Trivia Nights are huge in St. Louis. Just about every organization has one over the course of the year. It’s kind of hard to explain until you’ve experienced one, and there are many variations, but here’s how we do it at Timothy.
Depending on the size of tables available, teams are typically made up of eight or ten people. Tickets are generally sold by the table; however, some events sell individual tickets. This past year, we sold tickets for $15 each, or a table of eight for $100, so there was a slight discount for purchasing/reserving a full table. It’s much easier to organize if individuals organize their own table and pay for it all at once. However, I like to at least offer individual tickets, so people don’t feel excluded, especially in a church setting. You can sell physical tickets in advance, and redeem them at the door, but I’ve found that it’s not worth the trouble. We just take reservations in advance, and try to get people to pay in advance. That way we can plan for food, drinks and number of tables to set up. Plus, people are less likely to back out. As an incentive to pay early, I put pre-paid tables closest to the front of the room.
Some people have themes for the night. How this turns out depends on your advertising. Themes we’ve used in the past were sports, cowboys, Hollywood/Oscars and tropical. We decorate accordingly, and a lot of people dress up. I typically give bonus points for people who dress up, like half a point per dressed up person.
Doors usually open a half hour before the event so people can come in and get set up. A lot of people bring their own food and drinks. Most places provide a few basic snacks and soda or something along those lines. However, a lot of people go all out and bring their own spread for their team. Some trivia nights do provide full food and drink, and then charge accordingly.
Before you get started, each table should have blank answer sheets on their table. At the top should be a line for them to write in their table number, and each page should say Round One, Round Two, etc. You can include the category or leave it blank for more suspense. On the sheet for the first round, also have a blank for them to guess their final score. This is used as a tiebreaker. In the event of a tie, the team that guessed closest to their actual score wins. Pencils and scrap paper (for writing/passing answers) are also a good idea.
Most places sell “mulligans,” which are free answers. Teams can buy them before trivia starts, or within the first few rounds. Only one mulligan can be used per round though. Cost varies from one place to the next. We usually charge $20 for eight, $10 for four, $5 for two. I use mailing labels that say Mulligan and maybe have a graphic. Some people just buy cheap stickers of something theme-related.
We generally give out prizes to first and second place. Depending on how many teams, perhaps third place. A lot of places give out cash. That tends to defeat the point of the fundraiser, so try to give out donated prizes. A gag prize is often given out too, such as whoopie cushions or a bucket of Dum-Dum suckers. There are typically door prizes given out throughout the night. Distribute numbered tickets as the people come in, one per person. One year, we had a number of donated prizes that were too nice to just give out, so we also had a raffle. Raffles are more prominent at other trivia nights. Each of the youth leaders was responsible for securing two prizes, and a number of youth, parents and other members of the congregation donated prizes, too.
Most trivia nights have ten rounds of ten questions. I usually stick with eight rounds, because ten just drags out. It typically takes fifteen minutes per round. So including short breaks/intermission, eight rounds can go two and a half hours. Ten rounds gets to be over three hours and people get bored. Each of the rounds is a category unto itself. I’ve been to one trivia night where each round had one question from each of the ten categories, but it didn’t flow as well. To me, a good question is something where, even if you didn’t know the answer, when you hear it, you say, “Aw, I should’ve known that.” I aim for scores in the eighty percent range. Any easier than that, and you don’t get separation. Any harder than that, and people just get frustrated.
Most places have one person as MC. The first time I did a trivia night, I handed the questions off to youth, and it didn’t flow very well. They weren’t familiar with the questions, and didn’t know how to pace. The past few years, I’ve done it all myself; however, that doesn’t get the youth out in front of the people. So this year, I mixed it up by having four youth lead rounds, and I lead the other four rounds. Other youth act as judges by grading answer sheets, serve as greeters/registrars, run the refreshments, pick up answer sheets from tables, deliver door prizes, etc.
Some places just have the MC read the questions a couple times through, with no visual aspect. I’m big into PowerPoint, so I create a full slide show, incorporating photos, maps, sound effects, animation, etc. One year I did a category where I played TV theme songs and they had to name the show. I had another category where I distributed to each table ten baggies, holding eight each of ten different flavors of Jelly Bellies. That way each person on each team got to try one, then figure out what the flavor was. I called that year my “Multi-media, Mult-sensory Extravaganza”.
I usually have theme/background music playing as the crowd settles in. I also have a slide show of the youth from the previous year’s servant event or National Youth Gathering, since the proceeds go to the next year’s event. Once we’re ready to get started, I have a few intro slides explaining why we’re raising money, who’s going on the trip, etc. I then have a few slides explaining that Mulligans are for sale, what the rules are (no cell phones). I then have a slide with the name of the first category, then a slide for each question. I read through the question, pause, then read it again. I wait momentarily as the tables discuss, then as they quiet down, I move onto the next question. After going though all ten questions for the round, I quickly read through all ten again. Then I tell them to hold up their hand, and a “runner” will be by to pick up their answer sheets. If you don’t have enough volunteers to be runners, just have them bring their own sheets up to the judges’ table. For me, it’s another way to keep the youth involved. After a minute or two, I ask if all the sheets have been turned in, then maybe give a ten second countdown. There’s almost always one table that will be a repeat offender. Once the answer sheets are turned in is a good time to call out some door prize numbers. After that, I go through my answer slides, which are the same as the question slides, except the answer appears/enters upon clicking. Sometimes a map or picture also pops up to illustrate the answer. As we’re giving out door prizes and reading answers, the judges are scoring the answer sheets against an answer key I’ve given them.
The places that only have audible questions and not visual typically will have an overhead projector off to the side projecting scores up onto the wall. I have my judges fill in a table with round-by-round scores. I don’t usually bother posting scores in the early rounds. However, once we take a break, I enter the scores into an Excel spreadsheet, which I then project onto the screen as everyone comes back from break. In later rounds, especially before the final round, I usually have a two to three minute break in order to tally scores. The spreadsheet does most of the work, including giving rankings.
Most places have helium balloons to designate the tables of the first and last place teams–perhaps a white one for the leaders and black for the lowest score. The balloons move around after each round as the standings change. So after I’ve read the answers in the early rounds, or after scoring updates in later rounds, I then jump into the next round. Each round should take about fifteen minutes if paced properly. With eight rounds, I usually have a twenty minute break after four rounds. Depending on how many rounds and the type of crowd, more breaks might be necessary. I MCd one trivia night where there were a lot of smokers, so I had to take breaks after every two rounds to accommodate them. I did another one that was mostly kids, a ten-rounder, and it was hard keeping their attention. It was even harder getting them to come back from breaks.
At the end of the questions, the judges tally the final scores and I input them. During that time, I usually have a couple of the kids talk, and thank everyone for coming. Some people start packing up all their food, but I try not to rush them. I then announce the prize-winning teams and post the final scores.
The most difficult part is writing questions. The first few years, I just came up with things off the top of my head. The internet certainly provides many ideas and lots of information. However, be careful trusting what you find online (and even in some books). Just because it’s online or in a book doesn’t make it true. Check and double-check. I’ve had some success in recent years with books full of trivia that I’ve found at Barnes and Noble.
The most important thing though, is to promote it. Because if you don’t promote effectively, it’s all for naught. And it’s pretty much the same amount of work for twenty tables as five tables, so you’re a whole lot better off packing them in.