Thursday, November 10, 2016

TC16: My Favourite Tableau Conference 2016 sessions

Well, TC16 -- my very first Tableau conference -- is now officially over.

As a bit of an introvert, I frankly found the sheer size of the conference -- and the crazy Data Night Out party -- a little bit intimidating. Before now, the biggest conference I'd ever attended was NICAR at 1,000 attendees. This conference had 13,000 people.

But I also learned a lot and got to meet a lot of people who, before now, I only knew through Twitter.

I also attended some great sessions, which I thought I'd note here since Tableau is going to make recordings of all the sessions available in the coming days.

I'm also hoping others might share what their favourite sessions were -- either on Twitter or in the comments -- so I have a cheat sheet when I start making my way through the hundreds of recordings.

So, in no particular order, here's a list of my favourite sessions, with a couple of notes on each:

50 Tips in 50 Minute with Andy Kriebel and Jeffrey Shaffer.

Exactly what it says on the tin: a load of great Tableau tips in rapid-fire succession. I love sessions like this as, even if one tip isn't helpful to you, the next one will be. This one will require re-watching to catch some of the specifics of how to implement each tip. But I easily came away from this session with dozens of time-saving tricks and ways to make my work in Tableau better.

I was hoping to make the similar-titled Rapid Fire Tips & Tricks with Daniel Hom and Dustin Smith but it was the only session of the conference I was turned away from because of lack of space. Will definitely be watching that one on video.

The Visual Design Tricks Behind Great Dashboard
s with Andy Cotgreave

I was told Andy Cotgreave's sessions were not to be missed and that was good advice. This was a great conceptual talk about how to think about ways to make your Tableau Dashboards more engaging and easier to read.

A lot of Andy's advice in the talk is similar to what I tell my students (like making sure your title actually says something interesting). But there was also a lot of advice that hadn't occurred to me that I can put into use. And he had a fun Few-McCandless data viz continuum with Alberto Cairo right in the sweet spot.

Visualizing Survey Data 2.0 with Steve Wexler

Steve Wexler has published a heap of great resources on how to visualize survey data in Tableau and this talk had some really useful updates on some new tricks he's developed -- including using a "Dual Pivot" to allow you to visualize demographic data more quickly and how to deal with situations where you have too few respondents to a given question. Great stuff.

Sealed with a KISS-Embracing Simplicity in Data Visualization with Chris Love

At a conference where a lot of people were showing off all sorts of intricate, complicated graphics, Chris Love's talk was a helpful reminder that the simplest charts can sometimes be the most effective. In one of the talk's more powerful moments, Chris took a beautiful, but hard to read, Sankey diagram and remade it live as a series of simple bar charts that actually told the story of the data much more clearly.

I've asked Chris to please do more of these "Simple Makeovers", starting with a complicated Guardian chart he showed during his talk. He seems game, which I think would help more people see the value of keeping things simple. UPDATE (Nov. 13): True to his word, Chris has already updated the Guardian chart as a small multiple hex map! And then as a second version, too!

Advanced Mark Types: Going Beyond Bars and Lines with Ben Neville and Kevin Taylor

This is kind of the anti-talk to Chris Love's presentation. Ben and Kevin went through several cool chart types -- like lollipop charts and hex tile maps -- that aren't in Tableau's built-in "Show Me" menu but can be created with a bit of fiddling in Tableau. Most of the chart types were actually useful, rather than just being show-offy -- and, in some cases, they looked pretty easy to implement. I know I'm planning to use lollipop charts a lot more in my work now.

Cross Database Joins: The Unexpected Solution to Tough Analytic Problems with Alex Ross and Bethany Lyons

This was the one and only "Jedi" session I attended and, I'll confess, I only went because I got turned away from the Rapid Fire Tips session I mentioned earlier.

The material in this session went by really quickly and a lot of it was over my head. But it's a testament to Bethany Lyons' infectious enthusiasm that this session made me want to learn more about how I could "create more data" use cross-database joins to solve gnarly data problems. And she did such a good job of explaining what she was doing that I feel I actually got the conceptual gist of this talk even if I'll have to re-watch the talk in slo-mo to get all the steps.

In the TC16 preview podcast I mentioned in an earlier post, pretty much everyone was raving about Bethany as their favourite speaker and now I can see why. (Alex Ross also did a great job summarizing the key concepts.)

Unfortunately, there were a lot of sessions I was hoping to make but didn't, because I was tied up in hands-on training, like Busting the DataViz Myths with Matt Francis, Data Journalism: Creating Awesome News Graphics in Tableau with Robert Kosara and New Ways to Visualize Time with Andy Cotgreave.

Speaking of hands-on training, I was really impressed with the calibre of the instructors in all the hands-on training sessions I attended and the quality of the materials (including, for each session, a "web workbook" that you can refer back to at your own speed with all the problems and solutions in it).

So those are my favourite sessions from TC16. What are yours? Please let me know in the comments below or by sending me a note on Twitter.

Note: Tableau is paying for some of my conference-related expenses.


  1. Great post and thanks for sharing! With all of recordings, it's nice to have a short list to start with.

  2. Thanks for the props in here! Enjoyed delivering that presentation. Glad you had a good time, aside for the sheer size! The 1st one I attended as a customer was in DC, think there may have been 3,500??? and that was only a few years back!

  3. Thanks for the props in here! Enjoyed delivering that presentation. Glad you had a good time, aside for the sheer size! The 1st one I attended as a customer was in DC, think there may have been 3,500??? and that was only a few years back!