How to Run a Trivia Night: Problem Solving

Learning how to run a Trivia Night involves a pretty standard list of tasks and preparations. Once you’ve practiced setting up your equipment, reviewed your host script, and memorized the rules of the game, you’ll be ready to host your first show.

But there is one thing you may have overlooked when learning how to run a Trivia Night; preparing yourself for problems that might pop up during your show.

Trivia is a game and it should be a fun experience for the players and the host. But the competition – and alcohol – can lead to a tense situation every once in awhile.

Below are a few situations you might run into as a Trivia host, along with tips for handling them. Handling these issues in a fair and friendly manner will keep your show on track.

A team is using their phones

three people typing on their cell phone

Everyone seems to be glued to their smartphones these days and it can be a difficult habit to break during Trivia.

If you or another team sees a player using their phone before they’ve turned in their answer, start by making an announcement. For example, “Just a reminder to all of our teams, be sure to keep your phones away until you’ve turned in your answer. I’m sure no one is cheating but phones are against the rules so make sure to put them away.”

An announcement like this is a reminder to all of the teams and keeps you from having to call anyone out for a first offence. Usually the player just picked their phone up out of habit and this will put a stop to it.

If you still see a team on their phones after this, talk to them directly. You can say, “I’ve noticed your team still has phones out before your answer is turned in. If it’s an emergency, you can leave the table to take a call. It’s my job to keep the game fair for everyone, so if I see phones being used again, I’ll have to disqualify your team from prizes.” By speaking with the team directly, you’re calling out the problem and letting them know it’s their final warning.

This is a tough habit to break. Calling out phone usage (no pun intended) is an important part of learning how to run a Trivia Night.

A player argues that an answer is incorrect

This is another situation to be aware of when you’re mastering how to run a Trivia Night. Again, Trivia players are often drinking which can give them increased “confidence” about their answer.

First, make sure that the questions in your Trivia show are accurate before you host. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Questions from Last Call Trivia Flex have an accuracy rate of over 99.9%, so if you’re using the Flex service you can be confident that your answers are correct. If you’re writing your own questions, fact check them with at least 3 sources.

Regardless, you’ll eventually have a player insist that their answer is correct. There are several possible reasons for the confusion.

Most likely the player misheard the question. Confirm the exact question, because key words and phrases can make all the difference. From there, ask if the sound level of your mic is loud enough and adjust it if needed. Also, remind players that they can ask for a repeat of the question before turning in their answer. Be understanding and polite, but to stick to your answer.

Sometimes a player will argue for the sake of arguing. They might say things like, “I’ve worked in the XYZ industry for twenty years, of course my answer is right,” or “I was at that World Series game, so I definitely know this,” and so on. Again, alcohol can be a factor, especially if it’s a competitive game.

Empathize with them and let them know that you appreciate the feedback. If things escalate further, loop in the bar staff. Situations like this are rare but preparing yourself is all part of learning how to run a Trivia Night.

An answer really is incorrect

Using fact-checked questions from the Flex database, or cross-referencing your own questions, minimizes the chances of having incorrect answers in your show. But flukes can happen and if you host long enough you’ll eventually run into an outlier.

It’s possible that the answer to a question has recently changed and your answer is outdated. For example, if you were to ask “How many Super Bowls has Tom Brady won?” the correct answer would differ depending on whether your show was held on February 2st 2019, or February 4th, 2019.

Questions in the Flex database are regularly checked for changeability, so it is unlikely you’ll have this issue with a Flex question. If you’re writing your own questions, make sure you’re using the most up-to-date information. If your answer is outdated and a team catches the error, make make an announcement to all of the teams about the right answer.

On the other hand, let’s say your question is flat-out incorrect. For example, “What is the only US state flag that contains the color white?” There are dozens of state flags that contain the color white, so this question is simply wrong. Make an announcement to the teams as soon as you realize the mistake, and scrap the question for a new one. All Flex shows have three extra questions for use in case of emergency. If you’re writing your own shows add a few additional questions for yourself as well.

A team exceeds the maximum number of players

You should have a maximum team size for your Trivia Nights. This helps to even the playing field and prevent unbeatable “Frankenteams”. The maximum team size we suggest is 8 players.

If you have a team larger than 8 players, let them know about the maximum team size. When I’m hosting, I give the team the option to either split up into smaller teams or to play as a large team but forfeit any prizes. That way, if a large team is more interested in socializing than competing, they can still stick together. Just be sure to keep an eye on the teams if they do choose to split up to make sure they aren’t helping each other out.

Players might also trickle in after the show has started. So, even if a team started with 8 or less players, they might eventually become too large – a phenomenon known by veteran Trivia hosts as “team creep.” With that being said, remember to keep an eye on team sizes throughout the show.

Someone shouts out an answer

Whether it’s an excited player or an obnoxious bystander, occasionally someone yells an answer for the whole bar to hear.

If the answer was shouted loud enough that the other teams could hear, you should scrap the question and read a new one. Again, Flex shows all have three extra questions in case of things like this. This is also a reminder to give yourself extra questions if you’re writing your own show.

Swapping out the question is the most fair way to move forward, but teams will probably still complain. Especially if they knew the answer to the original question.

It’s also important to talk to the person who shouted out the answer. If it’s a player, remind them that it’s against the rules to shout out answers and that if it happens again their team will be disqualified.

It’s tougher if it’s a bystander shouting out answers, since they don’t have to worry about being disqualified. Let them know that there are prizes at stake, so even if they aren’t playing, they can’t yell out. You can also invite them to join in the game, so they can play the right way.

Your show has an “off” night

One thing you’ll learn as you’re mastering how to run a Trivia Night, is that no matter how fun your teams are, how great of a host you are, or how awesome your venue is, your show will have an off night every now and then. Sometimes it’s out of your control. But sometimes it is related to the show itself. Maybe the questions are too hard that week, or you’re just not connecting with teams like you usually do.

There are always steps you can take to liven up your show. Maybe your attendance is way down one week due to a snow storm or a holiday. Try to engage even more with the players and show them you appreciate that they came out. A few options to liven up your show are taking song requests from players and talking to teams about their answers.

man with beard and baseball cap speaking into a microphone

On the other hand, maybe you can feel that you’re starting to “lose” the crowd throughout the show. In most cases, teams check-out if the show is either too hard or too easy. Usually you can determine which is the case based on the team scores. When this happens, ask your teams for feedback about the show. Make sure they know that you’ll tweak your future shows based on their feedback.

This is also a time where you can use the extra questions. I choose extra questions for my show that are on the easier side. That way, if teams are missing every question and starting to check-out, I can swap out a few of them for easier ones to get people back in the game.

The most important takeaway if your show is having an off-night is to talk to your players. Customizing your show to fit your crowd is one of the most important parts of learning how to run a Trivia Night.

Hosting Trivia Nights is the best job in the world. You get to connect with an audience, make new friends, and earn money while having fun. Of course, along with the many perks, come the occasional snags. By using the tips above, you can resolve the issue quickly and keep your show on track; it’s all part of learning how to run a Trivia Night!