When we send quiz packs out to clients to run quizzes themselves, we always include an extensive ‘Quiz Master Guide’ to help them run the event smoothly, which breaks down the format, the running order, etc. And when we hire a new professional quiz master to run quizzes for us, we train them, ease them in, get them over a period of time to the point where they can confidently and skilfully run a quiz for us.
This post will be rather more informal. It’s just a few observations and hints which I just about feel qualified to give to anyone who fancies running a quiz, is new to running quizzes or is trying to get the hang of running quizzes.
First of all, it’s true that anyone can be a quiz master or quiz mistress. At its basic level, it doesn’t need any special talent. We’ve all been to (and still enjoyed) enough quizzes run by dozy, disinterested bar staff to know that’s true.
But not everyone’s going to be good at it. It does require a base level of confidence and clarity in speaking in public, a certain degree of composure, of decent judgement and, in my view, it really does require that you yourself are pretty decent at quizzes.
Having said that, this checklist is for quiz masters, not quiz writers. That’s a different ball game. I’m not going to talk about actual round construction and question writing here.
So here’s a bullet list of tips as they come to me. You may not feel they are universally applicable, but I think they’re a decent place to start.
- Know your material – I’ve said it here and in other places many many times, but for me this is the Number 1 fundamental. Even if you haven’t written the questions, you have to seem like you have, you have to know their context. This applies to everyone from a TV quiz master to a humble pub quiz host. Otherwise you risk looking like an idiot and a fraud very quickly.
- Don’t try and be too funny. The quiz is the main thing, funny can be a nice side product. We get a fair few enquiries from aspiring quiz masters telling us they’ve got cracking banter, or words to that effect (if you want to be a QuizMaster for us, we don’t want you to be the entertainment…you are the medium for the entertainment).
- Be nice. People can be annoying and sometimes you do need to be firm with them, and sometimes it’s ok to put someone down a little to show you’re in control. But, by and large, stay calm, be patient and be nice.
- Have a clear table/space on the bar in front of you to keep everything tidy and nicely organised..
- Keep people informed on exactly what is happening in the short term, so they’re not confused and irritated, but keep the long term plans back so that you can adapt, and also retain an element of pleasant surprise.
- Have a helper to do the marking and field enquiries if you can.
- Be aware of what is and isn’t pleasant to listen to. It’s really important to get the acoustics as close to right as you possibly can. Do a sound check beforehand, and be aware of where people are sitting in relation to the speakers.
- Repeat things, sometimes a lot. Questions, question numbers, instructions, answers, scores etc. There’s always someone who wasn’t listening first time, there’s probably someone who will tell you that you didn’t make something clear, and you will be able to be absolutely confident you did if you repeated it!
- Don’t give half marks.
- Don’t make up magic bonus marks on the spot!
- Be aware of pacing. Give people time to work things out but don’t let it drag. Don’t run rounds which turn into epic adventures. Don’t run “sessions” which are too long. One and a half hours is probably longer than one session of a quiz night should be without a break.
- You don’t have to have background music, but it helps to avoid “dead air”. You can cover not knowing what you’re doing for a second by playing a little background music.
- What if, heaven forfend, you’re wrong? How do you deal with it? Is the quiz master always right, even if he/she is not? I’m going to sound like a right pompous chump here but I don’t quite remember, as it’s been a long time since I’ve actually run a quiz where one of my answers was wrong, wrong, wrong. That goes back to point 1. I’d say, “no, the quiz master is not always right”. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. People have google. Who are you trying to kid? Find a way to swallow your pride while holding your dignity if there’s a blatant mistake. However, quite often, a question might have some manner of viable alternative, which people suggest, which the quiz writer hadn’t thought of… I can only say “be flexible” and be prepared to be generous. Use the magic of the internet yourself to confirm facts quickly.
- Don’t disqualify people. You don’t want a fight to break out.
- Don’t drink while running a quiz. Well, drink water. Anyone might stumble over their words once or twice within a couple of hours. Stumbling over your words looks a lot worse if you’ve a beer by your side. Also, a little tip from personal misadventure. Don’t drink too much Diet Coke while running pub quizzes or corporate quizzes! Just don’t, trust me. It’s a hard habit to break.
Ok, that’s all I can think of for now. A lot of that is probably blindingly obvious, and I’ve probably missed quite a lot of it. You mightn’t necessarily agree with all of it, but hopefully it’s of some use.