event corporate group

Can you remember a time when we didn’t have smartphones? When people didn’t walk around with a pocket-sized portal to the information superhighway on their person?

Honestly, I can’t either. And they’ve only been around for a decade!

Since their introduction and subsequent ubiquity, those of us who host and produce corporate trivia nights and game shows for company events have had a love/hate relationship with the little buggers (more love than hate, if you must know). The big concern, of course, is cheating: if everybody has access to the entire Internet literally in the palm of their hands, then that doesn’t really make for a very fair game, does it?

In almost twelve years of doing this, I’ve found that cheating using your mobile device is more often a problem at pub quiz nights than trivia events for corporate groups. It’s one thing to try and sneak a peek at your phone while in a bar full of strangers, playing to win a round of Jell-O shots; it’s quite another when you’re sitting in a room with your bosses, colleagues and/or direct reports and trying the same stunt. Fewer people are willing to risk it.

But still, it’s a concern – and a legitimate one.

People who hire professional trivia entertainment companies like TrivWorks tend to have very competitive groups they are looking to entertain, and as such they want to nip cheating in the bud. It’s a concern that is often raised during a prospective client’s exploratory call, or during the customization call where we tailor the questions towards the specific group and goals: will mobile devices be permitted? Should people be allowed to use cell phones at trivia night?

As somebody who has produced, emceed and attended more of these events than probably anyone, my attitude towards Smartphones is actually mixed. Obviously I don’t want people looking up the answers, but there are a few issues at play here. First off, how can you police this? Especially for larger events (and I’ve done them for upwards of 1,500 people), you’ve got all these folks in a dark room, with lots of noise and distraction, and every single one of them has a phone in their pocket (or on the table, or in their hands).

If somebody REALLY wants to cheat, how can I stop them? (although I DID write a pretty handy guide several years back for doing just this – it’s one of my most-shared posts, actually, which you can read here).

People also don’t like to give up their phones. Let’s face it, they’ve become part of us, extensions of our actual bodies – I know mine is, and it’s rarely more than a foot away from me at any given time. It’s more than just being addicted to refreshing the Email inbox and scanning the Twitter feed; if you’ve got a spouse and/or young kids like me, you feel you MUST have your phone on you at all times. That one time you decide not to have your phone with you? That’ll be the moment something bad happens, and somebody’s trying desperately to reach you but can’t.

At least, that’s how the scenario plays out in my head when I think about it.

While cheating is a clear issue and one that organizers of company team building and corporate entertainment events trivia are understandably uneasy about, it’s another issue which the omnipresence of the Smartphone presents which I think is an even greater concern. What is it, you ask?

I’ll tell you: it’s a social issue.

When you’ve got a mobile device in your pocket, you’re always connected. You’re also always tempted to look at the darn thing, every spare second you get. This holds true for corporate trivia events, just like any other function. When there’s a brief lag in the action or conversation, what do folks do? You got it – they pull out the phone, even if only for a few seconds.

This seemingly harmless, fleeting action has more impact on the overall attendee experience than you might think. No, it’s not cheating. But it IS a means of momentarily removing yourself, of tuning out, even for a few seconds at a time. Not to be too melodramatic, but as far as team bonding and socialization, it’s death by a thousand cuts.

That’s not good for employee group bonding activities.

Last year, we started implementing a new thing at our office trivia parties and live game show events which I think has been an important step. What are we doing? We are removing the phones from the equation. Since the beginning, we’ve always made the announcement from the very top: “NO CHEATING.” However, as I stated above, this doesn’t prevent people from casually taking out their phones every 30 seconds.

Different emcees remove the phones in different ways. One of my guys asked a room full of 1,400 conference attendees in Las Vegas to take out their phones and slide them to the center of the table; another one of my emcees in New York City got a bunch of beach toy buckets and plopped them down on each table, with instructions for participants to drop their devices in. At an event I myself emceed a few weeks ago in Pasadena, the boss came around to each table with a giant cardboard box, and literally confiscated everyone’s phones.

Yes, doing this keeps folks from cheating. But even more than that, what it forces the audience to do is to be present. Without the temptation to fill even the briefest lull with a look at the phone, folks must instead interact with those on the team – which is the ENTIRE POINT OF THE EVENT!

It honestly does feel a bit weird at first to not have the phone in your pocket, and not go for the reach and scratch that itch. But after a little while you forget about it, and can truly be in the moment with your colleagues, getting to know them and have a blast at the same time without distraction. It really does work, especially in today’s mobile world.

Several years ago, I was at one of my very favorite restaurants in Manhattan, Minetta Tavern. It’s a fabulous place with incredible food, amazing vibe, charming staff and tons of character. I was sitting at the bar, enjoying the moment and waiting for my food to arrive. Next to me were two young women, each of whom was completely lost in their phones.

Without warning or uttering a single word, the bartender abruptly reached over the bar, gently took each of their phones right out of their hands, and placed them behind the bar. The girls were in complete shock; they looked at each other, laughed nervously, and then started to talk to each other, as well as to the bartender and other nearby patrons.

I loved it.

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