I’ll probably return to the issue of Minor Quiz Night Complications soon (there are still a couple I’d like to get my teeth into), but while it’s still in my mind, I’d like to write about the somewhat nebulous notions of the “feel” and “rhythm” of a quiz.
Funnily enough, the idea came to me when I was watching film critic Mark Kermode do his weekly blog on the BBC website. It’s usually pretty interesting and the subject matter is varied, but every week it’s somehow exactly the same. His phrasing is the same, his mannerisms are the same, the order, the rhythm, the way he delivers it is always the same. Not a bad thing at all. He probably doesn’t realise he’s doing it, it’s just the pattern he needs to fall into to be able to talk smoothly to camera for five minutes.
Quiz masters have to talk smoothly for upwards of two hours. Sure, we know what we’re going to say, we can make reference to our questions on screen or paper so it’s anything but one long ad lib, but still it’s a long time to be up front with a microphone attempting to maintain complete control of a room and ensuring everyone knows what they’re doing and is having a nice time.
To start with (I started as a quiz master almost 8 years ago) it’s a trip into the unknown. You know what you’re going to ask, but you don’t know how people are going to respond and you don’t know what you’re going to say in between and you don’t know how you’re going to get anyone to do anything. But gradually, as you run more and more quiz nights, you develop a patter, a patter you’re confident in, that comes naturally and unknowingly, and you develop a rhythm, a rhythm which sometimes has more control of you than vice versa.
To some extent, with me, it can be a bit overpowering. Someone might come up to me at the end of a long quiz night and say how well run it was and how much they enjoyed it and while I’m grateful for the praise, if I felt I lost the rhythm, my disappointment will override any satisfaction. It’s the little things. I hate to leave too long between questions, I don’t like to have to repeat questions too many times, any kind of silence (dead air) is anathema.
To the participants, they may not pick up on any of this consciously, but years of experience helps a quiz master to gauge a room, to know that the loss of rhythm will mean participants will be thinking things like “Nice quiz, but when’s my train home”, “Who’s playing in the Champions League tonight?”, “I’m really stupid, I’m no good at quizzes” etc. If I can run the quiz just right, with my flow and my pattern, I feel I can keep those thoughts at bay.
You know what it can be like when you see a stand-up comedian or a band? There’s the big start, the great gags and the roar of laughter, the rush of adrenaline. But then, 10 minutes later (if it’s not a comedian of the highest order) the momentum drops and the chemical comedown can be really crushing. Likewise a gig where a band plays a couple of rather dull slow ones and tunes up interminably in between. In a quiz, we don’t necessarily deal in such large surges of adrenaline, but we just want to keep the right feelings bubbling along.
It’s not like every quiz is the same. Far from it. Being an itinerant quiz master who works for the corporate dollar, every quiz is very different in every way. The venue is different (with the accompanying sound challenges), every crowd is different, the rounds I run change from quiz to quiz, the questions change, the length is different, the helper is different, the prizes are different.
But it’s my rhythm, my feel for the quiz, which allows me to deal (hopefully) seamlessly with those differences.
What am I talking about? What I say at the start, how I structure the questions, the breaks in speech, the time between questions, the hand gestures, the length of musical clips, the way I deal with enquiries, all those things and no doubt plenty more which are even more subsconscious.
From both sides of the fence, do you know what I mean? As a quiz master, are you aware of your own rhythm? And, as an experience quizgoer, can you notice when the quiz master’s “lost it”, when the atmosphere in the room just changes imperceptibly from pro-quiz to indifferent?