Getting the most from Power BI – Attend a User Group

Ian Stuart, Principle Consultant, Altis UK


I have been attending the London Power BI User Group for a few years now and I heartily recommend going along to it or to your local one.  Mary Fealty was the main presenter at the last event and she described the London meetup as “the biggest on the planet”.  I am not sure if that is true or not but Prathy and team attract more than 100 attendees every month (sometimes more often) and we have had a remarkable line up of speakers that includes most of the big names in Power BI that you can think of.  I won’t try to name them all in case I miss one or two but I will say that Will Thompson (excusing the pun) is paying us a return visit on 19th July!

I too have had the opportunity and privilege to speak at this group: Power BI reveals the Truth about Paragliding and Hang Gliding Incidents which is a talk that I thoroughly enjoy giving and have presented to technical groups as well as to may flying clubs in the free-flying community.

Antonio in Flight with Altis wing

Every month the power BI User Group attendees are pointed at a publicly available data set and asked to create a Power BI workbook to present back to the audience.  It is not a compulsory exercise of course and, up until recently, I have not had the opportunity or time to enter.  Last month I accepted the monthly visualisation challenge though and I came up with something that I received a lot of positive feedback for.  The data relates to Petrol and Diesel prices in the UK at weekly intervals going back to 2003.


This is one of four pages in the workbook that I showed.  My intention was to demonstrate the principles of good data visualisation and to tell a story with data effectively.  I hope that I achieved that aim.

I have been passionate about data visualisation principles since attending one of Stephen Few’s last public training courses in 2015 and thereafter reading most of his books and some of Edward Tufte, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic and Colin Ware’s offerings, as well as the “Big Book of Dashboards.  I also teach these principles as an on-demand course, over one or two days, and I am pleased to say that attendees have transformed their approaches and improved their data presentation markedly.

I believe that as professional data analysts, storytellers, scientists (or whatever we may call ourselves) we have a responsibility to get the message across as clearly as possible.  Understanding the technical parts of a particular tool and being knowledgeable about data is, in my opinion, only part of the problem (albeit an indispensable part).  Good and correct data can still be presented badly and, unfortunately, there are many examples of that.

We need to understand human perception and the design and build for that.  As Colin Ware puts it:

“Following Perception based rules we can present our data in such a way that the important and informative patterns stand out.  If we disobey these rules, our data will be incomprehensible or misleading”[1]

But how many of us understand the basics of human perception and design accordingly?  Please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

But back to the last Power BI User Group meet up where Mary’s tips included:

  • How to sort all your columns into alphabetical order in just a few clicks,
  • Column by Example (this is a great feature if you are not familiar with it)
  • Creating your own theme
  • “Making it Beautiful” (MiB)

Yes there were 10 tips – contact Mary if you want the rest!  As well as profiting from Mary’s nifty tips we also learned of a new resource that is a weekly collection of many other Power BI blogs, videos and articles.  James Dales also gave us a review of the latest power BI update and demonstrated some of the stand out features.  This is now a regular slot.

If you cannot get along to a Power BI UG every month, it does not matter, but even occasional attendance will help you get more from Power BI.   I hope to meet you at one soon!

[1] Information Visualization: PERCEPTION FOR DESIGN Third Edition, Colin Ware


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