Hackathons are a great opportunity to get real-time insights into how developers interact with your API. Due to the unique length and format of a hackathon, you can quickly and easily get feedback on all aspects of your product from the ease of your sign-up process to the quality of your documentation. Hackathons are also great for building brand awareness, getting new sign-ups, and generating interesting developer use cases that you can use in content pieces after the event.
A good API demo can set you on the path to achieving all of the above and more. It is a critical first touch point with developers and the most important factor in how much value you’re able to unlock from the event.
Below are some tips to help you host a great API demo, so you can maximize the value of the next hackathon you attend.
3 Critical Components of Every Great API Demo
The most important components of an API demo are interactivity, novelty, and accessibility. A great API demo will get developers excited about the technology without scaring them off. By the end of your demo, they should be able to envision themselves using your API in the short amount of time available to them.
The most effective presentations I’ve seen always have an interactive element meaning that the hackathon attendees can do something while you are demonstrating your product. A well-executed interactive element can turn your API demo from another boring sponsor talk into a memorable touchpoint hackers remember long after the hackathon.
The five-minute Twilio API demo is one of the most well-known examples of this style of demo. During this API demo, the presenter live codes an application that sends people in the audience text messages in real time. The app will even give one audience member a phone call. It’s simple (accessible), interactive, and really novel – all of the core components of a great API demo.
Hackathons compared to other types of conferences have a unique participatory and creative format. Take advantage of that opportunity to engage with developers in a totally new way! If you have an idea for an interactive concept, make sure to test it in front of a small group of people first. Use your friends or colleagues, live stream, or a small meetup to see if the interactive element of your demo has the desired effect on your audience.
To measure whether your demo was effective, look at the audience and see if they are paying attention. Are they looking at their phones? Do they look bored? What percent of the audience interacted with your demo when you asked them to perform an action?
Keep it Short & Ask to Go Last
Your API demo should be 3-5 minutes max. This is not a workshop, it’s a quick snippet. Hackathon attendees are not at the event for you specifically, so it’s up to you to capture their attention within the first 30 seconds.
If I get the opportunity to influence when I give my demo, I prefer to go last. In all likelihood, the hackathon attendees will have just sat through half an hour of potentially boring talks. If your demo is truly exciting and interesting, going last will help make your demo memorable and stand out as people move on to the project brainstorming phase of the event.
Don’t Skip the Event Prep
Experienced Developer Evangelists are prepared for every eventuality. Always come prepared with every dongle and adapter you could possibly need as well as offline versions of your demo. Be prepared for different edge cases and plan for how you might adapt to them because your best-case scenario might not happen especially at a hackathon. Making time to do a retro after every demo can help you better prepare for the next one and identify areas that didn’t go as planned. For example, make a note to bring a WiFi hotspot to the next event if you had issues using the WiFi previously.
Below are helpful questions to ask the organizers before every event to help you prepare in advance:
- What is the WiFi or internet setup?
- How can you use the WiFi and are there any firewall restrictions on it?
- How will you connect to the projector? How and when will you present? Will you use your own laptop or another device?
- How long do you have? Do you have a microphone?
- Is there time for an AV check?
I highly recommend asking the event organizers for an AV check before going onto the stage. Make sure you also check your laptop before presenting. You don’t want your live demo to be the first time you are opening your laptop at an event as you will inevitably have lots of unrelated windows and notifications still on the screen. There’s a level of professionalism and preparedness that you want to come across when you’re on stage and having an unexpected AV issue can really throw you off your game.
Make Your Minutes Matter
Think of your API demo as entertainment. You need to get up there and build energy so that people pay attention to you. Your demeanor and crowd work can help make a big difference in engagement. Practice will help you with delivery and help you work out your talking points and crowd engagement mechanisms that go beyond the purely technical aspects. Even though demos are short, it’s time you should not discount or throw away.
Converting Excitement into Action
If you’re at a hackathon, I always like to have my call to action be swag-related. For example, asking folks to stop by your booth to receive a branded t-shirt or giving them a landing page to enter a swag raffle.
It’s unlikely people are going to sign up for your API during or even directly after your demo but they might give you their email or phone number for you to send more information, especially if it’s in exchange for swag. If you are directing people to your booth, make sure you tell them where it is located. Oftentimes, speakers leave that critical information out!
How to Measure Success
The best demos will drive engagement with your API throughout the event. Hackathon attendees will be coming to your booth, finding you for feedback, and ultimately using your API in their projects.
A promo code or referral link in your demo can help you track progress on conversions throughout the event even when people don’t come to find you for one on one help. If your promo code usage is low that’s an early signal that the hackathon attendees are either not excited about your API or confused about how to use it. To identify the problem, go and chat with attendees to receive real-time feedback.
If you’re at a hackathon to promote an API, giving a great demo is one of the most valuable ways to start off your event on the right foot. A great demo can turn even the most complex or esoteric products into something developers are excited to learn more about and use in their projects. A great API demo can also be re-used at other types of events and the interactive elements can be repurposed for other use cases.
If you’re interested in getting your API in front of more hackers, Major League Hacking can partner with you to get your platform in front of thousands of early career technologists. We help our customers achieve large-scale developer adoption with minimal time investment from your team. If you’re interested in learning more, visit our website.