With the annual Tableau Conference fast approaching I thought I would share a quick post of conference tips to help those who are attending for the first time (conference regulars; you know the drill). The Tableau Conference experience can be daunting, even for the most extroverted data fanatic! If you don’t know what is Fanalytics, have never been on a ‘Braindate’ and have no idea what to expect from a ‘Data Night Out’, this post is for you!
I have written a similar post every year for the last few years but each year my recommendations change slightly, either due to a change in the conference format / location or because my views have changed with experience. These are a collection of tips that I have found useful in the past. However, we’re all different and it’s entirely up to you how to approach the conference. While these tips may not necessarily work for you, I hope you find them helpful nonetheless.
Tableau Conference 2019
This year will see around 18,000 data fans once again descend upon the city of Las Vegas, Nevada for four jam-packed days of learning, networking and inspiration!
This years’ conference is taking place at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre; the same venue which hosted the conference in 2017. This venue worked perfectly as a conference venue last time so I’m excited to return there. While the Convention Centre is huge, the breakout rooms are spread across multiple floors and it’s relatively easy to move around the venue (unlike New Orleans last year which was harder to navigate due to its size).
Without a doubt #data19 will be a busy week for everyone involved so preparation will be key for a stress-free conference.
What to pack
Comfy shoes | You will do a lot of walking at conference. Days are long and you’ll be on the go from morning until night. Some nearby hotels are a 20-minute walk away from the convention centre. Even if you are staying at the Mandalay Bay, you will still need to walk a short distance to get there. 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 electronic devices heavily during the days to reference the conference app, check your Twitter feed, take photos, make notes, 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 bringing your own fully-charged battery pack will save you from having to worry about trying to find a charging point (or fighting with somebody else to use one).
Something to use for note-taking | 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, tablet or whatever works best for you.
Your favourite Tableau / data viz t-shirts | Tableau Conference is the perfect opportunity to showcase your Tableau t-shirt collection! If you don’t own any Tableau t-shirts, don’t fret. There’s a swag shop at conference which sells all the swag you could possibly wish for! Free t-shirts are often available from sponsors in the Expo Hall too. Don’t forget to leave some 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? Maybe you want to see how other companies are using Tableau? Or do 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 (or plan free time) that will help you to achieve your goal.
Download the conference app (this will be available mid-October) | The app will be your go-to conference guide so save it somewhere on your phone that is easily accessible. Break-out session registration is going to work slightly differently this year (#data19 Europe attendees will already be familiar with the new process). Attendees will be able to register for sessions in advance using the app or the web portal. This effectively ‘reserves’ your seat in sessions assuming you turn up approximately 10-15 minutes before the session is due to begin.
At the European conference, Tableau held a 15% allocation of seats back for attendees who showed up to sessions without registering in advance. Obviously these were available on a first come, first served basis only. If you really want to attend a session I strongly recommend you explore the app as soon as it’s released and start planning your schedule. The more popular talks and hands-on training sessions will book up quickly. See further tips in the ‘Plan your sessions’ section below.
Plan Meetings or Informal Gatherings | If there are specific people that you want to meet, reach out to them in advance. You could do this through the conference app or on social media. It will likely be easier to arrange something with them before conference begins and agendas fill up. Also, you are more likely to guarantee seeing them this way.
Book a Braindate | Braindates were a new addition to the conference in 2018 and I’m glad to see them feature again this year. Braindates enable you to meet with groups of 2-5 people for 30-45 minute knowledge-sharing conversations. Attendees are free to ‘advertise’ sessions in the app and invite interested parties to join them. Browse the available Braindates in the app to find a topic that interests you.
Plan your sessions….. but don’t go overboard | There are usually 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 approach. I guarantee you’ll enjoy conference more if you build in some flexibility and downtime. In fact, you may get more value out of the impromptu meetings that happen by chance between sessions in the corridors than the sessions themselves. The approach you take is entirely up to you. Simply do what you feel most comfortable with.
Remember all sessions (except hands-on training sessions) are recorded with the videos made available on YouTube shortly after conference. Consider which sessions would be better to attend in person (for instance an interactive Paul Chapman style session with a t-shirt cannon is a lot more fun when attended in person, while you’ll probably gain just as much from a customer session by watching online later). Consider attending sessions in person where you think you would benefit from being present in the room and asking the speaker questions at the end. You won’t have this luxury on a YouTube video!
Be open to session recommendations from others | In the lead up to conference and while you’re there you are likely to hear other people recommend sessions or speakers that you might not have initially 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.
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! A simple headshot usually works best.
Jeremy’s Conference Viz | Fill in this form so you can be part of Jeremy Poole’s annual conference viz. Jeremy has been running this viz every year for the past four years. It started as a way to help identify who was going to conference, when they would be in town and who shares similar interests so they could arrange to meet up. It worked so well the first time that he’s continued to run it year after year. Completing the survey will help you to network with the Tableau Community both before, during and after conference.
The Vizzies | Submit your nominations for the annual ‘Vizzies’ Awards, organised by The Tableau Wannabe Podcast hosts Emily Kund & Matt Francis. The deadline for nominations is 25th October. Submit your nominations here.
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. These awards really do mean a lot to those nominated so I highly recommend you get involved. The awards will be presented at a ceremony during Fanalytics at conference this year!
Once in Town
Register & collect your conference pass | It helps to do this as early as you can to avoid the queues before the Welcome Reception (you won’t be able to enter without your pass). Pro tip: Write your Twitter handle on your conference pass with a Sharpie so people can identify you better.
Familiarise yourself with the venue | This helps you to know where you’re going when conference begins (including planning the route from your hotel).
Attend a pre-conference event like the Data+Women Pre Game Drinks | This is a great way to network with the community beforehand. You can register for this years’ event which is taking place on Monday evening here. This annual event is attended by men and women with a variety of exposure to Tableau from long-time employees, Zen Masters, Ambassadors and first time conference attendees.
Attend the Tableau swag shop early | This is where you can buy Tableau-branded clothing, etc. Every year the shop sells out of everything very quickly. The swag shop tends to open during the Welcome Reception. 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.
During the conference
Attend the Opening/Vision Keynote and Devs on Stage | These are always awesome, informative talks and you’ll learn so much about what new features and developments are in the product pipeline at both sessions! The energy in both sessions is also really something not to be missed!
Attend Iron Viz | Iron Viz is THE ultimate viz competition! The atmosphere is incredible, you’ll be inspired and you might even learn some new tricks! Mark Bradbourne sums it up perfectly here:
“Imagine a room of 15,000 people going nuts for three people creating data visualizations. Now open your eyes and watch IRON VIZ! There is really nothing like it. Watch three contestants building world-class vizzes on stage. You’ll find yourself cheering on your favorite (or quite frankly, all of them) and getting wrapped up in the spectacle and competition”.
Visit the Tableau Labs & talk to the Devs | At the Tableau Labs you’ll have the opportunity to see live demonstrations of the latest Tableau features and also help shape the product of the future with your feedback or suggestions. It’s a great experience and awesome to be part of.
Take a photo (or two) in the photo booths | These make excellent profile pictures for social media and great conference mementos. Just be prepared to queue for the booths at popular times; early mornings or late afternoons tend to be quieter.
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 breakfast and lunches. If you are a fussy eater it might be worth bringing some snacks with you.
Don’t rely on conference coffee | I would recommend getting up early and getting a coffee from a nearby coffee shop if coffee is important to you. Conference coffee can be very hit or miss! There is a Starbucks on the approach to the conference venue but it can get very busy at peak times!
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 a Tableau Doctor appointment 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 and enjoy the things you can be part of.
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 free 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. Word of warning though; get there early to secure a seat!
Tweet! | The hashtag this year is #data19. Be sure to 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 using the hashtag they might even get featured on the big screen in the keynote hall!
Plan in some downtime / nap time | 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. This is perfectly acceptable.
Recover | 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.
Feedback | Leave reviews for the sessions you attended in the app & be honest with your feedback | Tableau (and speakers) love to receive feedback to help them plan for future conferences.
Plan | 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.
Follow Up | Keep in touch with your new friends & follow up on any connections you made.
Start counting down the days to your next Tableau conference!
I hope you found these tips useful.
See you in Las Vegas at #data19!
Thanks for reading.