Questions about Ed Balls

When a blog falls silent, it’s usually either a good or bad sign. Thankfully, in this case, it’s the former. We’ve been BusyBusyBusy rather than QuietQuietQuiet (sorry, that’s terrible …).

I’ve been writing, rather than hosting, a lot – almost exclusively. in fact. This blog has had three main purposes since it began – 1. (being honest) to help bring traffic to our website 2. to provide specific information on our quiz nights for our clients and 3. to just be informative and a bit of fun while being a bit of an authority on all things quiz.

A lot of my posts over the last few years have been about the joys and pitfalls of running quiz nights, and, as I say, they’ve served as places to point a client about the way our quizzes work. Until last week, though, I hadn’t run a quiz for about 9 months, so I just didn’t feel inspired to be writing all that much about quiz nights (as well as the fact I’ve written over 100 previous posts and I’d run the risk of repeating myself).

The writing work has been good – interesting, creative, exactly the kind of work we want to be doing. For me, it’s also often quite solitary, and a world away from the quiz nights. The atmosphere at quiz nights varies, but they do very often turn into loud and raucous mass participation events, which appear to be barely on the edge of control (though in reality we are always in control!). The best ones do, anyway.

For the last year, though, I’ve more often been in my special sound-proof QuizQuizQuiz shed trying to construct quiz questions/rounds/shows as if they’re haikus hewn from the very core of language and knowledge. Who knows, maybe sometimes they are …

Anyway, what’s my point? (I’m out of practice at writing blogs with a point.) Just that it’s a big quiz world and getting bigger. Gosh, some of those quizzers are turning into rock stars, as this rather good  documentary claimed. Even our own director, Jack, has been on the radio talking about the whole quiz thing (among other things) on ‘The Museum of Curiosity‘. It’s a broad church.

For me, as a quiz writer, the essence is now boiled down to knowing what people know. I’m good at that now. Whichever people, in whatever setting, whether online, on a TV show, in a room, in a pub, that’s a skill I’ve got. It’s far from faultless, though. There’s as much joy in someone unexpectedly knowing something you thought would stump them, as there is despair in people using neither knowledge nor knowhow, and failing miserably when you least expect it.

Quizzes should always reward knowledge and knowhow – it’s a bit of a shame when people apply good reasoning to a question and still get it wrong. That applies to any quiz situation.

For some reason, this year, I’ve written a lot of questions, often in completely different contexts, about Ed Balls. Currently no man alive lends themselves better to slightly comical quiz questions. Thank you Ed Balls. And as my own little tribute to Ed Balls Day … Ed Balls.

I ran a quiz last week – a big old quiz for 200 people in a bar in London – an old routine I’d fallen out of but thankfully fell back into pretty quickly. My joy for the last year has been applying a fair bit of science and a little bit of art to question writing, initially on my own, then in close, limited collaboration. However, last week I remembered the joy of playing ‘Sound of da Police’ at high volume to a room full of tipsy but fiercely competitive business-folk, and, of course, I remembered the age-old rush of saying “And the year when they were all Number 1 is Nineteen …. ninety ……………. nine”

The First Quiz Night

It’s eight years, almost to the day, since the first QuizQuizQuiz quiz night I helped at. I’d just been told that I’d got the job as the company’s first full time employee (who was not also a founder). Though I’d been interviewed by all the founders, my more important application process was undoubtedly the months I’d been attending the Fox pub quiz in Putney, run by Jack Waley-Cohen, at which I had an ideal opportunity to display my aptitude for the quiz game.

I recall the first quiz night at which I was a quiz assistant: I was helping company director and founder David Brewis in a swish bar near Aldgate, and I took delight in being able to comfortably mark the 13 teams in the short time it took him to read out the answers to each round.

Shortly afterwards, I helped at another event in the grimy upstairs room of a city pub (at QQQ, you get used to working in all kinds of venues) and then I was deemed ready to run my first quiz.

I was not computer illiterate, not quite, but certainly computer ill-adjusted. Though I’d had a bit of time to practice with the technology that we use at our quizzes, it would, sensibly, be a while before I was set free to run a quiz in its entirety – setting up the equipment, playing the music, the video etc.

So I had two helpers for my first quiz – founder-director, Lesley-Anne Brewis, and one of the early investors, James Brilliant (yes, that is his actual name). I was naturally a little nervous, and my nerves weren’t helped by arriving  at the Leadenhall Market (I think it was Leadenhall, it was definitely one of the Markets) nice and early to find that not only was our client not there yet, but the venue wasn’t open, and showed no signs of being so.

After a good few minutes standing outside, everyone necessary (bar staff, quiz helpers and quiz participants) turned up, and we set up, and got ready to go.

I’m not going to pretend it was perfect! I remember just before starting I got it into my head that I would conduct the quiz sitting down, and only Lesley’s frantic whispering to remind me of the first rule of QuizMaster club raised me to my feet.  I also remember, about an hour in, realising that I hadn’t plugged my laptop in and it was rapidly running out of gas. Neither of those are mistakes I have made in the ensuing 8 years.

I don’t remember much else of that night, except that they enjoyed it and clapped at the end, and I was pleased with myself, but still not sure.

By the second one, at a North London school, I was getting into my stride. I had banter, jokes, a bit more fluency, and I knew after that one that I could definitely be good at this.

As is our policy at QuizQuizQuiz, we don’t throw quiz masters in at the deep end. The full process of question selection and multimedia management came gradually over the next few weeks.

The first quiz I was let loose on as a full multimedia extravaganza with no “handholder” was a blazingly hot May day in a hot room at a media company near Euston. It was all a bit random and off-the-cuff, I think I set a speaker up on a pool table and ended up having to start about an hour late because of all sorts of other activities going on.

I think I was too nervous to ask for a glass of water and I did the whole thing, sweating like the whole room, on adrenaline. It went exceptionally well. I got to the allotted finish time and asked if they fancied another round – they shouted their approval. I ended up running three extra rounds and, though it was still early evening the atmosphere was one of drunken delight.

That’s when I realised how much fun it was to be a quiz master, when you and everyone in attendance is of the same mind to have a jolly good time.

At QuizQuizQuiz, we give a guarantee of professionalism and quality. We stand up, we plug our laptops in, and we do all sorts of rather more sophisticated things as we strive to give our absolute best to ensure everyone has a good time. Of course the participating teams play a massive part in that two. That same Euston company taught me that. I was invited back to run the quiz for them a year later, and really looked forward to it.

As I waited for the start of the quiz with that same crowd the next year my host told me “Bit of a strange atmosphere here today, sorry, there’s been a few redundancies …” Aah, ok. Did that affect the atmosphere of the quiz? Yes, of course. Where there’d been delighted shouting the year before, this year there was more restraint and, dare I say it, strain.

I remember raising my game as best I could – I’d improved a lot as a quiz master in the year gone by, and by the end, that atmosphere was great.

Since then, I’ve run 100s of quizzes for different groups in different venues, with different vibes and different purposes. I’ve asked 1000s of questions, I’ve written 10s of 1000s of questions, I’ve even worked out how to use a computer … a bit. This is still my job because I love doing it, as we all do. So, I look back on those first quiz nights, nerves and mistakes and all, with great fondness.

The Hosts with the Most

This blog post is about trained and skilled professionals doing a better job than non-professionals. And specifically about trained and skilled professional QuizMasters doing a better job than people who are not professional quiz masters (even though they may be professionals in something that may appear to be similar).

We run around 250 hosted quizzes per year, most of which are run from start to finish by one of the highly trained QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters. And we do it very well, we think, and our clients think.

There’s a decent-sized minority of those quizzes (10-15 a year or so) which we don’t run. We prepare the quiz, we are in attendance on the night making sure everything runs to schedule, we play the music and the audio clips, we do the marking, but someone else is on the mic. Often this is a celebrity host, sometimes it is someone from within the company who wants to run the quiz themselves.

Sometimes it’s at the lower end of “celebrity” (someone that quite literally nobody at the quiz has heard of or recognises – i.e. a circuit stand-up comedian), sometimes it’s a really impressive and prestigious star of TV. Whoever it is, almost without exception … no, I’m being overly diplomatic … without exception, it’s not as good as if we run it ourselves. [If you think this is being arrogant then do a quick thought experiment: imagine a stand-up comedian doing his stuff. Then imagine him trying to prepare material for someone else to deliver: someone who has never done stand-up comedy before, someone he has never met, and someone with whom he might get a maximum of half an hour to brief before the gig. You get the idea.]

I said “almost” above because there is one gentleman I’ve helped run a quiz, who really does hold the audience in the palm of his hand, but a) he’s working a crowd from an industry within which he’s a respected, beloved figure and b) he’s run the same quiz with us several years in a row, so he knows how our quizzes work, so he doesn’t need the constant instruction and prompting.

And even then, however good he is, I’d still say the quiz would be better if one of our hosts was running it.

I can hear you saying “You gotta lotta noive, kid, thinkin’ you’re some kinda big shot who runs a classier quiz than all doz celebrities” (in the imaginary slang of mid-20th century American gangsters I envisage you’re speaking). But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything else in the world I’d be better at than these esteemed hosts except running quizzes (and specifically QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights). But, these, yes I do. Because this is what I do, and what my professional QuizMaster colleagues do, often several times a week.

If a client books us, they hopefully realise they’re booking the whole package, they’re booking us because they know about the quality of our quizzes and the way our quizzes work. It’s not just reading out questions, it’s an awful lot more. It’s choosing the questions, adapting the questions, pacing the quiz, adapting the pacing of the quiz, playing the music, getting the sound right, judging the mood, making last minute adjustments, it’s being quick, efficient and thoroughly well-informed and confident in the material. [again, think back to the comedian analogy…you’ve got to believe in and understand your material to be able to sell it to the crowd]

Often, a client who has their own host in mind is surprised when we inform them that will mean a significant rise in the price we charge (not to mention the additional cost of paying a separate host). Surely it’s less work for us? On the contrary, it’s significantly more work for us. More work preparing the quiz in advance, making sure the questions make sense to the quiz master, providing instructions to them, dealing with any feedback, giving them a script for round introductions, going through the quiz with them before the event, whispering into their ear regularly, reminding them of instructions they’ve forgotten to give, little asides which will make a question work better. Also the quiz usually still goes out under our brand name. In a way the additional costs also compensate us for the reality that the quiz will not be as good as a QuizQuizQuiz quiz should be.

I get way more nervous if I’m helping someone run a quiz than if I’m running it myself. For the latter, I turn up, do my job, and I’m in control. If I make a mistake, I can make a joke of it whilst still retaining complete control. I know how to deal with every eventuality.

So much more can go wrong if someone outside our company is running the quiz, and it’s our reputation that suffers.

How many ways is the quiz better if we run it ourselves? Too many to list. Here are a few. It’s adaptable, in terms of subject matter, rounds and difficulty levels. Every question is understood and treated with enthusiasm and never tossed away as if it is doesn’t matter. Answers can be given out with maximum effect: if there’s a reaction to be had, we will get it. There isn’t someone whispering in the host’s ear all night. There are no awkward silences. Every opportunity to inject energy, entertainment and fun into the quiz can and will be taken. The QuizMaster will not start flagging after the first hour (there aren’t many celebs or stand-up comedian who are used to performing at full energy for 2-3 hours single-handedly – it takes a lot of practice and training to be able to keep it up for that long, as it were) Need I go on?

Like I say, this is a notable minority of our quizzes, and we always make it work, and make it good, and often the guest hosts are really good, engaging, smart, adaptable and charismatic. It’s often a real pleasure to see them getting the hang of how to make a quiz work really well, and gaining confidence in the whole thing as the evening progresses.

But there’s not one quiz which any of our quiz “hand-holders” leaves and doesn’t think “I wish I’d run that. It would have been much better.” And since we are obsessed about running truly outstanding high quality quiz nights, this makes us a little bit sad from time-to-time – sad for our clients who have made a decision (for one reason or another) that means they will not have the best possible quiz night.

Common Quiz Night Complications Part 1

Here begins a shorter series of posts (at least I hope they’re short, brevity is not always my strong point) about the suggestions our client sometimes have which, though they may be imaginative and well-intentioned, are more likely to have a detrimental affect on the quiz than positive.

It’s probably safe to say that our default position on such suggestions is sceptical and in need of clear persuasion and a reason why it’s either better than the quiz would otherwise be or intrinsic to the purpose of the evening.

The latter is important. Sometimes a client might suggest something we think is overcomplicated and potentially fraught, like, say, swapping team members, and we’ll have strong doubts. If we then discover that the purpose of the conference they’re at is to do with, say, working with different people in different contexts, we understand and make that concept work, either in its current form or by suggesting something that fulfils their aims even better, and that we know will work.

We know that people have the best intentions for their quiz and that sometimes there is an agenda beyond just having a great quiz, be it team building or raising money. So we do listen; we just have experience of the fact that not every idea is a good one, and we have a very good nose for when this is the case.

So, what first?


A common one, and often a pretty reasonable one. “We’ve got a pirate theme”. “It’s a sports quiz”. “We want people to think about speed and buildings”. “The concept is atonement …” All but the last one are real … that would be a heavy quiz.

So, ok, you’ve got a theme, but be careful with it. Let’s take an example. If your theme, for whatever reason, is the London Underground, do you want every question to be about the Underground, do you want the Quiz Master dressed in a tube driver’s uniform (don’t go there!)? Are you sure? Does everyone taking part love and know a lot about the tube? How about something simpler, like naming teams after tube lines, and a few questions here and there about the tube.

Which tube line has the most stations south of the River Thames?, for example.

The same applies to almost anything, Don’t let the theme overwhelm the quiz. It could be a dud. We’re a little wary about even having a single round on one subject – we don’t really do a Food round, a Geography round, a History round etc and have written at length about caution at using a Sport round.

So, even a Sport, Film or Book quiz, large themes though they are, is in danger of being a bit monochrome, a bit weighted and unfair.

Around this time of year and in the next month or so, there’ll be a fair few Halloween or Christmas quizzes for us, which is great, but we’d try to avoid the whole quiz being about those subjects, and it requires a fair bit of thought in the question writing to come up with fair, fun and interesting questions throughout.

So, themes. Be careful with them. The biggest issues are that themes can be exclusive, overwhelming and forced. They can certainly make an evening more fun but not, I think, if the theme is bigger than the quiz.


Levels of Questions

As something of a follow-up to my last post about Corporate and Company Quizzes, I’m going to write a little about the varying levels of difficulty you might find at different quizzes.

This is sparked by recently hearing a view from a pub quiz master that he believed that corporate quizzes are generally much harder than pub quizzes, which, I must say, is not my experience at all.

When we used to write one or two pub quizzes a week, and then use the accumulated pub quizzes as source material for our corporate quizzes, it was definitely true that the difficulty was significantly reduced from pub quiz to corporate. To be fair, this was a particularly strong pub quiz crowd. There were a high number of high quality teams, and we tailored the difficulty to reflect that.

And by and large, that’s what every quiz should do, so it would be slightly inaccurate of me to simply say “Corporate quizzes are easier than pub quizzes” – if I know that a corporate event I’m running is for a number of really good teams, I’ll up the difficulty level, and likewise, I’ve been to some really easy pub quizzes.

Generally, though, my reflection is that, because pub quiz goers are people who have gone somewhere to take part in a quiz, they tend to like quizzes and have some competence in them, whereas a corporate quiz is usually a pretty random assortment of workers who don’t necessarily have any inclination to quiz. Generally, that’s how I find it, and why, in general, pub quizzes are tougher than company quiz events.

Perhaps it’s more interesting to consider easy and difficult questions, and, to expand on that, easy and difficult quizzes, in a few different ways.

Firstly, it is, I think harder to write easy questions than to write difficult questions. To come up with a real gem of an easy question is always a great pleasure. Perhaps what I mean is it’s hardest to write easy questions that aren’t facile. “What’s the capital of Belgium?” OK, that’s not a hard question to write. “What three word phrase connects ‘Bob the Builder’ and Barack Obama?” – still very easy, but a little bit more pleasing to ask and to answer.

I’d tentatively suggest that a pub quiz may contain a few more facile questions – questions about what’s happened recently where all you need is to have read the paper to get it. That’s fine – in the context of any quiz, not everything needs be a beautifully constructed brainteaser.

Too many facile questions are, of course, a real turn-off. One can sometimes see the people that rate themselves at quizzes rolling their eyes if a question is a bit too simple. [Incidentally, a real delight then is the question that appears facile but, without being a trick, trips people up. I have a really good one of those at the moment, where I often see someone scoffing when it’s asked, then getting it wrong – “What year is 100 years after 90 BC?” Think before you join the scoffers …]

It’s not always about easy/difficult anyway, but more about suitable/not suitable to the participants. And then you can ask, which participants? All the participants, or the best, or the worst? What I find is that even very good teams rarely get over 90% in a quiz, even if it is “easy” – the easiness will mean that the less good teams’ scores will improve. A “hard” quiz is likely to mean greater separation, and, for me as a quiz master, that’s not really desirable. As I’ve said various times, I want a range between 60% and 90%. If I get close to that, I’m happy and know that I’ve done a pretty good job in question selection. If it’s 90% to 40%, less so. Then again, if it’s 90% to 80%, say, then I probably will have made the quiz too easy.

So, when should a quiz be hard? Well, rarely, I think. It is necessary, obviously, when a pub quiz has a reputation for being fiendish, of course: when difficulty is its calling card. And, for a corporate event, if we’re told they want it be tricky, well, sure, but even then, I’d use my discretion. I know that I could ask a good set of questions where no team would get more than 50% of them, and most questions would be answered by at least one of the teams…yet they’d still have a better time if I tone it down a bit and they’re getting far more of them right.

Serious quizzers like to be challenged, that’s why they watch shows like ‘University Challenge’ and ‘Only Connect’, but even then, you want to feel you’ve got a chance on the questions. When Paxman’s asked something where no one’s got a clue, it’s a bit of a damp squib.

The truth is, then, perhaps “difficulty” is a bit of a red herring – it’s about suitability of questions, quality of questions, maintaining interest, variation and and about offering a fair challenge.

Do you have a favourite “easy” question?

What’s a Corporate Quiz like?

We write a lot in this blog about Corporate Quizzes and Company Quiz Nights, and I realise it may not always be entirely clear what that is, and in and of itself, it may even be rather a forbidding term. Visions of people in suits being questioned on tax in near silence, perhaps.

But, in truth, our corporate quiz nights come in many different shapes and sizes. We are very happy to fit in to our client’s vision for the evening (and often we help them shape their vision), however formal or informal, however grand or relaxed.

So, what does a corporate quiz look like? Well, frankly, quite often, it looks exactly like a pub quiz. It takes place in a pub, with teams huddled together round tables, relaxing after work. There are pints, there are crisps, there are goujons and little sausages, there are people popping out for a fag: you get the idea.

And is the substance of this quiz much different from a pub quiz? Well, no, not necessarily. We use similar rounds to those we have used with great success in pub quizzes, we employ a mixture of topics and styles. There’ll be more music and visual questions than the standard pub quiz, there may even be a few fancy gadgets you wouldn’t ordinarily see, but generally, nothing immediately, wildly different. Just better.

Of course, sometimes our “corporate quizzes” are a little more corporate, whether they’re in an auditorium within a company’s headquarters, or a large conference room in a smart hotel. Sometimes the dress code is strictly business and there are elegant waiters walking round dispensing fine wines.

And sometimes, our clients may want to make their quizzes more company-specific by asking us to include questions about their company or their line of work. Experience has told us that this is very rarely a good idea, but we will find ways to make it work if needs be.

Why do we tend to persuade clients against including company questions?

– usually, people are trying to get away from work and relax at quiz nights.

– sometimes, questions about the company are good-naturedly booed, which is not great for company morale, I imagine. It can certainly dampen the atmosphere.

– Sometimes, people supply the questions themselves, which has one advantage, that they know the company better than us. But as they are not written by professional quiz writers, they are not going to be of the right quality, nor can we verify their veracity, nor can we judge whether they are at the right difficulty, or whether they are going to be facile for some parts of the company and impossible for others.

– If we write them ourselves, well, it is a rare occasion where we know the subject matter less intimately than the participants, however well we research the questions.

– How can I put this, and we mean this as no insult to anyone’s business, these questions are just usually a little … dull, compared to good pub quiz questions.

– Sometimes, the company questions are more personal and light-hearted, along the lines of “What football team does Geoff support?” “Who once snogged Jimmy from 911”? Though these can be fun, they are often full of errors, a little divisive and can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Once in a blue moon, someone from within a company comes up with some nice neat clever interesting questions related to their company, and we then try to headhunt them …but, honestly, I can only think of about twice in seven years where a quiz I’ve run has been enhanced by company-based questions.

So, to get back to the question, what’s a corporate quiz like? Well, usually, not that corporate. It will be clever, well-judged, well-balanced, classy if that’s what’s asked (without sacrificing how much fun it is), raucous and silly, or indeed anything else if that’s what is right for our client.


Training Quiz Masters

Things don’t stand still at QuizQuizQuiz. In the last ten years, our business has grown steadily, and this has led to the need to find and train more Quiz Masters to run our corporate quiz nights just how we like them to be run.

Finding the right people can be a trickier process than you might think. Some pubs may just rotate whichever member of the bar quiz is willing to hold the mic that night, but we are very serious about who can run quizzes for us and how they do it.

Someone who might be a very good quiz master in their own right may not be quite right for us. In fact, we often prefer people who don’t have much experience of running quizzes. Personality isn’t enough on its own, nor is a good quiz brain. We are looking for the right combination of authority, good humour, discipline, calm and technical savvy.

So we take on new quiz masters rarely and we don’t just throw them in at the deep end. Every time we run a company quiz, our good name is at stake, so we don’t want our standard to drop from one quiz to the next.

The process goes a little like this – we meet a new applicant, we get to know them, then we ask them to help at a few corporate quiz nights. Assisting at these events helps a prospective quiz master to watch the process of running a QuizQuizQuiz quiz, how it differs from a usual pub quiz, the full range of duties one is required to carry out. Frankly, this can be a little daunting. Realising you have the responsibility for 150 people’s enjoyment, to be in charge of a room of a 150 baying punters, and that you are doing so in the name of a respected company might be enough to discourage a few.

Usually, the process of just assisting will last a couple of months or more. Then, we’re likely to hold a training day, where we go through all the rounds, run through setting up equipment, talk about common pitfalls, and point the new quiz master to our substantial (internal only) quiz master guide.

At which point, we might deem someone ready to be a quiz master. But even then, it’s not straight in without a paddle. For the first few quizzes, a new quiz master will do nothing but ask the questions prepared by whichever of our most experienced quiz masters is helping them that night.

Then, they will be asked to prepare the rounds and format for the event, selecting questions from our quiz question database.  Then, they will be asked to be in charge of the equipment for the night (e.g. playing music clips, getting sound levels right, running the big screen visuals, etc.), till finally, they will be trusted enough to do so without an experienced quiz master present.

This extensive vetting and training process means that we have built up a really strong team of confident professionals who can provide you with what we think is the best quiz night you could possibly have.

There is a lot more to it than this as well – but we can’t give too much away! Needless to say, though, we put the work to make sure all our quiz events are a good as possible – and a quiz night is usually only as good as its quiz master and the quiz questions.

Corporate Quiz vs Pub Quiz

We’re finally drawing to the end of our busiest quiz season, when our team of quiz masters run quiz night after quiz night – themed quizzes, Christmas party quiz nights, wedding anniversary quizzes, intern quizzes, school quiz evenings – anything people ask for. What we haven’t done much of late is run straight up pub quizzes, and so I’m going to write a little bit about the difference between corporate quiz nights and pub quiz nights.

QuizQuizQuiz has, at different times, run regular quiz nights at five different pubs, most notably for several years at the Fox in Putney and the OSP in Fulham, then later the Normanby, also in Putney. Great fun, halcyon days – we tried to take the same perfectionist approach to our pub quizzes as we do to our company quiz nights, tried to make each one an “event”. Since I first encountered QuizQuizQuiz as a participant in the Fox quiz, I’m well qualified to comment on the excellence of the QQQ pub quiz experience!

But, of course, there are big differences between a pub quiz night and a corporate quiz night. I imagine, of those of you reading who have run or participated in quiz nights, the vast majority have been pub quizzes. So, it is worth going through the main differences between the two.

[There are some corporate quiz events which are absolutely nothing like your standard pub quiz – there’ll be keypads, or particular themed rounds, there’ll be fancy meals, mariarchi bands, huge screens, dressing up contests, there’ll be jellybeans, buzzers, flying monkeys, the lot … however, most of our quiz nights are very deliberately similar to a classic pub quiz – it’s those two I’ll compare, the “standard” pub quiz (no doubt quizmasters up and down the land bristle at their event being described as standard, and rightly so) and the “standard” corporate quiz].


1. Players are in teams, usually of between 4 and 8. Teams think of their own names – one of them is called Quiz Team Aguilera

2. Questions are in the sphere of general knowledge – entertainment, music, sport, general stuff

3. Paper and pens are used

4. Rounds are marked and there is a winning team which wins a prize

5. They often (though not always) take place in a pub

6. There is, usually, a demon team who everyone boos and are too good!

7. People eat, drink and have a good time


1. A corporate quiz is a one-off event, rather than part of a weekly/monthly series. Consequently, there doesn’t have to be the same rapid turnover of questions –  a quiz master can select his/her questions carefully for the specific event.

2. Importantly (for QuizQuizQuiz at least), the above means that we can adapt the quiz as we go along, the questions are not set in stone in the way that they must inevitably be for a pub quiz. [A minor point developing from that is that there can be fewer current affairs questions at a corporate event]

3. Following on from that, at a corporate event, you usually know who is coming beforehand (in terms of numbers/demographic etc) and can prepare accordingly. This is kind of true for a pub quiz, but it is, of course, open to anyone.

4. People all work for the same company, or have some connection in those terms. Friendly rivalries can be developed and played upon.

5. [Perhaps the key difference] At a corporate quiz, not everyone is there of their own volition. Indeed, sometimes they don’t even know there is a quiz coming. They may hate quizzes and it may be a horrible surprise and they may only want to go home. You have to cater for that and give those people an enjoyable evening. Pub quizzes are for people who like quizzes, often people who are very good at quizzes. This is not so much the case at corporate events and you have to tailor the questions accordingly.

6. It is, however relaxed it may or may not be, still a work environment. There are positive and negatives to that.

7. Equally, at least, at a corporate event, there is no one there who is not there for the quiz, who is nattering away in the corner and entirely uninterested in what you’re saying.

8. Again, a very key point. At a corporate quiz night, the crowd could well be much more varied in terms of nationality, understanding of quizzes, range of knowledge. Having said that, in a different way, at certain events (and because everyone works for the same company) it might be much less varied. Basically, the key point here is that there will be more non-British people, and that has a big effect on the questions asked.

9. The drink is often free …

10. A corporate event has a higher all-round budget, so there’ll be more technology available. There is more of an onus, therefore, on professionalism and smoothness and on keeping people focused. Like it or not, it is a little more of a “show”.

11. The prize is usually not money, usually not a “stake” that people have put in [champagne and perhaps a trophy a standard example]. I don’t know exactly what, but I think that makes a bit of a difference to the fervour with which people compete to be the champions.

At different events, there are loads more differences, but what I’ve done is highlight the differences between a pub quiz and a corporate event which is most “similar” to a pub quiz. The main things, from a quiz master’s perspective, I’d say, are being able to select your questions carefully, having flexibility, and the fact that it is not an audience who necessarily enjoy quizzes.

Have any of you had experiences of both? Can a corporate quiz event capture the best qualities of a pub quiz?

The Professional Pub Quiz Night

When people ask me what our company quiz nights are like, they’ll often ask “Are they like pub quizzes, or different?” and generally I’d say, yes, basically, it’s a pub quiz night, but better than other pub quiz nights you’ve been to.

Don’t get me wrong – we are innovative, we do use clever technology in clever ways (keypads, buzzers etc.) and we have loads of fresh quiz ideas to give the companies who want a quiz night from us something they’ve never seen before. We can run a quiz night on anything under the sun (there’ll be a blog post on Themed Quizzes coming up quite soon) but equally we, and our clients, are generally most happy (because it works best) running a “classic” pub quiz night in something like the traditional format with pens and papers and rounds and scores and all the usual stuff (but no jokers…!)

So, you might ask, if that’s what you do, just a plain old pub quiz night, why should we pay you to do it rather than do it ourselves?

A few simple reasons – it takes away the hassle, it means everyone can take part, it gets rid of any accusations of bias. Even if you have someone really capable in your company, who loves pub quizzes, and would make a good quizmaster, these are still issues.

But, more importantly and straightforwardly, our quiz night will just be better. It will be smoother, more fun, more inclusive, less likely to contain mistakes, it will run to time, it will be surprising, comical, entertaining, competitive, relaxing: everything that you hope a work night out will be. We take being professional quiz masters seriously and offer the sorts of guarantee that you just don’t get if it is run by someone within your company. Cost is also a factor – the cost in terms of lost productivity if a colleague prepares the quiz night is probably not that different from the cost in actual terms that we charge for the quiz event as a whole.

It starts with the quiz questions which have been carefully crafted, checked, edited, narrowed down, tried and tested. We’re not just trying out questions off the top of our head on subjects which interest us, we’ve got a huge database of questions which have been thought through, ranked, rated and discussed, and we’ll ask you the most suitable for your pub quiz night. We’ll ask questions that appeal to your group, and any sub-groups within that.

We’ll provide the right professional quiz master and the right additional staff to make sure that the evening keeps ticking over, to make sure it’s time well spent for everybody rather than just a few hours after work you’d much rather be at home for!

At the end of a company quiz night, people invariably come up to and say: “I go to a lot of pub quizzes, but that was the best quiz night I’ve ever been to.” That’s great – but preaching to the converted is relatively easy. We know that a pub quiz night is not everybody’s choice of a night out.  The number of people who come up to us after our quiz and say something like “I don’t usually go to pub quizzes, I don’t enjoy them, but this was totally different, I loved it” is really the best justification for what we do.

Ties and Climaxes

We try extremely hard to ensure that all of our quizzes have an exciting climax. Sometimes it is pretty obvious to everyone which team has won, because they have been doing well all the way through, but even then you can try and build in a bit of suspense by at least making the top few teams feel that they are still in with a shout. I often say something like “the top three, in no particular order are…” partly to build suspense, but also just to make sure I haven’t accidentally missed out a team when reading out the rest of the scores.

However, even then, it is difficult announcing second place without the winners starting to  celebrate even before they have been announced (because obviously they know they have won). This is even harder when you have prizes to give out for third and second places. I’ll return to this topic of climax  when I’ve put it all in a bit of recent context…

I had a very interesting situation at the corporate quiz night I hosted yesterday for a law firm, and some of their clients and contacts, in Lewes. It was a very close quiz overall, but one team was about one point per round better than anyone else.

They were leading the pack by about 5 points going into the final round. Our normal final round has an (very straightforward) element of gambling involved, and the leading team went for broke, and unfortunately it went a bit wrong. So they did very badly on the last round, while other teams did rather well in general. So they were caught, and indeed overtaken at the death.

Now – I could see on the scoresheet that I had three teams tied on 75 points (incuding the team that had been leading all the way through) and one team had won on 76 points. There were prizes for first, second and third place, and no easy way to divvy up the 2nd and third prizes between three equal teams.

I was quite pleased with the tie-break game I came up with in the heat of the moment…

As it happened we had been running a buzzer round as part of the quiz, so I already had the buzzer set up, so it made sense to use them for a buzzer quiz play-off. However, I didn’t want to announce the winners and then do a play-off between the other three teams – a play-off for 2nd and 3rd place is not a good enough climax for a quiz night.

So – I explained the scores to the crowd (without telling them who had won) and invited one person from each of the top four teams to play on the buzzers at the front. I declared that the winning team (even though they didn’t know who they were) would play in the buzzer play-off, and we asked five questions on the buzzers which was enough to separate all of the tied teams to sort out 2nd and 3rd place.

So we had done an exciting buzzer play-off, the winners (who actually did poorly in the final buzzer contest) still didn’t know they had won, the leaders throughout the quiz had done very well on the buzzers (but may have thought this was academic as most teams, themselves included, thought they had won already…).

And then I was able to announce the final results to genuine excitement, and we managed to finish the quiz on a high, rather than a slightly anti-climactic 2nd-3rd play-off.

Well, I thought it was quite good!

Have you ever had interesting or unusual tie-break situations to resolve?