expect to see everything that you plan to. Historically I would say if you achieve 70% and you are doing well.
Lunch can get very busy. The food stations will be repeated across the halls, so don’t just jump in line in the first queue as you enter a building. Walk around and you will probably find a shorter one available around the corner. Plan in your first session after lunch as well and give yourself plenty of time to get there, some people will pick up their food and take it to eat in the queue to get into the next session.
This brings me to a point about sessions. You will spend a lot of time working out which sessions you want to attend and be proud of your selections. You will then go to a session to discover that the room is full and you cannot get in! This caught me out before, so always have a plan B for every session. Where possible, make that plan B close by otherwise you may find that full as well. This is where registering on the App really helps.
Tableau look at the interest in each session and can then change the room size / location to accommodate, this is great, but can also lead to you arriving at a room which has subsequently been changed, so keep an eye on this. To help your app update, close the app fully every now and again to ensure that it sync’s up with the updated schedules.
If you need a comfort break in between sessions, get to the session, check in and drop a bag on a chair, then go to the toilet.
When in sessions, always sit at the front. Don’t be shy. You will be able to see the screens much better, they do vary in size and quality from room to room. Also if you are sitting at the front you can take better pictures if you want to capture key points. The other thing to do is ask questions. Nothing worse than being a presenter and having tumbleweeds at the end of a session, so be bold and speak up.
The other thing to do, which a lot of people shy away from, is walking out of a session. Trust me, you will want to do this at least once. You select the sessions based on the speaker / content / title/ company, however you have no idea how good the session will be. If it is not what you expected, walk out and go to another session. Your time at conference is precious, and you do not have the luxury of giving somebody an hour of your time. The speaker will not even notice so do not feel that you will upset them. Do what is right for you. If you talk to Andy Kriebel he will tell you that this is the most important thing he recommends you do at conference.
If you have a session you want to get to, don’t worry about leaving during the Q&A part to give yourself extra time.
Remember as well that if you really want to see two sessions which clash, they are all recorded. So make time after the conference to watch back those that you couldn’t see live, or heard others talking about.
When you have been in a session, provide feedback on the app, this really helps future content and speakers to understand what they did well and could improve for the future.
Over the years I have seen some various note taking techniques. You can see the template I have had to use in the past.
These days I use the generic Apple Notes app on my Macbook, whilst taking pictures with the iPhone which automatically sync across. This also allows me to cut and paste into live tweets and multitask.
#sketchnoting is also on the increase. I first saw this by the amazing @catmule who is a real artist, however I have tried it a few times with rubbish results, so more practice needed!
There are no two ways to put this, after the conference you will feel on a real downer. Spending a week with like minded people and learning new things is amazing. The day job seems boring by comparison. But keep the spirit alive. Blog about your experience, share what you learned with your colleagues and most importantly share with your boss what your key takeaways are and how it will change what you do. This can help not just yourself, but your colleagues when looking at budget for #data17 when we all return to ***** 😆