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How to Host a Virtual Trivia Night

Rob Warner


If you're like us, ever since lockdown you've been jonesing for the days when you could meet your friends at a bar and settle in for some good ol' fashioned pub trivia (heck, maybe you even started a company because you missed it so much). I've been a trivia host for the past eight years (shoutout to Hi Tops for keeping me around), so trust me when I tell you I miss few things more than creating fun, challenging trivia games for my regulars. The free beer doesn't hurt either...

The good news is, there are several ways to host your own virtual trivia night from the comfort and safety of your own home. Whether you're a newbie at trivia or a seasoned pro, there are a couple of key things to consider when planning your virtual trivia night to make sure it goes off without a hitch. 

Assemble Your Players

Whether you've taken it upon yourself to do some good for your fellow trivia addicts, or you've been tasked by your company or organization to throw an event, don't worry: we've got you covered. Getting a good crowd for trivia is essential to making sure there is enough competition among teams, and that someone in the crowd can answer even your toughest questions. Trust me when I say even the most obscure questions can be forgiven if one person out there knows the answer. But more on that later. 

Hosting for Your Friends? 

If you miss the days of a crowded trivia night and just want to host something for your long-lost trivia pals, you'll need to get the word out about your event and invite enough people for critical mass (at least about twenty players). Here are some tips on promoting your event: 

  • Set up an Event Page. While it may be less popular among younger generations, Facebook is still the leading social network, globally. Setting up an event page is a great way to invite friends with the click of a button, and by making an event public you automatically have a shareable event website with details. Alternatively, you can use an event platform like Eventbrite or SplashThat to create a page where folks can RSVP to your virtual event. 
  • Post on Social Media. Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok: wherever you and your friends meet digitally to share memes and procrastinate your work duties is going to be the best place to get the word out about trivia. Invite your work friends or post on the company social page, and send a couple texts to aunt Suzy while you're at it. She's always down for pub trivia. 

Hosting for a Company or Organization? 

Many of us are being asked to wear multiple hats at work these days, and with a lot of companies going remote, the trusty corporate happy hour isn't enough to keep a remote workforce engaged (probably doesn't help that the booze is no longer free). Luckily, there are a lot of ways to spice up a virtual happy hour with trivia that will delight your employees and satisfy your execs. 

  • Write a Funny Email to get Folks Excited About the Event. I know, I know. More emails. But this is an easy way to stick out in an inbox by putting a smile on everyone's face and getting them excited for a team event. Here's a free example you can steal and edit for your use:
Oh, snap, it's Trivia time! This Thursday at 4:30 pm we're pitting brains against smarts, wits against wiles in our first official virtual pub trivia event! Grab your {cocktail / Whiteclaw / beverage of choice} and assemble your teams as we embark on a herculean- nay, Odyssean (which one's bigger?) tournament to determine who will be the pub trivia champion, and who will be, um, not the champion (??). Trivia starts at 5:30pm Thursday. Be there or be (Spongebob) square (pants).   
  • Create an Event Poster. Consider designing a quick poster on Canva or Spark Post using one of their templates to make your event pop. If you're hosting a fundraiser for a nonprofit you can use a platform like CauseVox or GiveLively to sell tickets and raise funds from your audience. As a longtime trivia host, I would never condone accepting bribes for points...but if it's for charity? Hey. We all have our soft spots. 

Compile Your Questions

Alright, let's get quizzical! Writing questions is a bit of an art, as I'm sure you've gathered from spending hours on Sporcle and Buzzfeed quizzes (no? Just me? Cool cool cool...). There are a couple of key factors to consider when writing a good game of trivia and luckily, they're in this nice little list right here: 

  • Think of Your Audience. This is a great place to start because it's often the last thing people think about and by that point, you've already done most of the work and won't bother going back to make changes. While you may be a superfan of 80s action movies (because, duh, they're amazing), you have to ask yourself if everyone will appreciate 5 rounds of Lethal Weapon trivia. How much do you know about the interests of your players? Is it an international audience or hyper-local? Are they all a similar age or is it a mix? Trivia buffs or just there for the drinks? All of these questions can help determine the topics you want to cover and how hard the questions should be. 
  • Ease Them Into It. Starting off on easier questions is a great way to hook people in, get them feeling confident, and include everyone regardless of their ability to beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy. At Hedgehog, our first round is often "Sh*t in the News" category (also known as recent events) to warm up the crowd. Work in your harder questions towards the end of each round and at the end of the game to up the ante and let the competitive players show their metal. Here's an example set of categories you can use for your game:
  • Everyone Loves a Theme. A well-placed theme round is a great way to add a spark to an otherwise standard game of trivia. Look through the news or the National Day Calendar to come up with fun ideas, or write some questions around the Oscars, Super Bowl, or another communal event if you're near that time. In a pinch, The Bachelor or Real Housewives franchises also make great crowd-pleasers. 

Once you have your rounds and a general sense of what topics you want to cover, here are a couple more tips on how to write a great question: 

  • Give Everyone a Chance. No one likes trivia questions that are too obscure. You know the ones: questions that make you roll your eyes or throw up your hands in frustration as you lament "who the heck knows that??" After all, you're probably not planning trivia for the finals of a year-long trivia tournament between ultimate quiz heads. By giving a hint or two for each question, you can narrow down possible answers without giving anything away. 
  • Be specific. A lot of people love to challenge the quizmaster during trivia which is natural! As the host, you should be prepared for this and take each challenge with a grain of salt, knowing, in the end, people just want to have fun (keep it light!). By being specific and even referencing sources, you can get ahead of any potential challenger by making sure there's no room for misinterpretation. 

Let's take an example question:

  • What was the highest-grossing film of 2020?

First, consider the specificity of the question. Are you asking about domestic or international box offices? Ticket sales or total revenue? You can get ahead of these by being a little more prescriptive and referencing a source like The-Numbers.com:

  • According to the-numbers.com, what movie, released in 2020, made the most money domestically at the box office last year? 

Now you have an irrefutable answer: Bad Boys for Life (a great movie, btw). Would you know that offhand though? If this isn't a movie buff crowd, you might want to give a clue to inspire people and narrow down their options. That might get us to:

  • According to the-numbers.com, what buddy cop movie, released in 2020, made the most money domestically at the box office last year? 

Now you've got a source, it's specific, and you've given your audience a hint to get people there who might otherwise not have had a clue. It's a little wordy perhaps, but at least you won't have folks coming to you with pitchforks if they try and tell you the Chinese film The Eight Hundred is the correct answer, according to Wikipedia

Pro tip: consider having a tiebreaker question on hand. Nothing's worse than the two top teams battling it out all game only for it to end in a tie. A great go-to tiebreaker question is one with an impossibly specific numerical answer. Whoever gets closest gets the point but no one is expected to get it right (preventing any possibility of another tie). It's also fun to reference a previous question from the game, also known as a callback. For example, you can ask "How much did Bad Boys for Life earn at the domestic box office in 2020?" and then give it to the team with the closest answer. No one but the robot from Lost in Space will know the answer to that, but you can reasonably assume both teams won't guess the same answer, and rest assured one team will emerge victorious. (It's $204,417,855, btw)

Pick your Platform 

Now that you've got your questions and your audience, it's time to talk logistics. Each platform has its benefits, but if you're a true trivia fan like us, you want something that simulates the best parts of pub trivia: a live host, breakout rooms, and dynamic questions. That leaves a few options. 

  • Zoom/Google Hangouts/Skype. Of course, there's always a free option with most video conferencing platforms, and luckily the technology is getting better and better. While these platforms do have breakout rooms, you'll have to come up with a way to ask the questions and solicit answers, either through screen sharing a presentation or emailing contestants, collecting answers via Google forms, then grading each answer one by one. Very doable but possibly tedious. 
  • Twitch/YouTube/Facebook Live. If you're not interested in collecting answers or want teams to figure out their own method of debating answers you can always consider live-streaming the event over your favorite platform. This is an especially good low-weight option if you're in it for the entertainment value and don't so much care for a winner. However, if you're trying to collect answers and crown a winner, it may be difficult to grade on the spot and discourage cheating without the added social pressure of seeing your competition in the same room. 

In general, you want your participants to be able to access the game without having to download a program to their laptop, tablet, or mobile device. The less friction to join, the better. 

Host the Event! 

It's time! The players are assembled, the questions are loaded and it's time to turn on the charm. Here are a couple more tips on how to be the best host around: 

  • Welcome Everyone and Explain the Rules. After that, break everyone into teams and let them come up with team names. Make sure to write these down and designate a team captain so you can make sure you get answers from only one source to clear up confusion. Announce any prizes and whether or not people can earn bonus points for best team name or funniest answer. 
  • Read the Question and then Shut Up. It may be tempting to fill the awkward silence you're experiencing by riffing or cracking some jokes, but keep in mind that while you're waiting patiently for the answers, the teams are deliberating their answers and don't need your commentary over the loudspeaker while they're trying to think. 
  • Be Lenient, but Don't Lose Your Audience. If a minor spelling mistake comes up or someone forgets an article in a movie title, you can give them the point or not, it's totally up to you. We prefer to feel out the crowd to see how people would react to letting that stuff slide. Keep in mind it's best to come up with even a rough rubric for what you'll allow in terms of deviations from the correct answer and stick to it. Otherwise, you might have a full revolt on your hands if you let one error slide once but mark it wrong in a future question. 
  • Build the Suspense. Only give score updates after each round or every five questions or so. Since teams will know their own score but won't be keeping track of others', it creates a fun game moment when you announce the rankings between each round. 

And crown a winner! Hopefully by this point you've held a lively couple of rounds of trivia and designated the big winners from the night. Make sure to celebrate the winners and give props to all the players. Thank your guests if you're hosting for a company or fundraiser, and make sure to hand the mic back to the organizer if you're just stepping in as the emcee. Then sign off! Kick your heels up, relax, and start planning your next event! You're a pro. 

Wow, this Seems like Too Much Work... Can I Hire Someone to Host Virtual Trivia?

Of course, Hedgehog Trivia can take all of this off your plate. We'll plan and execute all your trivia needs without you needing to do any of these things! With custom questions and professional hosts you don’t have to worry about any of the nitty-gritty. Just show up and play. Maybe we should have led with that...

Want to see how Hedgehog can make your next virtual trivia event a success?

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