Given the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation globally, most (if not all) Tableau User Group’s (TUG’s) have made the decision to cancel any upcoming in-person events. This aligns with guidance from Tableau and Salesforce who have enforced companywide safety precautions to safeguard their employees, partners and communities. You can read the latest updates on the situation from Salesforce here.

However, the restrictions on in-person events doesn’t mean that TUG events need to stop altogether. Far from it! With a little creative thinking, many TUG’s are looking at going virtual and hosting their events online instead.

London TUG Goes Virtual

At London TUG, we ran our first-ever virtual TUG this week. This event was originally organised as an in-person live #MakeoverMonday session with Eva Murray and Operation Fistula to coincide with the launch of the #Viz5 initiative. However, as the COVID-19 situation worsened we had two options; cancel altogether or run the event virtually. We decided on the latter and with the support of Tableau, we were able to run the event via Zoom. We made a few adjustments to the duration, format and timing to suit a virtual audience (namely, shortening the session and moving it to a slightly earlier time slot). However, the event was a success and running it virtually had the added bonus of opening our event to a wider audience. In fact, over 30% of those that joined the live event were located outside of Europe!

You can watch the recording of the TUG here.

Virtual London TUG

Virtual Tableau User Groups

Virtual TUG’s aren’t a new phenomenon. Traditionally, virtual TUG’s have been organised by industry or interest-focused user groups. For example, healthcare, retail, finance and Tableau Server Admins all have thriving virtual TUG’s.

Established more recently is #VizConnect, a global TUG organised by Sagar Kapoor and Divya Bharathi from India. Sagar and Divya run regular virtual events featuring speakers from the global Tableau Community covering a wide variety of topics.

You can find a list of all 100% virtual TUG’s here (filter for location > virtual).

Virtual TUGs

The Tableau Fringe Festival

I can’t mention virtual Tableau events without mentioning The Tableau Fringe Festival (TFF), founded by Emily Kund! While not a TUG, TFF is a thriving virtual Tableau event.

TFF has been running for over four years, originating in the US. Think of TFF as a virtual Tableau Conference, with multiple speakers delivering talks of 20 or 40 minutes over many hours. The idea was born when various community members had their talks turned down after applying to speak at the global Tableau Conference. Rather than not delivering the talks at all, TFF provided a platform for speakers to come together and deliver exclusive content not available at the conference.

After the first events based out of the US, TFF expanded and today there are usually four regional events per year; Asia-Pacific (APAC); Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA); Latin America (LATAM), and North America (NorthAm). Each event is supported by local volunteers who help with organisation and hosting of the event while the talks are submitted by anybody who would like to present something related to the wider Tableau ecosystem.

You can watch previous TFF content on the YouTube channel here.

Fringe Festival YouTube


Benefits of Running a Tableau User Group Virtually

You don’t need to cancel – Given the current circumstances, nobody knows how long it will be until things return to normal. Rather than cancel events altogether in this period, organising a virtual TUG could be a viable option to enable your event(s) to continue. Furthermore, with next to no in-person events happening right now, a virtual TUG could be a welcome addition to an other empty calendar!

You can reach a wider audience – If you run a local TUG, chances are your TUG attendees are predominately from your local area. Running a virtual event literally opens up your TUG to the world! This is the main reason some of the industry-focused TUG’s are run virtually. Unless you are located in an area which is heavily-focused on a particular sector, virtual TUG’s other make more sense in order to reach a wider audience. Furthermore, a virtual TUG may also catch the attention of local people who have never attended an in-person TUG before.

It’s free! For in-person TUG’s, organisers often have to organise a venue and refreshments and obtain funding for these expenses. However, virtual TUG’s incur next to zero running costs, making them much easier to organise.

Access to a wider pool of potential speakers – Virtual TUG’s don’t need to be limited by speaker location. If the timezones align, you could invite speakers from across the globe to speak at your event! This opens up so many possibilities when arranging your speaker line-up. Perhaps there’s a speaker you’ve always wanted to come to your TUG but they never visit your city. Well, now is the opportunity to invite them to your virtual event!

No travel required – You can run (and attend) a Virtual TUG from the comfort of your own home, office or anywhere you wish. There’s zero travel involved!

Less nerve-racking for new speakers – Speaking in front of a room full of people can be a scary experience, especially for new speakers. With virtual events, the only person you need to speak to is your computer screen. This can make it a much less daunting experience and presents a perfect first-time opportunity for those looking to undertake more public speaking engagements.


Things to Consider When Organising a Virtual TUG

Platform – Virtual TUG’s often utilise meeting collaboration tools such as Zoom or WebEx. However, some of these platform’s have limitations with their free versions which make them unsuitable for large events. Speak to your regional Tableau User Group Lead before organising your event so they can advise on the best platform to use and offer support as necessary.

Length – Virtual TUG’s are often shorter than regular TUG’s. Bear in mind you won’t need to incorporate networking / break time as you might do usually so can probably afford to shorten the event a little.

Timing – Regardless if you usually run your in-person TUG in the evening or the daytime, you may wish to consider if your usual TUG time slot is still best-suited for a virtual event. It might be that attendee’s are more likely to attend a virtual TUG in their lunch break than during the evening. Furthermore, if you take into account different time zones when planning your TUG, you may be able to attract a whole new audience from a different continent!

Interactivity – Just because your event is virtual, it doesn’t mean it can’t be interactive! If you are running your TUG on Zoom, be sure to utilise the Q&A and chat features. The Q&A functionality will allow the audience to ask questions to your speakers at any time during their presentation, while enabling chat will allow the audience to type messages to each other and network. This results in a much richer, interactive experience! There’s also nothing stopping you from running quizzes (like Kahoot) virtually.

Facilitators – Following on from the point about interactivity, consider how you will facilitate the event in advance. For instance, will the speaker be responsible for checking the Q&A questions themselves or will the facilitator ask the questions directly to the speaker and mark the questions as answered as necessary? In my experience, it works better if you have a facilitator and it puts less pressure on the speaker.

Tech Check – It’s advisable to arrange a short tech check with your speakers in advance of the session. This will give your speakers the opportunity to become familiar with the virtual conferencing interface, do a quick sound and audio check and also, ensure their slides are displaying correctly.

Recording – Virtual events are easy to record and recording is a great option as it gives your attendees the opportunity to watch later if they are unable to attend live. Recordings can be shared on YouTube and again, these broaden the potential audience of your event. However, always remember to confirm with speakers in advance if they are happy to be recorded and if they are happy with the recording being shared on another social platform.

Marketing – Once your event is live, don’t forget to share the sign-up details on social media. Remember, you want as many people to see your event as possible!

I hope you found these tips useful. Remember, restrictions on in-person events doesn’t mean your TUG needs be cancelled altogether. Consider going virtual and the unexpected benefits it could bring!

If you have any questions about running a virtual TUG, feel free to contact me.

Thanks for reading!

Header image courtesy of Zoom. View original here