The day of the event
The specifics will differ a lot based on your venue and how you’re organizing the event, but the following is a good set of “rules of thumb” for how to run different phases of the event.
Setup and logistics
Show up early or come the night before and set up your venue. Specifics of what you’ll need will depend on your venue, but here are some guidelines:
- Make sure you’ve got lots of power outlets. Beg, borrow, or buy power strips and make sure every table has access to as many power outlets as it has chairs.
- Print out the following signs and post them conspicuously:
- Directions: If it’s not immediately obvious how to get into the rooms for the event, post a sign with directions and a contact number if there are problems.
- Wifi: Details on how to get on the wireless network. Include the network name along with any temporary username and password or registration details needed.
- Timeline: The event schedule needs to be easy to find. It’s critical to keep everybody on task.
- Restrooms: Directions to bathrooms, and bathroom codes if they’re relevant
- Make sure the projector works and will connect with your laptop. You’ll likely need adaptors (dongles) for Apple laptops to connect to the projectors.
- Set up any audio or PA equipment that you need.
- Provide name tags and markers. It helps if organizers and volunteers have name tags that distinguish them from attendees, so they’re more easily identifiable.
The Event Kickoff
The kickoff sets the tone for the whole event. There’s no need to be overly formal, but a structure like the following works pretty well:
- Introduce yourself and the other event organizers.
- Review the schedule, goals, and rules for the event.
- If you have government or community representatives there who have come with problems they need help solving, give them a chance to present their case.
- (Optional) Give everyone a chance to introduce themselves. One way to keep this from going out of control is to go around the room and have everyone say three things:
- Their name: “Chris Metcalf”
- The organization they’re there representing, if they are affiliated with one: “Socrata”
- Three words that summarize their interests or goals: “Build Cool Stuff” or “Solve World Hunger”
Pitches and team formation
Some more enterprising individuals may already have an idea what they want to build. This phase gives them a chance to pitch their idea and recruit to their cause. Ask people to line up if they want to pitch an idea, and give them thirty seconds to describe the following:
- The problem they want to solve it
- How they believe it can be solved
- A proposed team name
Use a timer to keep everybody honest. After their pitch, have them go stand by a table or pick a corner.
After pitches, give everybody a few minutes to self-select what teams they want to join and make introductions. If a team doesn’t reach critical mass, the individual who pitched the idea can be given the chance to “go it alone” or join another team.
Keep things moving
Once people start working, keep them focused:
- Have data owners or technical advisors roam and make sure people aren’t stuck or have questions.
- Keep everybody well hydrated and caffeinated.
- Don’t break for lunch. Announce that lunch is available, and either ask teams to go up one by one or pace themselves so that the line doesn’t get too long.
- Give teams a deadline to submit their team name for judging that gives you at least a half an hour to create and post the order teams will be demoing in.
- Have a hard stop when development should be completed, and make sure people know that it’s coming. Nothing provides motivation like a deadline.
Team demos and judging
Get your judges ready, call everybody back into the main room, and get ready for teams to show off their work.
- Each team should receive between three and five minutes to describe their problem, how they intended to solve it, and demo what they came up with. Make sure teams know that it’s a hard limit, and don’t be afraid to cut off teams that go long.
- It’s up to you whether or not to allow Q&A, which tends to consume a lot of time. For larger events, it’s often better to ask people to save questions for later, or only allow the judges to ask questions.
- Keep things moving. Part of the competition is being able to concisely describe what you did.
After the demos, move all the judges into another room and have them discuss each team and rank them. It’s okay to be a little subjective - it’s hard to judge based on scores alone.
Once the judges are done, gather everybody together again and announce your winners! It can also be great to have social time afterwards, but keep in mind some people will prefer to just go home.