With the annual Tableau Conference fast approaching I thought I would write a quick post of conference tips to help those who are attending for the first time (conference regulars should know the drill by now).

This year will see around 16,000 data fans descend upon the city of New Orleans, Louisiana for four jam-packed days of learning, networking and inspiration! Without a doubt it will be a busy week for everyone so preparation in advance will be key and will help you have a stress-free conference.

What to pack:

  • Comfy shoes. You will do a lot of walking at conference. Days are long and you will be on the go from morning until night. The convention centre is 1km long and you will be walking up and down this venue multiple times every day. Bring sensible footwear with this in mind.
  • A fully-charged battery pack and charging cable for your phone/tablet. The likelihood is you’ll be using your devices quite heavily during the days to reference the conference app, check your Twitter feed, take photos, etc. The last thing you want is a dead battery mid-afternoon. There will be places to charge your devices in the conference venue but if you bring your own you won’t have to worry about trying to find one (or fighting with somebody else to use one).
  • Something to use for writing notes. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to take notes during the sessions you attend to help you recall the content later. This could be a notepad, phone or whatever works best for you.
  • Your best Tableau / data viz t-shirts. What better opportunity to show them off!
  • International visitors, don’t forget the obvious (travel plugs, passport, US visa, etc).
  • Don’t forget to leave space in your bag for any swag or freebies you are bound to acquire during the week!

Before you arrive:

  • Decide upon a conference objective. What do you want to get out of conference? Perhaps you want to learn more about a particular feature, tool or industry trend? Perhaps you want to see how other companies are using Tableau? Perhaps you just want to meet and network with as many people as possible? Whatever you want to achieve, keep this in mind when planning your conference and pick sessions that will help you to achieve your goal.
  • Download the conference app (this will be available a few weeks before conference is due to start). The app will be your go-to conference guide so save it somewhere on your phone that is easily accessible.
  • Once the app has been released familiarise yourself with the schedule, what’s on when & where, etc. If anything takes your interest, ‘star it’ and add it to your calendar so you don’t forget.
  • If there are specific people you want to meet, reach out to them in advance. You could do this through the app or on social media. It will be easier to arrange something with them before conference begins and agendas fill up.
  • Plan your sessions….. but don’t go overboard. There are 500+ sessions that run over the course of the conference so you can’t attend everything. You could create a rigid schedule and plan every second of your day but I don’t recommend this. I guarantee you’ll enjoy conference more if you build in some flexibility. During the week you’ll likely to hear other people recommend sessions to you that you might not have considered. Some talks may sound too technical or out of your depth but don’t let this put you off. You’ll still learn something by attending a more advanced session.
  • Work out how long it will take to get from A to B. When considering which sessions to attend, ensure you take into account travelling time between sessions (walking down crowded corridors with 1000 ‘s of other people takes longer than you might think). If you need to attend a session on one side of the venue immediately followed by another session on the opposite side, make sure you sit at the back of the first session so you can leave early without disturbing anyone and make the second session on time.
  • For some sessions (mainly hands-on training sessions) you’ll need to register in advance. Do this ASAP via the app to secure your space. These sessions are popular and will sell-out before conference starts.
  • Remember all sessions (except hands-on training sessions) are recorded with the videos made available online shortly after conference. With so many sessions during the course of the conference it’s impossible to attend everything that interests you. Consider which sessions would be better to attend in person (for instance a Matt Francis style session is a lot more fun when attended in person, while you’ll probably gain just as much from a customer session by watching online than you would if you attended at the conference).
  • Change your Twitter/LinkedIn profile picture to headshot of yourself. Trying to identify your social media friends at conference is way more difficult if your friends identify themselves as a cat / dog / scenic place / cartoon / logo, etc on Twitter.
  • Fill in this form so you can be part of Jeremy Poole’s annual conference viz. This is an absolute must and will help you network with the Tableau Community both before, during and after conference.
  • Submit your nominations for the annual ‘Vizzies’ Awards, organised by The Tableau Wannabe Podcast hosts Emily Kund & Matt Francis. The Vizzies recognise those non-Zen’s that stand out in the Tableau Community either for their dedication, skills or knowledge. This is your opportunity to get them recognised. Submissions are open until September 30th and the awards will be presented at a ceremony at conference! Submit your nominations here.

Before conference is in full swing: 

  • Register & collect your conference pass. Do this as early as you can to avoid the queues on Monday evening before the Welcome Reception.
  • Write your Twitter handle on your conference pass so people can identify you better.
  • Familiarise yourself with the venue so you know where you’re going when conference begins (including planning the route from your hotel).
  • Attend a pre-conference event like Data+Women. This is a great way to network with people beforehand. You can register for this years’ event which is taking place on Sunday evening here.
  • Attend the Tableau shop early! This is where you can buy Tableau-branded clothing, etc. Every year the shop sells out of everything very quickly. Get there early, especially if you have your heart set on getting something in particular. Remember you can buy the same products online but it’s not the same as buying them at conference and if you live outside of the US you’ll need to pay postage.

While you’re there:

  • Attend the Tableau Vision Keynote and Devs on Stage. These are always awesome and you’ll learn so much about what cool developments are in the pipeline!
  • Watch Iron Viz live. The atmosphere is incredible and you’ll learn some new tricks!
  • Visit the Tableau Labs. Here you can participate in exciting studies to help shape the Tableau of the future. It’s a great experience and awesome to be part of.
  • Take a photo (or two) in the photobooths. These make excellent profile pictures for social media.
  • Don’t forget to eat! Conference is busy and it can be easy to miss the food provided by Tableau. There are usually snack stations located throughout the venue where you can pick up something to take to a session with you or put in your bag for later. The same applies to lunches.
  • Don’t rely on conference coffee. I would recommend getting up early and getting a coffee from a local coffee shop if coffee is important to you. Conference coffee can be very hit or miss!
  • Get involved as much as possible – arrive early and attend the breakfast meetups that are relevant to you or your industry, attend the Welcome Reception, Data Night Out and any other conference events taking place. Conference only lasts a few days so make the most of it!
  • Leave your laptop in the hotel. Unless you are attending Tableau Doctor or #MakeoverMonday you’ll unlikely to need your laptop.
  • Let go of the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). With so much going on its inevitable that you will miss out on something. With a conference of this scale it simply can’t be helped. Get over it.
  • Arrive at sessions and keynotes early. They fill up fast so if you want to get the best seats (or secure a seat at all for that matter) you’ll need to arrive with plenty of time to spare. Have a back-up plan in case you can’t make it to your chosen session.
  • Visit the Expo Hall. This is where Tableau Partners and Vendors have stands to exhibit their products and services. Walk around, talk to people, learn about their offerings and pick up some swag.
  • Attend #MakeoverMonday live. It’s a whole different experience taking part in the live session and it’s a great opportunity to meet your #MakeoverMonday friends in person. Also, this year the session will be followed by the #MakeoverMonday book launch so it will be your opportunity to purchase a copy signed by Andy & Eva themselves. Word of warning though; get there early to secure a seat!
  • Tweet! The hashtag this year is #TC18 so use it whenever you tweet about conference or share anything on other forms of social media. Also, follow the hashtag to help keep tabs of everything going on. Use the unique session hashtags if you attended a great session and want to shout about it. If you tweet photos they might even get featured on the big screen in the keynote hall!
  • Plan in some downtime. Don’t feel you have to attend EVERYTHING. You can always miss a session. Conference can be quite overwhelming & exhausting so you might feel like you need some time out to relax at some point during the week.

After conference:

  • Try to plan some downtime to catch up on sleep; you’ll be tired after an extremely busy few days.
  • Reflect on your conference experience. Maybe even write a blog post about it or write up some of your learnings to share with your colleagues.
  • Leave reviews the sessions you attended in the app & be honest with your feedback. Tableau love to receive feedback to help them plan for future conferences.
  • You’ll likely leave the conference re-energised with lots of exciting ideas to put into practice or new skills to utilise. Just don’t try and do everything at once! It’s not a competition.
  • Keep in touch with your new friends & follow up on any connections you made.
  • Start counting down the days to your next Tableau conference!

NOLA specific tips:

Katie Wagner and Anna Foard have kindly shared some excellent New Orleans tips on Twitter. Both have lived in the area and are true experts on everything NOLA! Give them a follow to learn more about the must-see attractions, the best bars and where you can find the best Gumbo in town!

Tips from the Community

I also reached out to the Tableau Community on Twitter & asked people to share their top conference tips. Here’s what they said:

Eva Murray: If there is someone you want to talk to, talk to them. Most people feel awkward about breaking the ice but it’s the same for everyone and the other person will be glad if you start the conversation.

Ken Flerlage: Don’t worry about taking notes. Just take it all in. You can always watch the video afterward.

Michael Mixon: This may seem counter-intuitive given all of the evening activities, but get a good night’s sleep. Especially if you’re older, like me. 🙂

Paul Banoub: Don’t get fixated on attending sessions. You can always get the content later.

Bryce Larsen: Take the chance to attend a session outside of your industry. It might just be the best thing you attend and provide a breath of fresh air.

Curtis Harris: Wake up early and get real coffee somewhere local. (I hear CC’s coffee is the best in town).

Mcconnellj: Talk to people. Register early for sessions.

Adam Crahen: Don’t think too much. Have fun!

David Pires: Go out of your way to talk and mingle with people you otherwise wouldn’t.

Mark Kernke: Find good buddies for doing the activities you enjoy; whether that be running, sightseeing, drinking, etc. (Jeremy’s survey mentioned above is perfect for helping to connect you with people with similar interests).

I hope you found these tips useful.

See you in New Orleans at #TC18!

Thanks for reading.