Geek-er-y and narrative

Don't forget to tell a story when you hit the stage

This weekend I was lucky enough to hang out at the Tech Crunch Disrupt Hackaton and then get invited to head over to BarCampNYC6. Over the course of the day, I was reminded of the power of deep passion and creative environments to pull the best from each participant and to focus the mind on moving from idea to implementation and back in endless layers. NYC Geek-er-y was in full swing but the narratives did not live up to the talent in the room.

After being up for more than 24 hours straight, over 100 teams at the Disrupt Hackathon were given 1 minute each to present their hack to the judges. The 4 winners, Gilt-II, Docracy, Dispatch.io and Doach, will be presenting on the main stage at Disrupt on Wednesday – and they are all very cool – but for me the biggest difference between these 4 and the other 99 teams had much more to do with the quality of their 1 minute presentations than the technical quality of their hacks or the creativity of their ideas.

Where the four winners separated themselves for me was by presenting a narrative that fit the data they had spent the weekend creating. They described what the hack was and showed us what it could do. They talked about how they built it, who would use it and why they would love it. “Once upon a time” to “happily ever after, The End” with 30-45 seconds of demo in the middle helped the judges know what they were looking at and why they should care.

Each team spent close to 1500 minutes straight creating their hacks. I saw super talented people building clever solutions to problems and in the process, creating data to support their bid to pitch on stage at Disrupt– data that was often lost in the one-minute demo. Sleep deprivation certainly played a role in these lost in translation demos, but I think with 15 minutes of preparation each team could have crafted an impactful narrative around their project.

With a 1 minute time limit, you can practice your pitch 10 times with 30 seconds of teammate feedback in between in 15 minutes. If each team had been able to craft a narrative to highlight their hack and practice a few times, my sense is 2-3 different teams might be on stage this Wednesday.

Either way, congrats to the winners and I look forward to seeing you bring together that perfect combination of story and data when you hit the main stage later in the week. Until then, I will be working on a high score in my new favorite game.