Mastering Power BI Pre-Con

April 11th 2016

On Friday, I delivered my first solo pre-con: Mastering Power BI. If you were in attendance, the slides & demo files from my pre-con are available here: (65.7MB). Thank you for attending!

PS: Before the sample files will refresh on your local computer, you will have to edit the first step of each query in Power BI Desktop to point to the location where you have extracted the files on your own computer. Please do email if you need assistance.

Now for some reflections:

Begin with the end in mind

I did something a little unusual this year. Typically, when teaching Power BI, I start from the beginning. I talk about loading data, then modelling. I'll then talk about DAX, and finish up with reports & dashboards. This works well, but I've often found it difficult to explain why I'm doing something - I find myself pre-empting future steps and talking a great deal. It can also be quite boring - hours of preparing, building up to a final result that, in all honesty, isn't always that mind-blowing.

For my pre-con session, I did the opposite. I started with reports & dashboards and worked backwards, step-by-step. This worked well in many respects. By talking about what Power BI looked like, and what it could do from the end-users perspective, I was able to make the case for why Power BI was worth learning before getting into the details. Features such as Q&A are particularly impressive, and I liked being able to draw attention to that right away.

On the flip side, however, I made it impossible for anyone with a laptop to follow along. With more preparation, I could have mitigated this. For example: by providing files clearly marked as the starting point of each section. The feedback I received afterwards was that perhaps the loading, modelling & DAX could have been shown in order. That makes sense to me since those pieces are more tightly coupled.

Teach, don't talk

One overwhelming piece of feedback I received was that it would have been good to be in a computer lab where everyone could follow along, step-by-step. I completely agree that this would be the best way to teach Power BI and I would love to do this. Unfortunately, I don't have a good solution. I don't know of any computer labs where I would be allowed to install Power BI on all the machines in order to facilitate teaching and I didn't want to require everyone to bring a laptop (partly because the SQL Saturday Madison pre-cons are held at a location where there is not a plug at every desk for people to plug into anyway).

A presentation like this would also be very different to what I had prepared for. It would be more exercise-based and less content-delivery. If I were to commit to doing something like this, I'd have a lot of work to do.

Diversify my demos

I had prepared 3 really good datasets, and had plans to prepare a 4th that was more business & budget focused. My original plan was to alternate between the different datasets to keep things interesting during the day. Unfortunately, I did not do that and found myself talking about tornadoes far too much. In hindsight, I don't even know why. I had the other datasets right there, fully prepared. I am very familiar with them. For some reason, once I started talking about tornadoes, I found it difficult to switch contexts.

During the day, I was periodically disconnected from the internet. For example, I was excited to show how Power BI Desktop could bring in NASA's fireball dataset directly from the web. However, I was disconnected at the time I started my demo and even after re-establishing the connection, Power BI Desktop did not work. I now know I needed to close Power BI Desktop out completely and reopen, but in the moment, I moved on. I tried not to let such bumps derail me.

Interactivity & Breaks

Three things I think went well:

At the very beginning, I asked everyone to get into small groups and introduce themselves to each other. I was a little nervous about how this would go, and it did get off to a slow start. Yet 4 minutes later the entire room was alight with everyone getting to know the people next to them (even the group in the corner who already knew each other). This was a highlight of the day for me. The only downside: I didn't get to know everyone. Next time I'm going to bring along cardboard name labels.

Second, during the morning, I had people take turns using my computer to accomplish different objectives. Overall, I got positive feedback about this (with one dissenter). People liked getting to actually use Power BI and it was fun to challenge the "volunteer" and see how they did. Next time, I would encourage the rest of the volunteer's team to help their team member more (perhaps even pitting the groups against each other, game show style). I think people learn more when they're engaged and thinking about how to solve a problem, rather than when watching me describe how I would do it.

Third, I did quite a few 5-10 minute breaks. Sometimes this was because I needed the break, or because I refreshed a dataset and it was going to take 5 minutes to download the data. But overall, everyone appreciated the breaks and after each one, people were more refreshed and ready to go. As a presenter, it can feel a little bit like I'm cheating if I'm not delivering as much content as humanly possible, but in actuality, who in high school didn't like being let out before the bell rang?

Rehearse & Prepare

I did not rehearse enough. My demos were under-prepared. I hadn't truly thought about how people could follow along. I didn't even have my USB of files ready to go at the beginning of the day. In the room, I struggled with the resolution of the projector and the absurdly tiny font that Power BI uses by default. I definitely could have prepared more.

On the flip side, preparation is a black hole that will use up as much time as I give it. I didn't even use much of the work I did before March 15th. I replaced those slides. I thought of new ways of presenting that content or I decided against presenting it at all. Had I given myself more time to prepare, would I have prepared even more stuff that didn't make it into the final presentation? Maybe.

Knowing myself, next time I'd plan for more preparation time closer to the event and less preparation time far in advance.

Would I do it again?

I'm not sure. In some ways, yes. I like to share my knowledge. However, after two years of doing a pre-con at SQL Saturday Madison, it's high-time to give someone else a chance. Different presenters teach the same topic differently, and I value diversity.

As for other SQL Saturday's: with a 6-month old and having already used up 2 of my days off this year for Madison, I sadly would not be able to for a while.


I'd like to give a special thank you to Jes Borland for asking me to present at MADPASS all the way back in 2011, as well as to Mark Vaillancourt, who co-presented a pre-con with me last year. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't call out Gina Meronek, Tony Sebion, and the entire SQL Saturday Madison team for making SQL Saturday Madison what it is today.

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