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Buzztime - Business Bar Trivia by Buzztime

So, you want to host a live trivia night? Great! Because Buzztime has over 35 years of experience helping thousands of venues do just that. On April 11th, we shared these 7 steps for how to run a trivia night during a live webinar. If you missed the webinar, no worries. We’re sharing all the insider tips and tactics for rocking the mic, and running trivia night like a pro…

Step 1) Decide on the Format You’ll Use to Run a Trivia Night

And you thought your only option was pen and paper! Nope. Today, you’ve got options – including tech-forward formats that run on smartphones and handheld tablets. What each format has in common is that the event is hosted by a live emcee (more on that in step 2) and teams are formed of up to 5-6 people. Here are the 3 most common ways to run a trivia night:

Option A) The Classic Pen-and-Paper Method

This is the traditional method to run a trivia night. The host reads off questions (and may also use PowerPoint to display questions on a TV). Players write their answers on a sheet of paper.

Most pen-and-paper trivia events are played in a series of 5-7 rounds, with 5-7 questions per round. The games typically last about 2 hours.

Scoring is either done by the host, or teams switch answer sheets and score each other. This will be covered in the hosting guide in Step #2.

When you run a trivia night using the pen-and-paper method, you can hire a professional host. Another option is to designate an outgoing team member to host the event.

Option B) The Tablet-Based Trivia Game

Thousands of venues now run a trivia night using handheld tablets. Either a staff member can run the event, or a professional host can be hired – it’s up to you.

The game format is similar to the traditional pen-and-paper method. The host reads off each question, which is also displayed on the touchscreen tablets and on your venue’s TVs. Many venues prefer a tablet-based trivia system that showcases questions on multiple screens. This prevents the host from having to repeat questions or interrupt players who are lightly socializing.

The main difference in hosting a trivia night with tablets is that answers are submitted via the tablet, so scoring is instant and automatic. Leaderboard standings are also generated in real-time and shown on TVs and tablets.

Option C) The “Smart” Way to Run a Trivia Night

Another option to run a trivia night with a digital twist is a smartphone-based format. Like pen-and-paper and tablet-based trivia, smartphone trivia still involves a host who reads off questions and paces the game. However, the main difference is that guests use their own smartphones to submit answers.

Most venues hosting a trivia night with smartphones will designate a staff member to host the event. However, the platform is flexible and an outside, professional host could also run the event.

A good smartphone trivia system will still showcase the questions on your venue’s TVs – in addition to appearing on the guest’s phone. This prevents the host from having to shout over the crowd or repeat questions multiple times.

Step 2) Select Your Host (Spoiler Alert: Yes, You Could Be the Host)

The DIY Way

If you’re up for a challenge, you can try to run a trivia night…completely on your own. That means you or one of your own staff members will emcee and host the event, and you’ll handle writing the questions.

The first step is selecting someone to host and run a trivia night. Look for these attributes:

  • Confident
  • Energetic, animated
  • Humorous, witty
  • Quick-thinking
  • Life of the party, a true “people person”

The next step is to write those questions! According to the trivia company Quiz Runners, it takes about 8 hours to prepare good questions for when you run a trivia night. The most common question format when you run a trivia night is the open-ended question. With multiple choice and true/false, luck is involved and most trivia players like to show off their smarts. Use these sparingly!

To find question content, do not use trivia websites like this preloaded with questions. You can’t be sure of the accuracy. Plus, many of the trivia is too obscure or outdated.

As you research trivia questions, be sure there is only one answer! And use at least two reputable sources to confirm you have the right answer. If you use Wikipedia, use the footnotes to see where the fact is coming from: be sure it is a reliable source.

When you run a trivia night, write a good mix of questions: reference recent headlines and pop culture while also tapping into history, science, and the arts. If your goal is to run a trivia night that’s themed, skip ahead to Step #6 for thought starters.

Go Pro and Take it Outside

If your budget allows, you can hire a professional who can run a trivia night at your venue. Some hosts operate as sole proprietors, and handle everything themselves from questions to actually emceeing your event.

In larger cities, there may be a trivia company that employs multiple hosts. Some require a long-term contract; others can be hired on a per-event basis.

Before you run a trivia night using an outside professional, go to one of their events and read online reviews. Then, interview the trivia company or host using these 23 questions – created by a long-time trivia host.

The Hybrid Trivia Night

Many venues now opt to run a trivia night using their own staff members as the emcees – but purchasing trivia questions and scoring systems from outside companies like Buzztime.

The key advantage to this approach is both time and cost savings: as mentioned before, it can take up to 8 hours to write trivia questions for just one event.

If you go decide to run a trivia night yourself using outside questions, do your homework. The trivia company providing questions and scoring systems should assist with trivia night training, best practices, and even promotions and marketing. Companies with decades of experience, like Buzztime, include all of the above for no additional fee.

Step 3) Outline the Host’s Role and Responsibilities

If you think this sounds suspiciously like a job description, you’d be correct. Use these best practices to set expectations for your host. Provide it to your host each time you run a trivia event, so they understand you always expect their “A” game!

Step 1) Ask Players to Form Teams

First, ask the group to form teams. Always decide in advance if NSFW (not safe for work) names are allowed. Discriminatory language should never be tolerated. Here are some of the most popular trivia team names out there today. As you can see, some names push the limits of decency…

Then, read off the rules – at every event – even if you’re hosting a trivia night on an ongoing basis.

Step 2) Get the Crowd Engaged and Set Gameplay Pace

The next step is critical! If gameplay moves too slowly, players may get bored and not return. Typically, most hosts allow players 1 minute to submit answers.

Many players find tablet- and smartphone-based trivia more social: they can conversate instead of running up answers to the host or hand scoring.

Step 3) Handle Challenges from Players

Be prepared for players to challenge answers. Many hosts will state in the rules that they are the final “judge” on correct answers.

Step 4) Score the Game

A key component when hosting a trivia night is to keep everyone involved in the game. Giving regular updates on team standings is a great way to do this. Therefore, always score each round of trivia – then announce standings.

If you run a trivia night using pen and paper, there are 2 primary scoring methods. You can create your own answer sheets, or print online answer sheets like these.

  • Switch Scoring: After each round, teams swap their answer sheets with another team. You then read off the correct answers, and the team tallies up the score on the other team’s sheet. Then, all answer sheets are handed in to you.
  • Host Scoring: After each round, the team submits their answer sheet directly to you, who tallies up the score.

One of the advantages of hosting a trivia night with tablets or smartphones is that all scoring and standing updates are automatically generated. This saves the host significant time, and keeps gameplay moving. Automated scoring also makes it easy to run multi-week tournaments.

Step 5) Announce Standings

The fifth step in hosting a live trivia night is figuring out how to keep track of team standings. Announcing how teams are performing will always keep the crowd engaged during gameplay!

Step 6) Watch for Cheating

A good host will keep watch for cheating as they run a trivia night. Always call out suspected cheaters while hosting a trivia night.

Step 7) Prepare for Tiebreakers

This is another very important step! If you run a trivia night using the pen-and-paper method, have a tiebreaker question ready. In the event of a tie, most tablet and smartphone systems include an additional tiebreaker round.

Step 8) Declare Winners and Distribute Prizes

The very last step is to wrap up your night! After you run a trivia night, “tease” the next trivia event and invite everyone to attend.

Step 4) Plan Out Logistics

This isn’t the most enjoyable step as you prepare to run a trivia night. However, the success of your event depends on how well you prepare your venue and staff.

List Out Your Equipment Needs

This list will be different depending on how you run a trivia night. For example, when hiring an outside trivia host, they’ll likely bring in their own PA system.

Pen-and-Paper Trivia

Pencils or pens

Printouts of answer sheets

Scoring sheet for host

Mic and speaker set

Optional: Laptop and HDMI cable to connect to TV, Screen, or Projector

Tablet-Based Trivia

Tablets (provided by trivia company)

Trivia company sets up connection to your TVs/Screens

Mic and speaker set

Smartphone-Based Trivia

You plug in a small device to your TVs/Screens

Mic and speaker set

Map Out Your Logistics

Budget: How much will you spend to run a trivia night? Don’t forget extras like tipping the host, and promoting the event (skip to Step #7 for a marketing guide).

Floor Plan: Tables should be spaced apart as teams don’t want other players overhearing their answers!

Tracking Attendees: When you run a trivia night, it’s best to require RSVPs or you risk turning away folks at the door (or being overcrowded). Speaking of overcrowding…

Capacity: Know the max capacity for your event space, and track RSVPs so they don’t go over that number.

Staffing: We’ve covered the host, but what about door staff? Greeters? Will you need security? How about a photographer? Do you need extra bartenders or servers on staff? Outline your staff plan.

Set Up and Take Down: Who is responsible for setting up equipment and when will it happen?

Step 5) Prepare Your Prizes

Whatever you do, don’t skip this step! You must have really, really good prizes to attract trivia players. That doesn’t mean you’ve got to blow your budget on prizes every time you run a trivia night. Just get creative with these rewarding prize ideas…

  • The standard prize for trivia night is a $50 tab for the team to use at the next trivia event. That’s a win-win. You can almost guarantee the group will spend more than $50, and the prizes ensures they’ll be back the next time you run a trivia night.
  • Invest in a (fake) gold wrestler’s belt or giant trophy! The winning team gets to take it home for the week…just like the Stanley Cup goes on rotation.
  • Set up a prize wheel: let the winning team spin to see what they’ll win.
  • Partner with local businesses like salons, fitness studies, etc. Ask them to donate or reduce the cost for a gift card in exchange for the host mentioning their business when they run a trivia night.
  • Talk to your distributors: they often receive freebies for liquor, wine, and beer brands. From keychains to t-shirts, these can become prizes when you run a trivia night.
  • What about a biggest loser prize? The team that comes in last could get a consolation prize like $5 coupons for each player.

Step 6) Choose a Theme from These 10 Ideas

This step is one of the most important steps as you prepare to run a trivia night. You want to select a theme and name for your trivia night to make it stand out from other events! It could be a “Thinks and Drinks Trivia Night” where you always ask a bonus trivia question related to famous facts about booze. You could have your bartender create a signature drink for each time you run a trivia night.

While brainstorming a theme and name for your trivia night is important, don’t get carried away with themed questions that go waaayyyyy too deep on a particular subject. We’re talking about an entire hour-long trivia session devoted to Tom Cruise movies or Britney Spears’ greatest hits. To successfully run a trivia night that’s themed, use these ideas as thought starters:

1) Socially Inspired

Look to trending social media hashtags for theme ideas. As an added bonus, you can use the hashtag when promoting your event on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

#MondayMotivation Trivia

Add in a bonus round of trivia based on motivational quotes: ask players to guess who said the quote.

#TacoTuesday Trivia

Create a menu of tacos and pitcher specials on margaritas and sangria, exclusively available when you run a trivia night.


Partner with your distributor to do wine tastings during a break in the trivia event!


Play old school background music if you run a trivia night on Thursday.

2) Charity Faceoff

Run a trivia night with a charitable twist: ask teams to choose a charity to represent. The prize is a donation to the winning team’s charity of choice.

3) Holiday Themed Trivia

Try hosting a trivia night that ties into a holiday. In addition to the “big holidays,” there are hundreds of more obscure holidays to inspire your event: from National Trivia Day on January 4th to New Beer’s Eve on April 6th. There are thousands of quirky holidays to inspired your next themed trivia event.

4) Battle of the Businesses

When local businesses need a teambuilding event, offer to run a trivia night for them!

5) Talk of the Town Trivia

Partner up with the historical association in your city. Together, come up with questions based on local history, landmarks, and legends, plus throw in some current events and local pop culture, too.

Step 7) Start Marketing Your Trivia Event

The last step in how to run a trivia night involves promotions and marketing. You need to get the word out ASAP! Remember, trivia events are social affairs. No one wants to attend trivia night with tons of empty tables. To pack the house, use this strategic plan.

First, Create a Marketing Budget

Most bars and restaurants dedicate 3-6% of their total sales to their marketing and events budget. When looking at your budget on a per-event basis, this is a good rule of thumb to follow:

Spend 25% on actual event costs need to run a trivia night (host fees, questions, equipment)

Spend 75% on promoting the event to the public (advertising fees, flyers, etc.).

Second, Outline a Promotional Calendar

After you’ve decided on a promotional budget, plan out your marketing activities week-by-week leading up to the trivia event.

Do These Things ASAP!

Create a Facebook Event: Whenever you run a trivia night, always create a Facebook event (it’s free).

Submit Events to Community Calendars: Most radio and TV stations, newspapers (both print and online), and city magazines let the public submit events to be listed on their community calendars…for free.

3-4 Weeks Out

Boost Your Facebook Event: On Facebook, invest just $50 to “boost” your Facebook event. You can also run static or video ads on both Facebook and Instagram.

Promote In-House: Use the marketing space within your own 4 walls to promote that you’re hosting a trivia night. Use this guide to unlock 15 hidden in-venue marketing opportunities.

Email Invitations: Include a personal subject line like “You’re invited!” along with a link to your Facebook event so recipients can RSVP.

Print and Distribute Flyers: For about $100, order hundreds of full color postcard flyers from online printers like Vista Print. It’s an affordable way to let the community know you’re about to run a trivia night!

2 Weeks Out

Alert Local Media with a Press Release: Send radio, TV, and online/print newspapers a 1-page press release about your event.

Use a Social Influencer: These are folks with a devoted following on social media. You pay them to promote that you are going to run a trivia night.

Train Your Staff: Ask them to talk up the event and personally invite guests to join them at trivia night.

Run Google Ads: Pay Google to have your business show up when someone searches the phrase “trivia night” in your area. You set the budget and define the audience.


Tease It: Pose a trivia question on social media one day. The next day, give the answer and remind everyone that you are going to run a trivia night in just one week!

Send Another Round of Emails: It’s just a friendly reminder to RVSP and show up for all the fun.

Now, the day has finally arrived – and you’re ready to run a trivia night that’s a success. We hope you found this guide to hosting trivia helpful and useful. Cheers to running an awesome trivia night!