The Difference a Professional Trivia Emcee Makes

Professional.trivia.event.emcee.jpgProfessional trivia event emcee

This post is going to be comprised of two quick stories: the first one happened years ago, the second one just a few months ago.

I once found myself in a situation where I had two clients requesting the exact same night for a company trivia party in NYC. It was exceedingly rare, since both clients were not only requesting the same exact Monday night several months away, but neither had any flexibility to change the date. This was before I had expanded TrivWorks to include an entire roster of professional emcees to host trivia events, and it was basically up to me to personally host all of the gigs I booked. On the off chance like this one where it’d be physically impossible for me to be in two places at once, I’d reach out to a tiny handful of other folks I knew whom I felt could do a decent job. This time around, I was in luck: I had just started working with a new emcee whom I really liked, and when I offered him one of the aforementioned gigs, he gave me an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Satisfied that I would be able to staff two events simultaneously – me hosting one, him hosting the other – I went ahead and booked them both.

The gigs were scheduled for a Monday. The Friday before, I get a text message from my host. “Sorry,” he says, “Something’s come up – I just found out I may have an audition for a minor movie role, and it’ll be on Monday. You should probably find someone else to host.”

I frantically called him up, and he told me rather flatly that he wasn’t going to know until the end of the day if he would have a conflict or not, but that I should probably find someone else to host as a backup. I hung up, understandably frustrated, and thought to myself, “Who else can I even reach out to? And on such short notice, no less??” Luckily, he got back to me not too long afterwards saying he didn’t get the callback after all, and could host the gig as originally planned. He did – but I had learned my lesson by that point, and never hired him again.

Now, let’s fast forward several years to 2016. As the year was drawing to close, I finalized a team trivia event for a corporate group in Las Vegas. The event was to be quite special indeed: a conference entertainment activity, for an audience of 1,400 employees. Because of the size and importance of the event, I knew that it would be critical to have someone with tremendous professional emcee experience as the host. I could have done it myself, however for this gig I wanted to take on the “producer” role, running the ground operation: stage managing the event itself, overseeing the answer sheet distribution, collection & grading, liaising with the client and venue as the night progressed, and just ensuring everything runs perfectly.

And so, I reached out to one of the many professional event emcees whom I now collaborate with, one who has decades of experience in front of large-scale corporate audiences. He is a phenomenal and engaging emcee, as comfortable in front of huge crowds as he is one-on-one. He was the perfect guy for this, and I was excited to have him be a part of the gig – as was he!

That is, until the unexpected happened…

About a month before the gig, I got an urgent Email requesting a call, and instinctively knew something was up. Sure enough, the emcee had a professional conflict, and it was a big one: a Hollywood feature movie shoot that he had surprisingly landed a role in, scheduled to film the day of our gig, and he simply couldn’t get out of it. I was bummed, feeling that I had been down this road once before – but I quickly realized, something about this time was different…

I could tell by his tone that he felt genuinely awful about having to tell me what he was telling me. In a pained voice, he expressed how he had never had to back out of a gig like this in over 20 years of being in the industry; that if it weren’t for something that could literally be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for his career, he would be at my event in Vegas come hell or high water. He then immediately sent me the names of a half a dozen other qualified professional emcees he could recommend to take his place, whom he offered to contact personally in order to assess their interest & availability. He also let me know in no uncertain terms how much he valued his business relationship with me, and wanted to set things right – even offering to personally coach the replacement emcee on the intricacies of a TrivWorks event, as well as speak directly with my client in order to assuage any potential apprehension about the new host.

We ultimately did find a replacement, one of the people that was recommended, and he was simply phenomenal (follow this link to read more about him and the event in Las Vegas). But throughout the process, including immediately after the gig was over, my original host was constantly checking in, making sure everything was okay and that the event went well.

Quite a difference from my previous experience, no?

There’s a reason why I’ve decided to share these two stories with you. As an event planner, you’re likely not interested in the inner workings and dramas of a NYC trivia company for corporate events. However, I think there is a very important message which these two stories tell, illustrating the value that professionalism in this business has directly on clients and event participants such as you.

You see, a professional is a professional through and through: not just when he or she is onstage performing, but at every point in the process, from planning and preparation, to administration, to how he/she deals with those around him, to how they conduct themselves. From a personal standpoint, I wasn’t always as professional as I could have been in the workplace, especially when I was in my twenties. But I learned.

What did I learn? I learned that how somebody conducts themselves “offstage” can be a huge indicator of how they will carry themselves when it’s time to get down to business. Just like businessmen like to play golf to see who cheats, and daters watch how their companion treats the server while at a restaurant – all these things are clues, providing a window into the type of person you’re dealing with is. In my case, I would show up to work sloppily; dressed inappropriately, often late, my desk was a mess. What type of conclusions could somebody logically draw from these clues about my work ethic, judgment, and level of confidence they could place in me to get the job done?

Now, let’s look at the two trivia hosts I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Both were in similar situations – they had been booked to work for me – but suddenly found themselves in a tough spot. The first one chose to put it all on me: a perfunctory, last-minute text message, no solution, no empathy. Now, look at the second one. He owned it right from the start, let me know how truly pained he was to have to back out, and came prepared with a range of alternative solutions and a willingness to do whatever it would take to set things right. He deeply wanted to preserve not only the event and my reputation with my client, but also our business relationship – and his reputation – as well.

Both hosts may be talented, but only one displayed any real professionalism. All things being equal, which of these hosts do you think I would trust more to emcee a team trivia experience on behalf of me and my brand, in front of my clients? And to you, the planner, I ask: which of these hosts would you want me to book to emcee YOUR event?

For another related article on professional trivia event hosts in New York City and elsewhere, visit

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