Look, we don’t need to recount all the ways that 2020 has been a challenging year – we all know the score – but one noticeable difference for the business community is that conferences have either been cancelled outright or gone completely digital. If you’re like me, the loss of the in-person conference experience falls pretty low on my list of tragedies, but it’s still a bummer to lose such unique learning and networking opportunities.
The good news is that not all is lost! Among the conferences going fully digital this year is Tableau Conference 2020. This is excellent news for fans and users of Tableau, and it’s especially good news for a Tableau Gold Partner like InterWorks. Now, here’s the challenge: How does the conference experience change, and how can you make the most of the all-digital format?
Fortunately, TC20 is centered around Tableau Software, so technically speaking, you should have everything you need already on your desktop—unless you’re new to Tableau, in which case you should totally go download a free trial to join in on the fun. But the point is that this isn’t PotteryCon 2020, where you need to be at the potter’s wheel to learn new techniques in a hands-on way (I’m totally making this up). With TC20 going digital, you can still tune into sessions and absorb all the valuable know-how to help you improve how you work with data.
With that out of the way, I wanted to take a few minutes to share how you can make the most of your virtual TC20 experience. What qualifies me to educate you on this subject? Absolutely nothing, so take my advice as you will. That said, all of us at InterWorks DID just wrap up an entirely virtual company summit that lasted four weeks-ish (you read that right), and it was immensely successful. A lot of what I’ll be sharing in this post comes from the lessons we’ve learned coming off that summit. Now, to wit!
1. You Gotta Register (It’s Free)
Ok, this may be a no-brainer, but step one to making the most of TC20 is to actually register for it. The best part about it being virtual this year is that it is FREE for everyone to attend. That’s kind of a big deal, as the volume of expert knowledge that is usually shared at Tableau Conference is immense. If you’re a Tableau user already, all you have to do is register with your existing Tableau account. If you’re new to Tableau entirely, all you have to do is create a Tableau account (also free):
2. Ask Yourself What You Want to Learn
I’m usually a pretty freewheeling person when it comes to conferences. I treat booking sessions much like I do filling my plate at Golden Corral. Steak? Good. French fries dipped in gravy? Good. Chocolate fountain? Good. While a smorgasbord of offerings seems like a good idea upfront, it can lead to some … uh … discomfort later. Applying this to conferences, if you don’t go in with at least some idea of what you want to learn or how you want to improve your data efforts, you might end up leaving without a clear picture of how to apply your newfound knowledge to your work.
My advice? Envision where you want to be and then work backwards. Want to be a master dashboard builder? Great! Ask yourself what it takes to become one and how TC20 can get you there: My guess is a few technical sessions, some design hack sessions and then round it with some general inspiration. Want to become THE Tableau evangelist for your organization? Load up on sessions with speakers who detail their journey to spreading Tableau across their organization. Whatever the goal, stay focused on it. This isn’t me saying NOT to be adventurous in filling up your TC20 buffet plate—we all need a little chocolate silk pie to keep things interesting—just be intentional where you can.
Speaking of sessions, be sure to join InterWorks’ session with Chick-fil-A on Day 1 at 12:30PDT in the Partner Channel. It’s all about how Chick-fil-A used Tableau and a number of other solutions to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Make Time and Respect It
Ever attend a webinar or info session with your camera off and then proceed to shift your focus to something like reading about this year’s dumpster fire of a U.S. election? Guilty as charged right here! A big benefit of in-person conferences is that their audience is a captive audience to a degree. It’s much easier to pay attention when you’re in the moment and away from the usual distractions vs. being able to step away or shut off whenever you like.
My suggestion is to treat this virtual conference as if you were there in person. This may take a little bit of creativity to pull off. One idea is maybe making a list of “conference rules” for yourself. Rules like:
- Wear your normal work clothes vs. sweatpants covered in Cheeto dust
- No bathroom/snack breaks until a session ends
- Turn off all messaging during sessions (email, Slack, phone)
- Go full screen with no open browser tabs or Spotify
- Take notes (even if you can download/watch later)
- ABSOLUTELY NO WORKING
Above: Try posting your notes in a visible place … like the middle of your screen.
Another helpful tip might be to go somewhere else to watch Tableau Conference vs. your home office or your (hopefully) socially distanced workplace. I’m not saying rent out your local conference center (but really, what else are they doing?). You could opt to go to a park, your back patio or even just another room in your house. Humans are spatially minded creatures, so changing your setting can help your conference experience feel different from your usual workflow. If you want to get REAL creative, you can set up a home exhibit hall complete with “free” food and drink. Go visit it between sessions and muse about how the beer selection has really improved this year.
Above: Goldfish, bourbon AND homemade pickles? They really went all out on the spread this year.
4. Find Some Conference Buddies
Perhaps the biggest difference between this year’s conference and prior conferences is that, to some degree, you may feel pretty alone. Sure, you may be able to see other humans through a screen, but the TC20 experience will be mostly you alone in your home. That might sound a little depressing, but there are ways you can combat this! Consider teaming up with people in your organization (or even people outside your organization) to “attend” the conference together. This can mean something as simple as creating a TC20 Slack chatter channel or a group text. If you can socially distance responsibly, you could even get together with a handful of people to stream the conference together. The more you involve others in the experience, the bigger your stake in being present.
Above: Get those Slack channels fired up!
5. Explore InterWorks’ Virtual Booth
You knew the plug was coming, so here it is! Tableau Conference usually has an exhibit hall where partners of all stripes can showcase what they do. This year, the exhibit hall has gone virtual with virtual booths. Naturally, we’d love it if you took a look at InterWorks’ virtual booth, where you can chat with us directly. You can also check out more resources at our fancy TC20 landing page. Oh, and we WILL be having some gift card and swag giveaways, so there’s yet another reason to give us a look. But really, whether it’s InterWorks or other Tableau friends, you really should take some time to explore the full TC20 website to see what you can find. Block off an hour or so just to explore it like you would the Exhibit Hall at the in-person conference. Here’s a little preview of who’s ready to support you:
6. Create an Action Plan for After the Conference
Hopefully, you take good notes because the true mark of a good conference experience isn’t always about having fun or what you learn; rather, it’s how you apply newly acquired knowledge once the conference is over. I’ve certainly had conference experiences that were positive, but I couldn’t tell you definitely what I learned or how it made me better at my work. The key to remedying this starts with taking good notes, whatever those look like to you, and then linking those notes to some sort of action you want to take once the conference is over. This can be as simple or detailed as you like, but having some sort of action plan for what you want to achieve with your newfound knowledge is an excellent first step towards applying it. Without action, that knowledge is purely academic.
All That’s Left Is to Attend!
I’m sure there are many more useful tips for attending a virtual conference that I’ve missed here, but those are all I could think of during my free afternoon for blogging. I can’t stress how useful the Tableau Conference experience is, and I truly believe this year will be no exception. Don’t miss out on it, make the most of it and keep pushing yourself to grow your Tableau and data skills. This year may have been interrupted, but your personal growth can keep going strong if you let it.