The Right & Wrong Ways to Incorporate a Trivia Contest into Private Parties

Trivia.Private.Party.Events.jpgTrivia Private Party Events

I’ve been hosting and producing team trivia events for private groups for a long time – over ten years, to be exact. When I founded TrivWorks as a side business in 2009, the intention was to service primarily corporate audiences who wanted to say “thank you” to underpaid employees, who were suddenly working doubly hard as a result of the global financial crisis. But some of my first clients back then were also individuals, who simply wanted to have a fun trivia night with friends, or to celebrate a milestone such as a birthday or anniversary (I even got to do a baby shower, which was super fun!).

But I’m going to be honest with you, though – I never really spent a lot of time during those early days marketing myself as a trivia company for private parties. There are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, what I do isn’t cheap; as the nation’s premier vendor for corporate trivia events, our rates are competitive with other professional team building and event entertainment offerings. There are certainly a lot of other guys out there willing to host a private event for cheap, but as with most things, you get what you pay for. I have the specialized experience, credibility, and know-how to put these unique events together in a professional way, and that requires a lot of time on my part. My time is valuable, and so is that of the emcees and event staff whom I work with.

But there’s another reason why I historically haven’t done a ton of private party gigs, one which goes beyond money. And that is, do guests at a private party REALLY want to commit an hour, 90 minutes, or more to team trivia? Or do they want to be using that party time to socialize, relax, hang out with the guest or guests of honor, and basically – well, PARTY? I’ve produced over 1,000 of these gigs, and I have to say that the biggest problems I’ve encountered along the way are with private parties – specifically, how to engage the audience, and keep them engaged?

My hit list (or fail list, more appropriately) over the years runs the gamut. I’ve showed up to host a young 20-something birthday trivia party in a bar, where the drunken, belligerent crowd was so loud they couldn’t hear the trivia questions, even with a microphone. I’ve emceed a 70th birthday party at a restaurant, where I lost the crowd after one round because nobody wanted to play, they just wanted to talk and eat. All of this was quite dispiriting for me, and got me to thinking that maybe this thing I do just doesn’t lend itself that well to this kind of party.

Guess what? I was wrong.

As the years went on and I became more experienced at the nuances of this incredibly specialized area of the event entertainment industry, I learned that there is indeed a place for private trivia parties. Such a fete just needs to be approached differently than a stand-alone corporate trivia event. Here are the big findings I’ve picked up along the way, which helped me change my tune – and made these events not just possible, but incredibly fun as well!

Set The Audience Expectation from the Beginning

To make this work, you can’t simply throw trivia into the party mix haphazardly (i.e. “Come to our party, there will be food, booze, laughs, trivia and more!”). No, to be successful the guests HAVE to know what they’re walking into well in advance: a structured trivia contest. You can let them know it’ll be held before, during or after the meal is served, but be as clear as day that this IS something that is happening, that it’s been specially arranged, and it will be held from this time to that time. Not only does this help manage the expectations of the guests (and you, the organizer), but it will be something that they’ll actually look forward to, rather than not want to participate in. It’s a very important step, which cannot be overlooked.

Hold It After the Meal

I know I said above that you can do it before, during or after food is served, but if you’ve ever planned an event before (and odds are if you’re reading this blog, you have), then you know that once the food comes out, everything comes to a screeching halt. I don’t care if you’ve got the greatest entertainment going, the hottest band, the funniest speech – once people know that food’s on, that’s all they care about.

Lead Off With the Customized Material

It’s one thing if this is just a seasonal get-together, such as a holiday party or similar function. But odds are, there is a person or persons being honored, and we want him/her/them to feel front and center. While you can’t ask ONLY trivia questions about the guest(s) of honor, it’s natural to expect that there will be SOME trivia questions about them. I recommend starting off with those – it grabs peoples’ attention from the get-go, and sets the right tone ((also, if you have to wrap things up early because you’re losing their attention, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing any fun personalized questions that are buried somewhere in the later rounds).

Keep it on the Short Side

Even if the trivia is the “main event,” I recommend the contest last somewhere between 30-60 minutes, maybe a little bit longer if they’re really into it. The reason, again, is that this isn’t some corporate thing, it’s a PARTY – people are among family and friends. They want to mingle, to chat and socialize, etc. You don’t want folks bailing out early; rather, you want them hungry for more, so that they’ll have something fun to talk about for the rest of the time they’re together (and beyond!).

Be Flexible

You can prepare for a full-blown event, but you never know who’s going to be in the room as far as personalities, interest, or attention level (again, this isn’t a corporate event, and participation isn’t mandatory). Just know ahead of time that you may need to start late, or wrap things up sooner than expected. You might also need to speed things along if they’re getting impatient with even modest breaks in between rounds or individual questions – or even slow things down, if they think you’re moving TOO quickly. Regardless, just be aware going in that it will likely NOT run exactly as planned, and know that this is perfectly okay – so long as the guests have a great time, that’s all that matters, don’t you agree?

Think this all sounds too good to be true? This past weekend, we produced a 70th birthday trivia party, and we employed each of the above lessons learned from previous events. The result was nothing short of a complete success – during my call with the emcee immediately afterwards, he was almost giddy telling me how much fun the group and the event was, and that’s saying a lot!

To learn more about throwing a private trivia party, follow this link:


  1. Andi Melchione on April 17, 2024 at 3:02 pm

    Hi my name is Andi from the Redhorse by David Burke in Bernardsville, nj. We are looking to have a trivia night event held in our restaurant. Need some pricing.

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