I've been to ten Tableau Conferences (including one in EMEA) and this year will mark my eleventh. As Tableau Conference 2018 approaches, I can’t help but think back on my personal conference story.

It all started at the second Tableau Conference in Seattle, Washington. A relative amateur to Tableau at the time, I walked into breakfast on the first day and saw 400 complete strangers. Most were quietly eating alone or in small groups, but one particular table in the front of the room was excitedly talking, laughing, and actively discussing Tableau. I sensed that this was the alpha table, so I walked up to the table and introduced myself. They all knew each other from the first conference, which I had unfortunately missed, but they made me feel at home right away.

That day, I realized what made Tableau special, the community and the people. The people are the reason that I keep coming back year after year.

Ten years later, I call everyone at that table a friend. Though we usually only get the chance to see each other once a year, we remain in contact via social media, email, and regular calls to catch up on each other’s lives. These folks are the legends of Tableau: the first partner, and author of a key book on Tableau, the expert who answered more forum questions that any other individual, the BI leader for a prominent school in the UK, the Judo blackbelt, the shorts-wearing, UK-based entrepreneur who created a global footprint, the social media guru who built an incredible personal brand with Tableau, the generous, genuine, faithful, quiet community leader, and several others.

Each year, the conference gets larger—but the heart of conference hasn’t changed. The learning is excellent and the customer stories help you realize that you are not the only one facing challenges and successes. The social events, the venue, the vendors, the speakers, the food…all of it is second to none. The sum total of the event creates an environment where we have the opportunity to learn, validate, share opinions, broaden relationships, catch up with old friends, and meet new people who have similar passions.

Here are my tips and tricks from a Conference veteran.

The essentials

Over the years, a few main principles have guided how I approach the conference. If you get only three things out of the conference, my advice is to focus on the following:

  • People: Build your network, make yourself available to help others, recruit, build businesses, and open your mind to learn how others approach things. Think beyond the mechanical workings and look to others who can help you with scaling and implementation. Even as technology becomes easier, it is always valuable to have people that will help you through transformational times.
  • Inspiration: Allow yourself to get swept away by the fanaticism that is all around you—and use that energy to make changes in yourself and your organization when you return.
  • Learning: Nearly everything you have ever wanted to learn or do with Tableau is probably on a blog post or a video somewhere. However, it is only once a year that you get access to this kind of expertise from Tableau staff and the Tableau community: presentations on Tableau concepts, real-life examples of people using Tableau in ways you never imagined, and sessions with Tableau Doctors who help you answer tough questions. Learn tough topics and ask hard questions.

Small things that make a big difference

Though I have learned most of these the hard way, I can assure you that the following tips will make your Tableau Conference experience even better!

  • Wear comfortable shoes! This is my #1, #2, and #3 tip…you may put 20,000 or more steps in each day.
  • Do NOT overdo it on night one.
  • Sit with people you do NOT know at meals. And approach your Tableau heroes: Zen Masters, Ambassadors, TUG leaders, people from social media, and Tableau execs—each will be happy to spend some time with you, share their experiences, and learn from others.
  • Do NOT miss Iron Viz—you will be amazed!
  • Show your picture on social media with #TC18 so that people know what you look like. Many hallway conversations have started because someone recognized me from my LinkedIn or Twitter photo.
  • Pack light for the day, but be sure to bring a backup power supply and cables for your phone.
  • Plan your days, but expect that your plan may get disrupted—and go with it.
  • As much as you can, cancel all meetings, or conference calls for work.
  • Pay attention (versus aggressively taking notes). Most of the sessions will be available afterwards on video, so use your time to listen and absorb the content. You can always take notes when you review the recorded videos.
  • Get to know the #TC18 mobile app. It will be your one source of truth for everything Tableau Conference: schedules, speakers, locations, travel, etc. The mobile app will come out before conference so you have time to build your custom schedule.
  • Do NOT miss Data Night Out. This is a party experience that you will not believe.
  • Have fun!

In short, be safe, make good decisions, and meet as many people as you can to get the most out of this wonderful conference! Click here to register for Tableau Conference 2018. If you’re a newbie—or if you just have some questions, ping me on Twitter @lewandog. I hope to see you in October!

Check out this webinar to find out why other Tableau Conference veterans return year after year!

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