Come Together – (Co)Running a Tableau User Group

Meet me for 5 minutes and you’ll know straight-off I’m not the person to organize things.  Brainstorm, create, cluster – absolutely!  Planning an event?  Not usually, despite some of my family members’ attempts (you know who you are).  And hosting?  I usually play sound and lights in the back and shine the light on others when I can.

So, when I got “voluntold” to help support the User Group by some of the people here, I did the only logical thing – I called in reinforcements.

Enter Chenoa Moss, PMP and planner extraordinaire.  I took the easy job, finding and working with the presenters, while she got the thankless job of arranging space, orchestrating food (this, and this alone is hard), chairs, and all the little details you just don’t think about.  You can’t honor and thank people like Chenoa (and Susan Goss, who pitched in despite a class) enough.

Columbus Tableau User Group data, 87 people and 39 companies LOVE TABLEAU
The data is out there!

Here’s the thing about user groups: they’re of, by, and for users.  Anyone with a background in cultural studies gets the significance here.


We’re not Tableau employees.  We, like our attendees, are users.  Some of us work for companies that use Tableau for inside use.  Some of us (guilty!) are consultants.  Consultants are crazier than normal users, but mostly, we behave in public…mostly.  Either way, we are of the group.


It’s not about us as the organizers.  Everyone attending has a stake.  As one person put it: “My wife and kids don’t understand, but I really enjoy this.  It’s fun for me.”  Yes, we are all this guy.  So, we do this by the group and stick to the group values.


At the end of the day, this group is for people using, supporting, and considering buying Tableau.  It’s for me like it is every other user – to learn, to ask questions, and sometimes provide a helpful answer.  Win-win, right?

How It Works

We volunteer.  Tableau gives us some guidance on how to be successful, access to forums and like-minded (crazy) individuals, and we take off running.  After that, we rely on users – real live users – who are willing to share their story.  I’ll let you in on a secret.  Everyone has story.  And everyone’s story can help someone else.  (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.)

For our group, our first speaker, the incredible Tangy Williams walked through making a dashboard.  Part “Watch Me Viz,” part tips and tricks, Tangy gave users some ideas about how to tell a meaningful story, different ways to build and alter a dashboard, and some ideas around efficiencies (my favorite – taking that 2 seconds to organize default properties, such as sum versus average in measures).

Tangy is an analyst.  She can count on 1 hand the times that she’s presented.  Yet, she built a dashboard in real time in front of over 50 people.  She didn’t focus on bells and whistles, but on core functionality.  And people took notes.  They got ideas.  She made an impact on her local community.

Following Tangy, the delightfully funny Steve Bartos of Worthington Industries took the stage.  Part comedy routine and musical homage and part a tale of finding and spreading Tableau, Steve busted through slides Matt Francis style to take users on a journey.  It showed the crazy paths we sometimes take (9 simultaneous projects with a team of 2 primary people) to make a change, or as Steve would say, to move the needle.

Steve promised to underwhelm us with his initial dashboards.  But then, he showed us the spark, the glimmer that started the Tableau wildfire.  He walked through the twists and turns we all can relate to, the winning, the fighting ambiguity, and the constant wondering, “what next?”  He even gave the audience a chance to advise him.

Both Tangy and Steve are real live Tableau users.  They didn’t claim to have all the answers and both had many questions they turned to the audience.  This is what a community does – it shares a story and lets others help weave in the narrative.

Building Your Own

User groups can be both internal (exclusive to a company) and external (location or topic focused).  Company centric user groups have an advantage around being able to share data.  There’s usually less concerns about what is seen internally (I say less for a reason), but generally also less diversity in how problems get solved.  Local user groups means more limits in what can be shared, but a higher chance of running into someone that’s done something off the hook in Tableau (my favorite so far, write-back to a database).

Looking to kick off your own?

  1. Figure out who all is involved.  I personally think at least 2 heads makes a difference (we have 4).  One gets to keep everyone in line, and the other is silly (I’ll let you take guesses here).
    • Split tasks as it makes sense.  Is one person better at getting speakers or spaces?  Does someone have higher access in a company to get budget approval?  Use it.
    • Find ways to communicate.  Trust me, it’s not for lack of options.  The world now provides 901 ways to communicate (email-twitter-linkedin-slack soup, anyone?).  Sort out what works best for you.
  2. Organize the to-dos.  Things everyone needs:
    • Space – consider room size, AV support, group activities (do you need a break-out area?), parking, and access.  Do you have to sign away your first born to get in or get a microchip?  That’s likely to fly internally, but less so externally.
    • Speakers – we’re currently trying one analyst perspective and one enterprise/customer story as a rough format.  This seems to give some technical tips and some ideas around what others are doing – key things our group wants.  We’re also trying to ensure we hear from everyone, even the quiet people (psst, quiet people, I see you…).
    • Topics – sometimes, these come with the speakers, but other times, they don’t.  Calculations, design tips, and tools that support Tableau all seem to be common ideas.  Come up with a list and ask for speakers if you have a gap or a particular need.
  3. Move those stickies!!!  (Or for the PMPs, check off that list.)  Get all the stuff done.  As a warning, plan for failure.  You will lose a space, or a speaker, or have something cause disarray to your perfectly laid plans.  Plan on it.
  4. Get extra hands.  Reward them well.  You will have to move chairs, sound equipment, or food.  You’ll need an errand.  Something will come up.  Having people who can drop and go will help.
  5. Adjust, adjust, adjust.  It should be close to the event, so by now, some hiccup has occurred.  Maybe it’s weather, so make sure you have a good way of contacting people if need be.
  6. Find time to breathe or laugh.  This stuff will get stressful sometimes.
  7. Get vizzy with it!  Find ways to survey people to get ideas about content or feedback on the latest group.  And, of course….the data is out there!

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