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How to Turn Bar Trivia into a Team-Building Exercise

The leader's guide to winning bar happy-hour trivia contests.

This story appears in the July 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I am a bar trivia expert. Over the last three years I've hosted more than 300 trivia nights in and around Portland, Ore. I know (without resorting to Google) the first U.S. president to die in office (Harrison) and the atomic number of chlorine (17). On the way to quiz mastery, I've also learned strategies, dos and don'ts for playing the game. Here are six tips to help your team score big, both socially and professionally--and to put an end to those mindless happy hour get-togethers.

1. Mix it up. Draft teammates from the front office and the back warehouse for more varied brainpower. You know that office admin who won't stop talking about The Amazing Race? She just rocketed up the quiz depth chart.

2. Don't be a know-it-all. If there's one thing brainiacs usually don't know, it's how to interact with people. You may be sure of an answer, but letting everybody contribute creates team (and workplace) goodwill. Overruled on an answer you're sure is correct? Lean back and enjoy a sip of your beverage. It's only a game.

3. Show some team spirit. One team that regularly plays my quiz night brings a mascot along: a giant Barbie Pez dispenser. Barbie sits in the team's office all week waiting for trivia night, and takes up table space at the bar during the game. She's a conversation starter with non-players around the office and opponents at the quiz, improving morale in both locales.

4. Consort with the enemy. That snide pack of arrogant jerks who are your weekly trivia nemeses? They're probably not all that bad. One may be an investor with a venture capital company. Another could be looking to round out his Sunday golf foursome. Until you stop swearing at them under your breath and introduce yourself, you'll never know.

5. Talk it out. One night, the quizmaster asked for the name of Dan Akyroyd's character in Ghostbusters. My first thought was "Ray Chance," but I knew I was wrong, so I kept it to myself. A teammate and I puzzled it over for 20 silent minutes until he finally blurted out "Ray Stantz." I wish I had spoken up. Teammates, just like co-workers, help you perform better than you would alone.

6. Winning isn't everything. Pub trivia is a lot of fun when you emerge victorious, but with the right team, bar and quizmaster, it should be enjoyable even if you lose. Look at quizzing as a few hours of cheap entertainment--not as a night of cutthroat competition. Fighting tooth and nail over Oscar Wilde's only novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray) can ruin team and office relationships. But laughing over the wrong answer will bring levity and lightheartedness to both the workplace and the watering hole.

Nominated Portland's best quizmaster, John Patrick Pullen writes for publications like Entrepreneur and Fortune by day and runs trivia for Pub Quiz USA by night.

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