Eventornado blog The Rise Of Online Hackathons: 6 Tips For Your Next Virtual Event

The Rise Of Online Hackathons:
6 Tips For Your Next Virtual Event

Written by

Sabreen Swan

Content Strategist/Writer at Eventornado.

Innovation doesn’t need a huge space.

Since the first-ever hackathon in June 1999, these high-pressure, intense events have exploded in popularity—and now they’ve been taken online.

While at first glance, the idea of running a virtual hackathon may seem like a huge headache, taking the event to an online platform can actually give you a diverse and effective boost.

For one thing, there’s no location restraint, which means your online hackathon will attract participants from a greater diversity of profiles. The talent pool is pretty much limitless and as long as you’re running your event on a reliable and powerful platform, participants will be able to tune in from wherever they are and build more complex and well-developed ideas together.

But running a virtual hackathon isn’t without its challenges. From messy team formation to miscommunication about project expectations, an event with as many moving parts as a hackathon can quickly become one big chaotic mess.

With the right tools and predetermined systems in place, you can streamline all the time-consuming admin tasks, while increasing the quality of submissions at the same time. 

Here are six key tips to make your virtual hackathon a success:

6 key tips for running your next virtual hackathon

1. Host your online hackathon on a smart and adaptable platform 

Whether it’s physical or virtual, hackathons have a ton of moving parts so one of the first things to do is to choose a platform that will streamline as much of it as possible. Stages that can be automated should be automated; reviewers should have an easy way of scoring submissions, and communication should be fluid and easy.

To make your challenge a success, make sure your chosen platform offers at the very least, all of the following:

For participants:

  • Submit projects directly within the platform 
  • Form teams online with clear visibility
  • Edit their submission after they have submitted (but before the review begins)
  • Move through the multiple submission phases smoothly, working from one smart form

For organizers:

  • Access all participant’s details from within the platform
  • View all parts of submitted projects easily without having to download video, photo or PDF attachments
  • A simple way to initiate team formation
  • Assign submissions to reviewers on a secure, private platform so scores are hidden from other reviewers

2. Clearly define the goal of your virtual event 

Running a hackathon online is no easy task, but with the right tools and systems in place, the results can be wildly successful. 

One thing you can do right from the start is to be crystal clear on what you want to get out of your event. 

Define it clearly. Write it down. Pin it on your computer. Remind your colleagues about it. 

Do you want to walk away (virtually) from your hackathon with a marketable viable product? Are you using your virtual event to build a stronger community? Whatever your goals are, define it from the start and let it drive each part of the process.

3. Be extra responsive with participants

No matter how clearly you communicate, you’re bound to come up against a piece of misinformation or lack of clarity, especially if you’re handling hundreds and thousands of submissions. 

For Edgar, one of our founders here at Eventornado, this is where a lot of organizers slip up. “For some participants, a hackathon can be a life-changing event—they take it extremely seriously”, he says. 

And it’s not just for the winning teams—many participants build lifelong contacts and relationships from a hackathon and have the chance to showcase their skills. 

That experience can easily be ruined by slow communication or misunderstanding about project expectations. 

Edgar advises organizers to be extra responsive with participants and to be patient when answering a question for the second or third time. “Lead with empathy”, he advises. “No matter how clearly you share rules and expectations of the hackathon, there’ll always be someone who didn’t understand or missed an important point. It’s a high-stress environment—everyone’s worried”.

4. Over-communicate, every step of the way 

With no physical person there to make announcements, virtual hackathons can get real disorganized, real fast. 

Online events require more guidelines and clarifications than physical ones, and it’s an event organizer’s job to make sure everyone’s on the same page. 

Participants should never be confused about timing or project expectations, and there should always be open lines of communication. 

If teams are running across different time zones, for example, you’ll need a platform that works smartly to help them collaborate despite the time differences. If a participant needs clarification on project expectations, make sure there’s a function that allows them to contact organizers and other team members easily and quickly.

When you have something to update or announce, do it promptly and share it with participants as soon as possible. 

Don’t worry about being repetitive—it’s always better to over-communicate than to leave messages open for interpretation and potentially harm a participant’s chance of success.

5. Don’t micromanage or over-structure

Considering the communication barriers and challenges that come with running a virtual hackathon, you might be tempted to over-structure and over-analyze every detail.

Resist the urge. While an organizer is responsible for the planning, running, and general smooth going of the event, hackathons are fundamentally driven by participants.  

One way you can avoid the urge to micromanage is to steer clear of organizing too many compulsory virtual information sessions or progress updates. Give participants all the information they need around timeframes and expectations, but make sure you’re not telling teams how to use their time. 

Keep communication open and clear, but don’t force participants to tune in to every small update while they could be hacking.

It’s also a good idea to give participants a small nudge to try and submit their idea ahead of time. There’s so much that can delay submission—trouble with video upload or oversized attachments—and it can all jeopardize the quality of the final idea.

By giving participants plenty of time to form and solidify their ideas while working harmoniously within their teams, you can help ensure no one is scrambling at the last minute.

Edgar leaves us with one final piece of advice and that’s not to over-worry during those last moments. “Make sure you take the time to prepare and clear your schedule completely during the last few days of the hackathon”, he says. 

“Those last few days or hours are the peak phase of the event—carve out the time to deal with any last-minute hiccups and keep a cool head,” he says.

6. Streamline the team formation process

When it comes to virtual events, efficiency isn’t a nice to have, but a must. 

During in-person hackathons, participant matchmaking can be a huge challenge, for both participants and the organizers. 

Without guidance, the early stages of building an idea and forming teams can be extremely chaotic and dizzying, with lots of miscommunication and a lack of productivity. 

Hundreds of people from different backgrounds come together and need to form teams fast. They then have to figure out how to work together seamlessly and coherently—not an easy task.

When you host your hackathon online, you can minimize the disorientation and stress by streamlining the entire matchmaking process. Rather than spending a full day on team formation, you can let participants form their teams from within the platform, regardless of where they’re tuning in from. 

Running a successful virtual hackathon with Eventornado

While collecting and reviewing submissions is a relatively straightforward task (if you only need to deal with a handful of applications), the more submissions your event receives, the more chaotic your job gets. 

With a smart events management platform, you can take the chaos out of running your next hackathon and focus on the bigger picture. Everything you need lives in the same place (no need for any more clunky spreadsheets) and communication is made to be swift, clear, and fast.

Request a free demo of Eventornado and learn how you can eliminate the tedious admin tasks while giving your participants the best possible experience. It’s your next hackathon, without the hassle.


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