5 tips for pitching your idea at a hackathon, all of which include pretending you’re surrounded by VCs
How many times have you pitched at a hackathon? I bet you invested about five percent of your energy (at best) preparing for the pitch ―am I wrong?
I mean, I bet you spent 95 percent of your energy thinking “code, code, code” like the rest of us, no? But the thing is, the pitch matters the same way that first impressions matter. And you have to quit pitching to coders if you want to get good because coders aren’t your only audience. The people listening to your pitch are far more likely to think like venture capitalists than coders. They’re ideas people, you know? So, what’s my advice? Pitch like you’re pitching to VCs. Make sure they know why your idea matters, that that idea is well formulated, and then finally, make sure they know why you are the right person to be pitching the idea. Get it?
The steps go something like this:
1. Explain away the “So what?” No really, at a hackathon as in life, what matters most is that your idea matters, and I shouldn’t have to figure out why. I shouldn’t have to weave the pieces together, pull some Sherlock Holmes “Ah-haaa, there’s the little bugger” when trying to discern the import of your idea. Instead, you need to start your pitch with a description of the broader implications of your idea.
2. And don’t just start with the broader implications: hit me in the face with them. Again, really. Make my brain explode. Let’s say you convince me you’ve got an app to cure cancer, and you do so by showing me rather than telling me how that will happen. See how all that follows matters so much less, as long as I am already in your pocket, convinced you are about to cure cancer with an app? Show me, don’t tell me, what you are about to do, and make sure I wake up with a black eye.
3. Be tight, concise, and meaning-filled all the way through. Because that’s what VCs want and that’s what the judges want. Pretend you are asking Jeff Bezos for a million dollars to launch the for profit venture of your dreams. Are you going to stammer? Are you going to play “look how likeable I am”? Or are you going to kill it with your confidence and look-at-me-I’ve-explored-
4. Don’t be afraid to use anecdotes and ethnographic vignettes, narrative story, and emotional hooks. Get to the heart of why your idea matters and find an emotionally impactful way to share that. Hook with the heartstrings then reel ’em in.
5. And finally, tell them why you? Maybe I buy the importance of your idea. And I buy your effective presentation skills. But let’s say three teams came out with the same idea for P2P rideshare services at more or less the same time (and yeah, I mean like the Lyft and Uber and Sidecar dudes all did): Why do I like you with your idea better than somebody else with your idea? How do you convince me that I want you and your idea in tandem? This is how you can knock your pitch out of the park.