Taking the Terror Out of Running Huge Trivia Events

When I first started hosting pub quiz nights 5 years ago, my approach was completely low-tech. With a small crowd of fewer than 25 people, I found that all I needed was a stack of trivia questions, a pen and paper to jot down scores, and piles of answer sheets for the participants. When my sleepy quiz suddenly exploded into the biggest bar trivia night in Manhattan, I upgraded to a laptop to keep score – a tool which I use to this day when running private events or large pub quiz nights of up to 100 people or so, and which allows me to handle the entire event by myself.

However, what happens when suddenly the event calls for entertaining 250 people? That’s exactly what we faced last week, at our special trivia fund raiser in support of VH1 Save The Music Foundation. With a massive audience and the same 2-hour time limit as our other live trivia parties, how could we possibly deliver a trivia event which would run smoothly and efficiently?

The first thing I had to address was manpower. Much as I love running events on my own, with a trivia night of this scale, it would be simply impossible for me to grade and input all of the team names in a timely manner. I arranged for more than enough extra hands to assist, and divided them into two teams: graders, and runners. The graders were seated at a long table near the stage, with one being designated the laptop operator/data entry guy. Runners were deployed at the end of each round, and given the task of collecting answer sheets. A 1-minute hand-in rule was also implemented, which helped keep things moving along swiftly.

Next item: seating. With so many people, what is the optimal way to configure chairs and tables? The solution here came from the clever mind of the venue’s general manager, who understood instinctively the unique challenges of configuring a large trivia event- namely, people need to sit, in groups, and can’t block the aisles or exits. The answer came in the form of long rows facing each other, a-la speed dating; the result was natural order, structure, and ample space for people to get up and hand answer sheets, or visit the bar. Brilliant!

Finally, there was the issue of event flow. Even with an army of graders and runners, it still takes time to grade literally dozens of answer sheets, and we don’t want to interrupt the natural rhythm of the event by having to call extended breaks in between rounds. The solution? Mid-round “mini-games,” whereby we called individuals up by drawing raffle tickets, and letting them answer 1-on-1 trivia questions for prizes. Not only did this add a new dimension of trivia to the event, but it allowed our graders the time they needed to do their job without the crowd growing restless.

I’ve run many large trivia events, but this one in particular required extra love and attention, and I was very pleased with how it turned out. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions as to how we could have made this or other mega-trivia events run event more efficiently? I’d love to hear! Please leave your recommendations below.

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