How to pitch your project at hackathons

From any hackathon, you go to you get valuable insight on what you should do next through mentoring, networking with other startups, and from the jury itself. Based on my involvement as a participant, mentor, jury member or organizer in 40 hackathons and similar events in Europe, over time I've taken notes on how to prepare better when you want to pitch your idea/project in front of the jury and the participants. You can read them below.


Based on my involvement as participant, mentor, jury member or organiser in 40 hackathons and similar events in Europe, over time I've taken notes on how to prepare better when you want to pitch your idea/project in front of the jury and the participants. You can read them below.

At the beginning of the hackathon

Usually at the beginning of each hackathon, there is a session for pitching ideas, for 1-2 minutes and afterwards the best prefered ones are selected.

  • usually you are not allowed with slides so the verbal messages has to be very clear
  • write down before what you want to say, it will be probably 4 paragraphs, less than half a page
  • practice it with loud voice three times to make it easier for you to remember it
  • at the beginning mention your name and the name of the soon-to-be startup so people will remember it when they look for you to ask details
  • during this 1 minute, focus on the problem you want to solve, who has it (customer segment) and your proposed solution
  • in the end add an “ask” - what do you need in the team? (developers, marketing, sales people etc).
  • if you can find one, mention also an inspiring mission, which is inspiring for the potential team mates to join you
  • probably there will be 20-30 ideas pitched, so be memorable by having a clear voice and explanations (if you can make a joke, is even better)
  • even if you are not allowed with slides, it doesn’t mean you cannot use visuals; use an A4 or A3 with the name of your idea to have in hand when you present (visual clues like this one are useful for them to remember)


Pitching in front of the jury

Usually the final presentation, in front of the jury, at the end of the hackathon is a big hurdle for all participating teams as the jury will evaluate the projects and decide the winners. 

It’s paramount to be prepared and deliver a good presentation in the time allocated for your presentation (3 to 5 minutes, probably).

  1. The presentation shouldn’t be complex. It is good to keep things simple in your presentation so that people can ask you questions about your product instead of finding out everything from your powerpoint presentation. Remember you are not doing public speaking, you are just presenting your idea in front of an audience from where you want to acquire investors, customers or feedback.
  • You can also use other platforms to pitch and showcase your idea such as Miro or Visme
  1. You should do a roadmap throughout your pitching allocated time. You are guiding the audience through understanding your project. You can control what people are focused, by directing their attention to one piece of content at the time.. 
  1. Your pitch should be split in granular parts so the person can understand your startup bit by bit. That is why some slides can be split into multiple ones such as the business model one and the buyer persona or even if two pieces of information share the same slide it should have an animation or something that can engage the audience’s eye. Give the audience one message at the time, do not overload with information, make it easier for them to digest.
  1. Another effective way to show the audience the distinctive features of your product is to let them see it and experience it first-hand. Pictures or screenshots of your product can help make it more tangible, but if possible, letting your audience actually handle the prototype or try out a live demo can increase your impact.
  1. Be prepared to support any claims, as in you always have to keep in mind that any assertions you make in your presentation – regarding your target customers, financial projections, marketing strategy, or anything else – need to have adequate support. Being unable to back up your claims will undermine your attempts to convince jury members that you understand your startup
  1. Ask for feedback on your presentation from the menthors. While you certainly need to create the core business idea yourself, talking to the mentors to polish your pitch can help you better convey your message to the jury.
  1. Remember to take the feedback and follow-up in it. Ask a colleague to take the notes or watch the recording afterwards to see your pitch again and what the jury had to say about it. 


Slides to have for the final pitch

See below a list of slides recommended for the final pitch (the order can be different, do it as you think is fitting your project). Most of the times you can find some amazing templates for your slides online; which will impress the audience (for example on https://slidesgo.com/).

Slide 1: Introduction slide with logo and what is in one phrase 

Slide 2-3: Customer profile targeted + problem you want to solve for them (how do they do it now?) 

Slide 4: Broad view of your solution and functionalities 

Slide 5: Benefits / advantages of your solution 

Slide 6: Validation done so far, research or talking with customers, progress done this week 

Slide 7: Go-to-market strategy - how do you reach your customers/users? 

Slide 8: Your business model - how do you make money and what pricing? 

Slide 9: Team and expertise, roles 

Slide 10: What are the next steps regarding business and product (short term + long term?) 

Slide 11: Details on what you need (investment, partnerships, mentoring, employees) 

Slide 12: Final slide with a motto and vision/inspiring and with contact information

In case the above don’t fit in the time allocated, is best to make what you say shorter in words and eliminate some slides which you think are not essential in your case.


Practical tips for presenting

Using the microphone - it is important to test it before so to have a sense how to hold it (microphones vary, not all of them are the same). The practical advice is to hold it close to the chin, a bit under your mouth, at a distance of one centimeter. Some microphones have to be held closer, so that’s why testing before is best to find out how to deal with it.

Position on the stage - check where the jury and the audience are positioned and find a spot and orientation so you can face all of them, even from different angles (but for sure not to be with the back to them). 

Looking at your slides - ideally you should have your slides in front of you (on a smaller computer), in case you are with the back to the big projection screen. If you don’t have that, just look from time to time to the slides, but don’t make them the central point of your view (which should be your audience). 

Movement on scene - choose an area or spot and stay there; some people have the tendency to make a lot of steps on the stage, don’t do it at all or keep it moderate in a 1x1 square meter range.

Look at the jury - it’s good to focus on the jury while looking as this makes them a bit more engaged in what you are saying; even if your rotate your eyes from time to time, come back to the jury and be like you are speaking to them (as they are the ones evaluating your pitch).


Tips for on-line pitching (for example on Zoom)

  • Find a place with no background noise, silent enough to be heard properly
  • Check headphones and microphone before
  • Make sure you un-mute when your turn comes or else you will hear the most famous quote of 2020: “you’re on mute” :-) 
  • Put more energy in the voice and in speaking as this is the main way to transmit your vibe through Zoom
  • Don’t forget to also go through the slides (click next, one by one) - yes, some people forget about that
  • By the way, some people prefer to stand up while presenting because they have more energy
  • Regardless if sitting or standing, your camera should be on the same level with your head, so to look straight at the screen
  • Check the platform you are going to use beforehand so you won’t get confused with the features it has and how to use it
  • Do a dry run so you notice how much time it will take for you to go through the presentation and notice where you hesitate.
  • Have another laptop device next to your laptop or a mobile internet hotspot in case the laptop or your wi-fi connection crashes.


All in all don't pressure yourself, and treat your pitch as a learning opportunity for you and your startup. You're only going to continue to get better and better, and you can extend the learning to any field of your market. 


From any hackathon you go to you get valuable insight on what you should do next through mentoring, through networking with other startups and from the jury itself so remember that it is up to you to make this experience a valuable time spent and a step forward towards achieving your goals.


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