The Unique Joys & Challenges of Private Trivia Parties game show parties

I started TrivWorks as a side hustle back in 2009 specifically with corporate event entertainment and company team building activities in mind. It was the depths of the global financial crisis, and I wanted to create a compelling new way for cash-strapped companies to reward hard-working staff who were suddenly taking on the work of two people (or more), for no additional compensation. It seemed like a no-brainer to me: the pub quiz nights I was running back then were insanely fun, because people love pop culture trivia. Why not bring it out of the bars and into the office?

You know who my first client was? A guy wanting to celebrate his birthday.

How about my second client? You guessed it – another birthday. Same with the third; my fourth gig was a baby shower, followed by yet another birthday. I didn’t get my first corporate client until months after officially hanging out my shingle. It’s funny how life works out sometimes; here I was, trying to help out employees and their managers seeking fun and unique team building event ideas, and it seems like all people wanted to do was trivia game shows for private parties (in the beginning, anyway).

I had plenty of experience producing corporate entertainment and group bonding activities prior to starting TrivWorks. For the previous two years, I had been freelancing as a writer, producer and guide with a major scavenger hunt company (it still blows my mind that such companies exist, by the way – talk about a fun way to earn a living!). I was traveling all over the country, doing events large and small with clients in all industries, for small nonprofit organizations right up to the largest Fortune 500 brands on the planet.

As a result, I knew how to conduct customization calls, run production meetings, and incorporate tailored, company-specific details and fun facts into interactive games and events. I also had several years of client service experience, forged in the flaming-hot trenches of Manhattan’s grueling PR industry. By that point I had also been working at the 92nd Street Y for a few years, and knew how to plan, program and flawlessly execute events on a professional level. In short, I was ready to tackle my next challenge of producing corporate trivia events and game shows.

However, despite this I didn’t have a whole lot of private party experience. It was one of those things I had to learn on the job, accepting a degree of trial and error along the way. Being a game show host for private trivia parties is incredibly similar to, and yet totally different from, its corporate counterpart. How? I’ve compiled a few ways below, to help clarify. Read on!

A Party is a Party

First off, the mechanics of planning a trivia party for a birthday, anniversary, shower, retirement, bar mitzvah or what have you are more or less the same as a company function. There’s still a venue to find and secure, invitations to send, entertainment to book, decorations to put up, people to feed, and fires to put out. Once you’ve planned one event, you’ve pretty much got the rudiments down for any; not to oversimplify it, but a party is a party.

Now, of course there are different types and “levels” of parties – take this one for example, which I attended a couple of years ago as a guest. Wow! We’re talking over the top, high-end everything, huge audience, lots of moving pieces. Now, compare that with, say, one of those birthday parties I mentioned earlier, when I was first starting out in this game: back area of a pub on a slow Saturday afternoon, cash bar, small group. I can do trivia for both types of events, because essentially they’re both aiming to do the same thing, which is engage and entertain an audience, in a fun and unique way.

Less Help with Planning & Setup

When I plan corporate game shows and company trivia parties, the client is almost invariably part of a committee which is putting the program on collectively, as a group. Whether an informal collection of people with other primary roles and responsibilities within the organization, or professional in-house/outsourced event planners, it’s typically not just one person who is pulling the weight. There are usually at least one or two other people copied on all of the Emails, folks who can pitch in and help with everything from handling the paperwork and participating in the customization call, to liaising with the venue, securing prizes and even setting up the space.

Well, guess what – when it’s a private party, it’s usually just ONE person who is running EVERYTHING – including booking the trivia game show vendor.

Roughly 90% of the time, the person who reaches out to me with the initial inquiry for a private event is the final decision maker. He or she is also typically the event planner, host, and all-around person in charge of the festivities. Occasionally, I’ll get a call from someone who says something like, “Well, I’ll need to run this past my wife first,” or “My sisters and I thought this would be a fun idea” – but most of the time, the person who calls me up is also responsible for EVERYTHING.

That’s a lot of pressure!

Knowing this, I try to be as minimally invasive as possible, make as few asks as possible and try to be extra pro-active and resourceful, even more so than I usually am with corporate clients. I know how much stress the planner is under, especially as we get closer to the date. That said, I am also completely at their disposal, and want them to know that they can count on me to pick up the phone when they call, and to respond to their Emails promptly. It’s safe to say with private clients, I go out of my way to be flexible and accommodating in slightly more ways than usual. It’s the least I can do to help keep things as calm and relaxed as I can.

A More Relaxed Atmosphere

Okay, now here’s a big difference between corporate and private trivia party entertainment. At the office trivia party, there’s going to be colleagues; at client entertainment activities, there’s going to be colleagues and clients. You know who’s at the private fete?

Family and friends!

Taking the audience into account is a huge part of how I tailor the experience, as well as to how the event is run. At work, people tend to be on their best behavior. This isn’t always the case, of course – I’ve had more than my share of raucous, rambunctious groups (I even wrote a few tips here on how to handle them). But by and large, people are still respectful of the fact that it’s a professional environment, there are workplace and cultural norms to adhere to, and certain rules – both written and unwritten – which are expected to be followed.

Not so at private parties. It’s a free-for-all!

Don’t let me mislead you here, I don’t mean to say that people go absolutely nuts. But it IS definitely a more relaxed environment being in the company of friends and relatives, versus the boss and clients. There are pluses and minuses here: on the plus side, we can let loose a little bit. There’s usually not such a strict timeline, we can be flexible on format, people seem less invested in the outcome as much as they are in just having a great time.

On the downside, private trivia events can be a bit tough to plan. Corporate events are usually run on a pretty tight ship: guests arrive at this time, are seated by this time, emcee hits the stage at this time, event wraps at this time, etc. With the private parties, because things are so loose you never know quite what’s going to happen until you show up. Maybe we’ll start on time, maybe we won’t; maybe we’ll do all five of the custom-written trivia rounds we’ve prepped, and…maybe we won’t.

After all, this is a party! People want to socialize, to talk and relax. Unless it’s been made EXPRESSLY clear from the outset that this will be a trivia party, where people should expect to be playing trivia for a set amount of time, then in my experience what people want to do is play a little trivia, and then…end it.

The Toughest Part to Deal With

These days, I don’t do nearly as many private parties as I used to back in the beginning, primarily because of the expenses involved. It costs a lot of money to run trivia parties at the level I now do, between the professional emcees and customization necessary to deliver a fully-tailored experience (which is why I developed a do-it-yourself game show party as an alternative). It’s also challenging for the reasons I mentioned above, primarily in that people want to socialize at parties – if uncle Bob is on town from across the country for this, people are going to want to talk to him, not necessarily play trivia with him for two hours.

I’ll also admit that of the 1,000+ trivia events I’ve produced with TrivWorks over the past nine years, the handful of ones which have proven to be the most challenging have all been private events. There’s a sense among certain clients that, because he/she is paying out of their own pocket versus a corporate expense account, they are entitled to get their money’s worth in terms of my time during the planning stage, as well as my staff onsite; that in a sense they “own” me.

On the one hand, I absolutely get where they’re coming from. If I’m paying a sizeable fee for what’s billed as a premium service, then I for sure expect the vendor be highly responsive/attentive, cater to my needs, and have everything go PERFECTLY. However, there’s a reasonable amount of service, and then…an unreasonable amount. It’s been few and far between (thank goodness), however I have indeed had my share of high-maintenance private party clients, who seem to think they’re my ONLY client. The gigs have always gone successfully, and the clients have all been extremely happy afterwards – but it’s not always easy.

In Conclusion

There are a few quirks about private gigs which make them a little bit different to plan and execute. They can be enormously fun and enjoyable, both for the guests and emcee alike; the fact that it’s so unique and different from what’s normally happening at a party, something most people there have never seen or experienced before, means it will be not just a total blast, but extremely memorable as well.

As I stated above, a party is a party – and from my perspective, a gig is a gig. If I can use my unique skills and services to bring joy to a private celebration just like I can to a corporate function, then what’s not to love?

For another article on game shows for private parties, go to

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