NHS Hack Day - Geeks who love the NHS

Top 10 tips for awesome pitches

Make the most of your opportunity to pitch to our smart and interested audience


So, you’re considering pitching at NHS Hack Day – that’s great!

We’ve collected together some tips that we think can help you make your pitch even more awesome. This is not a requirements list for pitching, but we’ve found that thinking about these things can really help refine our ideas.

(With thanks to David Miller, who wrote this blog post that has formed much of the content for this one.)

1. Tell a story

People love stories. Pitches with a story in them almost always go down better.

  1. Give it colour: explain how your day-to-day life is affected by this problem; explain the frustrations of clinicians’/patients’ lives that mean this is a problem worth solving.

  2. Bringing the people in the story to life - give them names, or describe their roles - it will give people a hook into your story.

2. Explain the change you want to see

Health tech hackathon projects that capture the imagination have the best potential to make a real impact in the world. This means that when you’re pitching you should make sure you explain just how the world will be better once your project is a reality.

A good way of framing the desired change is by using the voice of the ‘user’. For example:

“I want to help my grandma have the same carers as much as possible, because having consistency and trust in her carers is important for her.”

Depending on how much context you have already for the problem you are pitching, it may be useful to think about the level at which your problem could be effectively tackled.

As a guide, projects might fall into one of three categories; there is no ‘best option’ here’, but it is useful to think about which might apply to your project.

  1. Projects requiring revolution: for example an open Electronic Patient Record that brings about the end of global injustice and human suffering in general.

  2. Projects requiring someone with local clout: for example setting up a portal for patients at a particular GP practice to help them manage their chronic conditions.

  3. Projects that are what we would call ‘workarounds’: those light-touch solutions that can fit in around existing systems that can potentially help lots of people in a small but meaningful way.

3. Make it achievable

You’re coming to a hackathon, and realistically you won’t build an entire bedside monitoring suite in the approximately 12-15 hours you have for work. Pitches that seem wildly ambitious can be greeted with scepticism.

That said, if your idea is huge and overwhelming, you should probably still talk about it, because hugeness-of-scale might translate to hugeness-of-impact on patients.

Perhaps there is some part of your big idea that can be split off to give a good bite-sized weekend project. Make this explicit in your pitch: explain exactly which part of the problem you want to address today.

4. Make it clear

It is unlikely that you will have more than 60 seconds to give your pitch. Maybe you’re familiar with the concept of “elevator pitches”? That is, how to express yourself and your plan in approximately 15 seconds when you bump into some important person or potential investor.

The NHS Hack Day team firmly believe that if you cannot explain your problem in 60 seconds then you have not thought it through clearly enough. We’d love to help you with this though, so do get in touch with us on our twitter, facebook or at hello@nhshackday.com.

5. Describe a problem rather than a solution

The most powerful hackathon experiences come from ideas that are genuinely co-created in response to problems or needs that actually exist in the real world (hence starting with the story and impact).

A common pitfall of hackathon pitches is to skip right over the part with the problem-solving, and to start describing the solution that first occurred to the person giving the pitch. Unsurprisingly this tends not to excite the creative problem-solvers in the room. You’re here because you have a problem that you want to help solve: why would you put constraints on what the solution might look like? Allow the process to work, and allow the talented people in the room with you the space to innovate around what you said.

Two particularly common cases of describing a solution rather than a problem are:

6. Practise, iterate, ask for feedback or help from us if you want

Just like most things in life, pitching is something you can definitely get better at with practice. Take all opportunities you can.

Practise in the mirror, seriously. Even if you speak in public often. Pitching is a very specific skill.

When you arrive at NHS Hack Day on Saturday morning and are settling in with coffee and breakfast, you are likely to be in a big group of people you don’t know. Why not try out your idea on them?

If you’re feeling particularly bold, you could ask them if they would mind watching your 60-second pitch and giving feedback. It’s a great way to make friends and contacts too.

You are always welcome to get in touch with the NHS Hack Day team for help or advice with your pitch. This is particularly true if you’re feeling nervous about the idea of pitching. We want everyone to feel as welcome and as confident as possible in taking part in the whole event, as this is the only way to ensure that all the best ideas are heard.

7. Find some collaborators beforehand

We’ve found that as well as helping to polish ideas, sharing your pitch on our event Slack or the google group beforehand can result in teams that start to form before the day. It gives potential collaborators a chance to mull the project over in the weeks and days running up to the event, and come with ideas that are more fully formed.

These teams often work really well together. They come prepared and already excited, and when the time comes to start working, they often have the most structure, and the clearest understanding of what needs to happen. The process of discussing your idea with them will give you a better idea of what excites people about it and make your pitch better.

But you don’t have to arrive with a team at all, and if you do, but after hearing the other pitches decide that you’d like to work on something else, then that’s fine too.

8. Don’t make it exploitative

NHS Hack Day will be attended by volunteers in their free time, just like you. It will be a great space for creative collaboration, idea generation, skill sharing, and building the health tech community.

If you want to work on something that has existed as a project before NHS Hack Day then of course that’s fine, but don’t treat other attendees like contractors.

If you have a firm idea in mind and know how you want to approach your project, then you should probably consider paying for some help rather than pitching at a hackathon.

Any pre-existing projects that you pitch should be strictly non-commercial, and any of our attendees who works on it with you should be offered the opportunity to continue their involvement if they wish.

If you’re unsure or would like to chat about this, please do get in touch with the organising team and we can help you sense-check how appropriate your idea is for a hackathon attended by volunteers.

9. You don’t need a mobile app

Apps are great. But you almost certainly don’t need one. Pitching “an iPhone app for $thing” is a special case of “describe a problem rather than a solution” from above.

The percentage of problems to which the best answer is a native mobile device app is so close to zero as to be indistinguishable. Starting with the problem a real user has will make your project better.

Here is an article written by Government Digital Services that explains why you probably don’t need a mobile app: https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2013/03/12/were-not-appy-not-appy-at-all/

10. Avoid tech/entrepreneur Buzzword Bingo

You will know what we mean here: innovate, ideate, disrupt, deliverables, utilise, explore the space, blockchain, AI, $insert_javascript_framework_du_jour_here, and so on.

Of course all of these phrases are legitimate ways of expressing things sometimes, and they all once conveyed new and meaningful concepts. But they are so overused now that hearing too many of them can be a complete turnoff for people listening to your pitch, because they can correlate with woolly thinking and telling-not-showing. (Obviously we don’t mean that the actual concepts or technologies are overused; just don’t offer “well…waves hands furiously…blockchain” as an answer to security concerns).

The same goes for pitching things like “tripadvisor for health tech apps”, “facebook for nurses”, “tinder for hospital patients” and so on. Try and be a bit more creative.

And lastly, as always, if you have any questions about anything in this post (or indeed about anything else), do get in touch with our team of volunteers on the event Slack, on Twitter, or at hello@nhshackday.com and we’ll be happy to help.

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