Making The Most Of Your Investment At Tableau Conference
You’ve managed to secure a week out of the office, your employer is paying for you to be in Vegas, and you have a golden opportunity to learn and develop. Better get it right, huh?
There are absolutely loads of blogposts out there on conference tips and offering advice. Having attended each of the last two TCs, 2019 will be my third, and I wanted to throw my oar in partly because I don’t subscribe to some of the advice out there and also to offer a little support to those who, like myself two years ago, didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for and may be a little overwhelmed.
So here are my thoughts, collated from those conferences and also from attending a few other data events in recent months.
1) Ahead of time: plan, but don’t be rigid
The TC19 app only allows you to register for a limited number of sessions and avoids conflicts. But you’ll want to be flexible and allow yourself the chance to decide between two or three things at the last minute, perhaps based upon location or having been influenced by something you learned in another session. In previous years I’ve had a list of interesting sessions per slot that I’d be interested in – backups in case Plan A didn’t come through. I printed it and frequently switched to something that allowed me to carry on a hallway conversation or secure a seat for a session I was desperate to get to.
If there are people you want to meet, start connecting with them now, and then use that as a platform to fix up a time to meet during the week at TC. If there’s a session you think might be useful but aren’t sure, use the app and ask the speaker about their presentation. They’d be delighted to find out that you’re interested in their talk.
Be ready to accept that you probably won’t get to attend everything that you want. That’s really okay. Just hold yourself to find ways to make up for it subsequently.
If you arrive in time, get down to the conference centre on the Tuesday and walk around as much as you’re able to. Get oriented well, identify the names of the rooms and zones. When there are thousands of people zipping around, you’ll be glad that you worked out that ‘South Pacific’ is actually in the north part of the complex near to the keynote hall, and that Oceanside is on Level 2 of the south part of the complex.
2) Networking is not easy, but it is generally easier at TC
I really used to hate networking at events, and even now struggle to inject myself politely into a conversation between others. But I have found ways to make it work for me at TC, and it obviously helps that you have something in common with everyone there.
My favourite slot is around mealtimes – for whatever reason, I’ve always enjoyed chatting with people over breakfast and lunch at conference. You get a sprinkling of experience levels, industries, perspectives and use cases, and get to pick up recommendations for content that people have attended themselves which you can follow up on later.
If you do want to network, then don’t just hang out in sessions with people you already know. Those five minutes before a breakout session starts can be a really engaging time to chat with a neighbour beforehand, and then you’ve some broken ice and can compare notes and exchange details if needs be on the way out afterwards.
And if you’ve already established a network and are engaged in discussion that isn’t private, take on board the PacMan rule.
Going to a conference? Yes! Introduce yourself. Say hello. Chat to people. They're lovely. Really! And if you're already chatting in a group, make your group approachable using @ericholscher's Pac-Man Rule.
Here's how it works.
Have fun! pic.twitter.com/QklklD43Me
— Dylan Beattie 🇪🇺 (@dylanbeattie) March 29, 2019
3) Crack the code for breakouts early!
TC19 has registration for all breakouts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in. Just ensure you’re in the waitline early for anything you absolutely cannot miss. For the rest, it’ll likely be on YouTube in the next week anyway.
Once you’re in though, make the most of it – you’re going to be in that seat for the next 45-60 minutes. Some will profess that the front row is all-important. I don’t subscribe to that. What’s important is that you work out the distance you need to be away from the screen or speaker to feel comfortable. Like in the cinema, not everyone has the same preferences or sight quality. Be conscious that many rooms will have two screens, one either side of the presenter. Decide if it’s more important for you to see the speaker or the slides, and sit yourself accordingly.
Some will advocate walking out of talks you’re not enjoying, others encourage you to find a way to get something out of it despite it not being what you expected. I don’t have a strong opinion here, but above all be sure to respect the presenter.
Don’t sit on the end of an empty row of seats. Don’t be that person.
4) General tips during the week
Stay on top of the app. Session schedules will be subject to change throughout the week. Some popular sessions may be repeated. Rooms will be rearranged.
Prepare to be walking around indoors a lot, for three days. Think about what that means for you. There are lots of tips about footwear and layers that I won’t repeat. If you often get cold then have a sweater to hand, if you need to be told to wear comfortable shoes at an event that requires lots of walking, then I’m afraid you may be beyond help.
If you’re heading to a session you know you’ll need a laptop for, such as MakeoverMonday, then take your laptop. Otherwise, leave it in the hotel. You won’t use it, and it will weigh you down. If you’re working in the middle of the day at TC, you’re not making the most of your investment. Avoid it as much as you possibly can.
The Expo Hall will be far quieter during sessions, and particularly in the morning sessions. If your schedule affords it, factor in time earlier in the week to stop by the various activities. Lunchtime is not going to be the best opportunity to get something to eat and visit that vendor you were interested in.
5) Ignore most advice, and just do it your way.
That includes this blogpost. There is no one single track for getting the most out of TC. There is a lot of action to choose between. Pick your battles.
There are going to be lots of fringe events going on outside of the fundamentals of the schedule. Don’t be confused – TC is the community meeting together, and you’re part of it, no matter how involved. Subscribe to what interests you, work on fulfilling any objectives you came in with, and don’t regret having not made the most of some of the best access to many great Tableau minds, whatever your angle.
See you there.