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Part 4: Pitch, Judging and FollowUp - The Definitive Guide to Making the Most of College and Tech Hackathons

This article is the 4th part of the series called The Definitive Guide for Hackathon – in these chapters you can learn how to get the most out of your next hackathon.

If you are enjoying this series so far, I’d love to hear your thoughts! So tweet me your own tips or send me your doubts 🙌

In the last article of the series, I’m going to show you how to prepare your presentation, explain how the judging works and how to follow up after the hackathon.

Pitch Your Hackathon Product: Get Straight to the Point


A common mistake is to prepare the presentation at the last minute. Start working on the presentation the night before the end of the hackathon. In a team of three or more, one of you can work full-time on the presentation. Then, start working really hard to practice the pitch.

How to sell your project. Do not oversell or bullshit. You need to keep it realistic, while highlighting the cool stuff you built. I’ve seen presentations with words like “AI” and “blockchain,” but they really didn’t integrate those into their hacks. Some judges may be domain experts, so be prepared to answer technical questions!

The perfect pitching structure. As Jake Hart from McKinsey told me “Many teams spend two or three minutes to do a startup pitch, rather than showcasing the hack. They only dedicate the last minute to talk about the hack itself. I’d suggest hackers focus first on demoing their project first.”

Many teams spend two or three minutes to do a startup pitch, rather than showcasing the hack. [...] I’d suggest hackers focus first on demoing their project.
- Jake Hart from McKinsey

Here is a good structure to make your pitch:

  • 🎯 Fifteen seconds to explain the problem.
  • 💻 One minute and a half to demonstrate and explain the hack.
  • 💪 One minute to explain the challenges and lessons learned.
  • 🤔 One minute for Q&A.

Pitching is a key skill you will need to acquire. I can recommend several courses: Introduction to Public Speaking. Coursera, Free. Chris Anderson on Public Speaking. Udemy. 45 euros. Pitch your hackathon product in 3 minutes and conquer the jury

Hackathon Judges – What Do They Evaluate?

Hackathon organizers generally create a rubric that contains the judging guidelines. While the evaluation criteria vary from one hackathon to another, there are some common patterns: UX/UI, technical complexity, the idea, and the lessons learned by the team.

What are the things I particularly value? I pay a lot of attention to the idea’s originality, as well as the visual aspects of the projects. “A picture is worth a thousand words," so I appreciate well-crafted and beautiful interfaces that will help your team explain the idea better. (Free advice: try to team up with a good designer 😁) On the coding side, I love hacks that have solid technical solutions. Finally, I pay attention to how much learning the team did during the weekend.

What are other judges looking for? As I mentioned in the first part of this series, Cory Levy told me that he looks for originality – hard things that haven’t been done before. Jake from McKinsey agrees, and added he always asks himself, “How hard is the thing they solved?”

As you can see, it’s hard to know the judging criteria. Build a project that you feel proud of. It’s great if you align your vision with the hackathon topic and context, but do not overthink creating the project you think judges want. Play freely and create something you will be passionate to demo and talk about.

Go Back Home and FollowUp with Hackers and Mentors


After 36 hours of a roller coaster of emotions, it’s time to wrap up and come back home! If you were lucky enough to win the hackathon – congratulations!

Winner or not, create a post describing your experience. Follow up with your new friends (hackers, mentors, sponsors) and send them a quick thank-you note. In future, these people can team up with you in a hackathon, offer you a job or become career coaches. You never know :)

Follow up with your new friends [...] In future, these people can team up with you in a hackathon, offer you a job or become career coaches. You never know.

I’ve experienced myself the importance of connecting online. For example, after finishing my talk at PennApps, I connected with Elizabeth Banda, Forbes Under 30 Scholar and host of Twin Talks Time. She attended my conference and posted some feedback in her stories. Before leaving UPenn I reached out to her and we met.

That story exemplifies the power of social networks and connecting post-hackathon.


Pitch, Judging and FollowUp Summary

In this last post, we learned how to structure your presentations, I shared my own judging criteria as well as other judges criteria: Cory Levy and Jake Hart's thoughts from McKinsey. Finally, I told you about the importance of connecting and follow up with participants and mentors after that.


In this series I’ve shared key points and tips to prepare and increase your chances of winning a tech hackathon, as well as important thoughts to prepare yourself to have fun and enjoy a hackathon.

Now it’s time for you to take action and start applying these tips in your next hackathon! I have created a list of great tech hackathons you should attend, and here is action items after finishing your next hackathon:

  1. Post a social media post explaining your experience.
  2. Connect with all the friends, mentors and sponsors you met.
  3. Write an article describing your experience.

Thanks to Jules Pierce from PennApps for connecting me with Jake Hart, and thanks to the rest of the people I interviewed.

Happy hacking!
Jorge.

If you write a post or attend a hackathon, I’d love to hear your story! So tweet me how the hackathon went or email me your feedback or thoughts 🙌


On Twitter: @JGFerreiro

On Instagram: Jorge Ferreiro

On Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jgferreiro/

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