Name It, Frame It, Prove It, Win It: Notes from the Judging Battleground

Judging the merits of an idea can be as difficult as creating the concept in the first place. Help the judges notice you. Use narrative to frame your ideas in ways that are bold and unique.

Name It, Frame It, Prove It, Win It: Notes from the Judging Battleground

You’ve got an A-#1 idea, but you’re entry number is something approaching infinity. How do you shout your message without, well, shouting your message? Here’s my best advice as a judge for the Co.Labs and Target Retail Accelerator—for which submissions end April 30. Ready? Give the judges a story that assures they’ll understand your idea without even trying. Here’s how.


Judges Create Narratives, So Should You

I’ve noticed that judges and audiences are more attentive to presentations when there’s a story to listen to. This is true regardless of the merits of the concept—it’s just easy to relate to a story. It’s intuitively obvious, but not every technical presentation has a backstory or context on which to anchor an idea. Nonetheless, with a story you can go beyond whiz-bang features and into the tangible world where people can hold and use this thing you’ve invented.

Clear Confusion Early: Create Meaningful Titles

When I judge an entry, I’m creating a narrative about the idea whether or not it’s explicitly done for me. If you are to have any chance of winning, your entry must convey enough information so that my understanding–and retelling–of your idea is close enough to yours that I ‘get it.’ That starts with a title that both describes what is important and lets the reader understand what it is not.

You’re the Straight Man: Set the Judge Up To Do Your Work For You

Ask any comedian, concise story telling is hard. Luckily, you don’t need to tell the whole story. You just need to tell enough of it so that the judge can tell the rest for you. You do this by framing your idea with enough background that it almost finishes itself. In comedic terms, you’re the straight man, setting up your idea in such a way that your solution is obviously the answer.

Once you’ve framed your idea, a light should turn on in the judge’s mind–the better the entry, the sooner the spark and the brighter it will shine. Hint: your idea must shine more brightly than everything else crowding the judges’s mind.

To tell the story of a new idea, you have to explain where it fits into the current ecosystem and how it relieves some source of user pain. Winning entries will setup conditions for people to talk about the entry. (Bad entries do this too, but for opposite reasons.)

Prove that It’s For Real


Once we’ve bought your story, help us make sure that you’re actually going to be able to do what you say. Give us some background on things you’ve done in the past, or on a demo that you’ve already created. Showing beats telling any day.

Ask to Win

Sometimes it’s hard to convey all your great ideas concisely. But your summary can help judges by underscoring the particular parts you think are exceptional. In short, underscore why you think you should win.

Winning Starts With Entering

A corollary to this is–you can’t win unless you enter. Don’t let this article or any one else stand in your way of trying to make things better. Start today.

[Image: Flickr user Yago Veith]

About the author

Matt Mankins is the former CTO at Fast Company and founder at