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adrw // Andrew Alexander

How to Demo: 7 Tips Every Hacker Should Know

Blog, Hackathon, Pitch, University-of-Waterloo5 min read

This post was written as part of the How to Demo Workshop Andrew & Brandon presented at Hack the North 2018.

Doing a demo can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a first-time hacker. Follow these tips to help show how awesome your hack is in the short time you have.

Demos are relatively short (2 minutes for Hack The North). This isn't much time, you have to get to the point!

How you demo and frame your project can be a significant factor to winning, irrespective of how robust your hack is. It can be a lot of fun and we encourage everyone to demo what they have!

#1. Get to the point, you don’t have much time As much as you’d love to talk about all the new npm packages you used, you don’t have the stage for that long.

Focus on the WOW factor of your hack (the features you think the judges will like the most).

And when you do explain it, try and do so in as little words as possible.

#2. Know your audience Are you trying to appeal to everyone’s inner Pokemon Trainer? Do you want to help the lives of deaf people? Being able to know your audience and have that show in your demo helps articulate the value behind it.

People are drawn to things they know and enjoy. If your hack won’t appeal to judges, you can paint the picture for how it does to others.

#3. Find a way of telling a story This builds on from knowing your audience.

Humans are drawn to stories. They use them to digest information more quickly and thoroughly.

Figuring a way of framing your hack around a story can help get the messages across the judges well.

#4. Questions to help develop your demo story

  • Who is this hack for?
  • What problem are they facing?
  • How does this hack solve that problem for them?
  • What does this result in?

This is a simplified line of questioning but is sufficient for putting together a story for a two minute demo.

The exception to storytelling is if your hack is more novel (game, not purpose driven). As a result, you will want to focus more on the entertainment value instead.

#5. Makes sure it works! This is almost self explanatory. You don’t want to be up there fiddling with your hack and trying to get it to work, again its valuable time wasted.

However, the judges aren’t expecting perfection and for you to cure cancer in 36 hours. Make sure when you are up there, the demo flows and you’ve tested everything beforehand.

#6. Know how to talk AND walk (demo) The unique thing about hackathon demos is that you’ll be both talking and demoing your hack at the same time. This can be difficult as you will need to switch between the both. Whereas in other presentations, you may be presenting with only a pitch deck.

3 things you can do to improve your demo

  • Take pauses when you are showing your hack
  • Do things again, repeat it once or twice so the audience can see what is happening with your product
  • Plan your demo arc to build to climaxes (points where you can get your audience to say WOAH)

#7. Write down a list of anticipated questions The question and answer period can be one of the most important parts of your demo. You can’t fit everything into a two minute window and you know there will be questions they’ll ask.

It helps to create a list of all the questions they could ask and make sure you have answers for them.

#8. Have a good time!!! As much as we’d all like to win something, hackathons are meant to be about learning and having fun!

#Hack The North 2018 Demo Format

  • 2 minute presentation
  • 30 second question and answer period

You’ll be given the option to use a screen with video inputs to demo your hack and will be presenting in front of three judges.

What do I need to prepare beforehand?

  • A hack submission to Devpost
  • All of the required adapters to connect your laptop to a projector
  • A designated presenter, usually limited to one because the tight time restrictions
  • A script or idea of what you will talk about and show during the demo

Demos We Like

#About the Authors Both Andrew and Brandon are dedicated to helping hackers get their ideas understood and seen by the world. What makes them effective is their entrepreneurial mindset and being hackers themselves. Their experience includes winning national pitch competitions and hackathons, with over $30,000 in combined winnings.

Brandon Chow is a digital marketer focused on helping tech companies create more predictable sales pipelines through educating customers. As a serial entrepreneur, he has started businesses in industries such as: web analytics, sports & recreation, and IT hosting. He is graduating in December 2018, and you can contact him ([email protected]) if you are looking to scale your sales or want to learn more about startups.

Andrew Paradi is a software engineer at Square building scalable infrastructure for the growing Cash App. He graduated from University of Waterloo Computer Science in April 2018. Find his projects on Github (@adrw), portfolio on his website (, or contact him ([email protected]) if your team wants to ship products and marketing sales copy that better resonates with users.

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