I get a lot of emails from people asking for advice on how to put together trivia nights. They are usually from people who are just in the planning stages of their first event, and they want to know how to get started. Now seems like a good time to write a quick guide to producing a high quality trivia event for those of you thinking about fund raising with trivia. Keep in mind, I’m talking about regular area trivia nights that are being organized to raise money for clubs or organizations. A lot of these rules of thumb go out the window for special events put together for things like covering medical expenses for a sick child where obviously every penny is important.
- Pick a date wisely. Trivia nights on Saturdays always get a bigger crowd, especially during football season when the high school teams will keep half the town busy with games. Try to schedule your event on a night when there’s nothing else going on around town – especially other trivia nights.
- Get a good venue. There are large banquet halls and conference rooms that are perfect for trivia nights. The average banquet hall around Springfield will accommodate 20-30 tables comfortably, and set you back $800-1000 for the night, unless you can work out something for free like a church hall or school gym.
- If you decide to write the trivia yourself, take the job seriously. Don’t just grab some questions from the internet and call it a day. You’re asking 300 people for $10 of their hard-earned money. Earn it. Plan to come up with 10 categories with 10 good questions.
- Unless you decide to do a theme night (sports, 80s, sci-fi, etc), try to vary your categories to include things like history, geography, movies, tv, music, sports, pop culture, literature, science, and wordplay. You’ll want to start with a list of ten general categories that you want to include in the event, and then narrow the focus where you think it’s appropriate. You could do very generic rounds, but it’s more interesting for players if you turn “history” into “First Ladies” or “movies” into “The Filmography of Will Smith”.
- Writing the perfect set of questions is an art. Too hard, and you frustrate everybody in the room. Too easy, and you kill the possibility of come-back drama in the late rounds. If it’s your first time writing questions, PLEASE don’t do it yourself. When you’re finished, give them to a sharp 8th grader and the smartest person you know. The 8th grader should be able to answer 20-30. Your genius friend should have no problem answering 60-70 alone. If your genius friend falls below 50, you have problems with your questions. If the 8th grader gets more than 50, you have problems with your questions. Of course, you could aways hire someone to write for you.
- $10 is the right amount to charge for an entry fee in Springfield unless you’re also including a meal in which case, $15-$20 is fine.
- Speaking of money, remember that you’re running a contest – not putting out a collection plate. As with any contest, there should be prizes…and the prize for winning 1st place should not be getting your entry fee back. Organizers are getting miserly with the prizes lately, and as good as that might seem for the fund raising part of trivia nights, in the long run it’s killing interest among those ‘circuit’ players who have kept these events busy for the past 15 years in Springfield. Your aunt Mabel may like sitting around a table snacking and chatting for 3 hours for no reason, but the serious trivia player is there to win. If your 2nd place prize is $75, the second best team at your event LOST money by participating. If you’re wondering why only 5 teams have signed up for your event, check your prizes.
- Equipment you’ll need on the night of the event:
- PA System – if your venue doesn’t supply a PA, you’ll want to have one that’s powerful enough to reach the tables in the back of the room.
- If you’re doing a slideshow, you’ll need a computer with presentation software, a projector and a screen (or wall). You’ll also want to plan your setup to include enough space for your projector.
- With more than ten teams, you’ll probably want a spreadsheet-based scoreboard. This means you’ll need another computer, spreadsheet software (Excel, Numbers), and another projector/screen setup. If you don’t have enough room for another projector, use a large dry-erase board.
- Keep in mind that technology is not always your friend. Multimedia is a great addition to trivia nights, but always remember Murphy’s law when you’re relying on computers, projectors, PA systems, etc. If you have categories that rely on anything with audio, video, or graphics – make sure you have backup categories in your pocket, just in case the technology gremlins are out to get you at game time. This is when it’s handy to remember the old-school Ursuline Academy trivia nights, where the questions were simply read from a sheet of paper. Bells and whistles are great, but good barebones trivia is better than flashy stuff that nobody can see when the projector bulb blows.
- Materials you’ll need on the night of the event:
- Answer sheet packets – 10 sheets with 10 lines and a place for the teams to write their table number. That’s a minimal design requirement. You’ll probably want to get a little fancier, but don’t make the sheets confusing with unnecessary design elements.
- Judges’ keys. I usually do the answer sheets first, then go back into the file and type in the answers. This makes a perfect key for the judges to use. Print as many of these as you need based on the number of judges you’ll have.
- Scrap paper.
- Some way of numbering the tables. Usually this is just a sheet of paper with a number printed on it, but table tents, balloons, and other knickknacks have been used too.
- On the night of the event, your venue will usually set the room up however you want and have it ready for you with plenty of time for your A/V setup, which should take about an hour. When the electronics are set, get the answer sheet packets, pens, and scratch paper on the tables. Then make sure you have your table number markers in place.
- You’ll need a few people, besides the host to pull off a good event. Plan on a judge for every 5-10 teams, someone to take the money at the door – or collect money from the tables if that’s how you want to do it, people to man concessions if you offer them, and various runners.
- Open the doors about an hour before the start time. Give a few start time announcements and with about five minutes to go, tell people to start finding their seats. If the line at the bar is long, give it a few minutes. Otherwise, do try to start on time.
- Watch the pace. You should be aiming for under 3 hours for your 10 rounds, so that players are heading home by 10pm. Any longer, and it starts to drag. Taking a couple of breaks into account, budget about 15-20 minutes for each round of trivia. If you’re wrapping up round 3 at 8:30, you need to pick up the tempo.
- Breaks. We usually do a couple of short bathroom breaks after rounds 3 and 7, and a longer halftime break after round 5. Your mileage may vary on this, so play it by ear.
- Don’t expect the winners to donate the prize money back. If $1000 isn’t enough profit for one night, find another kind of event to raise your money. Yes, it’s very possible to make double or triple that at a well-run trivia night, but if you go in with a baseline expectation of $1000 profit AFTER prizes, then you won’t feel like you have to shake down the winners. Besides, there are lots of ways to make extra cash at trivia nights.
- HAVE FUN.
I know a silly blog post can’t possibly cover everything that goes into running a decent trivia night. If you have any questions or want some advice, send me an email.
NOTE: I used to rant against Mulligans here, but it’s clear they are here to stay. I’ve softened on them a little over the years, but I still wish event organizers would come up with a better implementation.