Essential Tips for Delivering a Winning Hackathon Pitch
Participating in a hackathon can be an extremely rewarding experience. From networking with fellow developers, designers, and marketers to learning about new APIs and hardware to consuming surprisingly tasty food and <enter your favorite energy drink here> to building an innovative working app – the hackathon experience can be a memorable, 24-hour event.
Many hackathon attendees believe they have the right formula in place for setting themselves up for success. Assembling a rock star team is paramount, identifying a solid idea is key, and of course building a compelling, working app with a nice UI is important. However, where many teams fall short is in their overall presentation to the judges. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of our top tips for presenting a winning hackathon pitch:
What Do I Need to Create a Good Pitch?
The anatomy of a successful pitch is comprised of a number of elements – and a winning pitch often requires more preparation than you’d think. There’s certainly an art and skill to presenting to judges, and pitching to them effectively should give you a competitive advantage over others. In fact, we believe that a great pitch should be approximately 90% preparation and 10% execution.
In this blog, we’ll delve into our top tips for planning, preparing and delivering a winning pitch, including:
• Know the rules
• Know the audience
• Wireframe your pitch
• Tricks to creating a good demo
• Speak deliberately and confidently
• Test/check the A/V equipment
• Practice, practice, practice!
• Don’t panic, adapt
Know the Rules
Every hackathon has different rules in place which will impact how you should structure your pitch. As an example, AT&T Hackathons are judged with a third of the scores to going towards the pitch, a third to creativity, and a third to technical difficulty and technologies implemented.
- How long do you have to pitch your app? The length of time will vary depending on the hackathon (from 1 minute and up). You need to know exactly how long you have before you put pen to paper.
- Does the hackathon require a business case? This is important since most hackathons allow you to draw up a business case. It’s essential to know the exact scope of what you’re supposed to present.
- Are the judges focused on a specific theme such as social good? If there is a theme involved, you need to make sure that you try to tie your app into the theme. If you ignore this, the judges may discount your score.
- Are there specific technologies that I should focus on highlighting? This varies depending on the hackathon sponsors. For instance, if there is an event focused on Android, it will matter that you built an app natively vs. a hybrid mobile web app, so highlighting this will give you a step up on the competition.
Know the Audience
Try and do some level of research on the judges in advance, which should put you in a better position to deliver a good pitch.
Who are the judges for the hackathon and what are their backgrounds?
- Are the judges developers, designers, venture capitalists, or sponsors? Researching who the judges are will tell you what they’re looking for. If they are a developer, they’ll be focused on the technical know-how of the app. If they are a designer, they’ll be looking at UI/UX, that it is pleasing to look at, and functional. If they are a VC, they’ll be looking for “why your app matters.” Sponsors will be looking for how apps have leveraged their technologies.
- When possible, try to speak to the judges in advance of your pitch in order to determine their interests and what may impact their decision.
Wireframe Your Pitch as You Would with an App
This is important because it really allows you to get your pitch within the time limit and that no aspect of your pitch is a waste. You want to open with something that grabs the audience’s attention. You’ll have the audience’s attention immediately. You want to introduce your team, but be careful here – if you introduce each member, you can eat up a lot of time.
Then you want to introduce the problem that you’re addressing and why the audience (and judges) should care. The hope is to connect with your audience, driving home why the app was built. Once you’ve done that, you want to focus on introducing the app itself and how the app addresses the problem. Your presentation should answer these questions:
- What is the app?
- What are the core features of the app?
- What makes your app different from what’s already in the market?
Moving to the demo, the demo should start directly with the core features of the app. You want to dive straight in – what did you build, and why does it matter? Additional features or enhancements to the app can be added to the presentation if time permits.
Tricks to Creating a Good Demo
- Skip unnecessary screens – Demoing sign-up/login screens should only be demoed if they are unique. Including this in your demo will waste valuable pitch time, and is boring to watch!
- Be sure to mention what was used to build core features – Highlight all technologies that were used in your app, especially sponsor technology.
- Prepare your hardware and software prior to taking the stage – Is your server running? Is your WiFi connected?
Speak Deliberately and Confidently
- Speak with authority – Be sure to speak with a firm voice and high volume.
- Maintain eye contact – Eye contact is a powerful form of non-verbal communication. Audiences are much more engaged when you are looking towards them.
- Avoid wandering hands – Keep your hands out of your pockets. Avoid fidgeting when possible, and try to make every action deliberate.
Check and Test the A/V
Make sure you check or test the A/V options prior to pitching, as they can vary pretty dramatically from hackathon to hackathon. Some of the most common requests teams have is the ability to show two screens simultaneously. Asking whether this option is available well in advance can help you plan accordingly. Is there an ELMO available? Is there the ability to project audio from a laptop or device? All of these considerations are important when preparing your pitch.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Practicing your pitch is critical. Often times, I see a team spend 99% of their time getting their project code-ready, and then leave little time to actually rehearse their presentation. Here are some tips:
- Simulate your pitch as closely as possible to your actual pitch – This will help you notice any lulls, redundancies, or missing information.
- Time your pitch – Hackathon pitches generally range from 1 to 5 minutes, which means timing can be everything. I’ve witnessed numerous pitches where the teams had solid apps, however they ran out of time and only got through a portion of their demo.
- Practice speaking while demoing – Usually, the trickiest part of a hackathon pitch is giving a strong demo. It can be difficult to sync your pitch with your actions, and even more difficult if another person is managing the device.
Don’t Panic, Adapt
Finally, it is important to go into your pitch understanding that it is likely that something may not go as originally planned. To that end, you should go in with the following in mind:
- Do not anticipate perfection – Small things can and likely will go wrong. Have a plan for how to continue if a screen fails or a server crashes.
- The audience feeds off of your energy – If you are nervous, the audience will sense it. If something breaks, focus on what is working and continue with confidence.
- Demo failures are a way of life at hackathons – We’ve all been through at least a few demo fails. Where possible, have a ‘Plan B’ ready.
We wish you the best of luck at your next hackathon, and hope these tips are helpful. If you have additional tips, please share them in the comments section below.