One of the most useful books I’ve read in recent years is Send: Why People Email so Badly and How to Do It Better by David Shipley & Will Schwalbe, which I referenced in a previous post on recommended reading. Within these pages, the authors have devoted an entire chapter to cautionary tales of Email abuse, calling it “The Email That Can Land You in Jail.” I doubt that asking the wrong question at a trivia event will get you thrown into a prison cell, but there are absolutely trivia questions which, if asked, will put your job as a trivia host in jeopardy, be it for private corporate events or pub quiz nights.
For starters, steer clear of anything which is blatantly inappropriate or offensive. As with writing an email at work, there are some things which you are better off not mentioning: questions which may be construed as derogatory, racist, sexist, homophobic or prejudiced against religious or ethnic groups come quickly to mind. Think this is impossible in today’s politically correct world? It’s not. You can still ask clever, entertaining questions about groups of people, but just be smart about it.
Another easy way to avoid trouble when hosting live trivia parties is to refrain from using profanity in your questions. This may work at comedy clubs, where people expect there to be a level of “adult language;” however, the same doesn’t fly for trivia events, where there is a reasonable expectation of smart, highbrow entertainment. Questions should never contain crude or crass elements, and never, ever include swears (this isn’t to say that if the audience is comfortable swearing – as they often are when the participants are bankers, lawyers or other naturally competitive folk – that the host can’t join in, a LITTLE bit. But save this type of good-natured bonding humor for your banter in between questions, rather than using 4-letter words in the trivia itself).
When hosting trivia for corporate events, make sure you do your homework on the client, and don’t ask any questions which inadvertently disparage the brand. This is especially important when the client is a large corporate entity representing multiple brands; if you think the client only produces a soft drink, and you innocently make fun of the snack food which they also produce, you may have just joked your way out of your next gig.
Finally, don’t insult or embarrass your client. When customizing corporate team building or employee entertainment parties, you will become privy to company information which may be sensitive. Be smart about which questions you ask regarding the company or its employees, and don’t ask anything which the event participants – even just one – might find humiliating. This is a surefire way to guarantee they will never hire you again, so be extra vigilant when creating customized trivia questions using proprietary information.
Trivia parties are supposed to be fun and challenging, but as the producer, you have a responsibility to ensure that the questions are appropriate, and in good taste. What other elements should be taken into account when writing questions, to ensure your event meets the professional standards the audience expects?