It’s a Five Quiz day

Today is a five quiz day. The most we’ve ever done in one day (so far!) is 6. These mega quiz days usually happen on Wednesdays and Thursdays in November, March and May – our busy quiz running months. QuizQuizQuiz’s professional quiz masters are in London, Newport and Farnborough (that’s where I’m heading) hosting Thanksgiving lunch quizzes, company staff social quiz nights and client entertainment events. Each quiz will be perfectly adapted to suit the timings of the event and the appetite of the audience.

We still have some availability in December, so please email [email protected], use our live chat (below) or call 020 7199 3456 if you’re looking for a fun, interactive quiz with one of our wonderful quiz masters.


The Hidden Rules

When people come up to me at the end of a quiz I’ve run in order to pay it a kind compliment,  it doesn’t usually extend that much further than “Great quiz”, “That was really fun”, “Clever quiz questions”, “That was tough but we really enjoyed it”, “I’m not normally one for quiz nights but I loved it”, etc …

They don’t tend to say things like “I particularly enjoyed the way you only included two numerical questions in the 4th round” and “That 17 second gap you left between questions 6 and 7 of the final round was pure gold!”

Nor would I expect or want them to. But that’s the part that’s important to me. If a quiz comes over as a great quiz, that’s all that really matters, but how we, as QuizQuizQuiz quizmasters, arrive at delivering a great quiz night is a rather more complex process.

Here are a few of the basics

  • Variety. Switching from subject to subject every question, varying length of question, answer type, giving each round a different style, different pacing, different sounds, different pictures.
  • Speed. Never give people time to think they might be bored. Give them just enough time to be sure they’ve heard and understood every question, just enough time to discuss it, just enough time to enjoy getting it right, then move on. No dead air, no dilly-dallying or shilly-shallying. Move from round to round smoothly. Obviously, allow people time to eat if they need to eat, but even in the break, give them a little quiz-related task (e.g. finish your picture rounds).
  • Clarity. Tell people what’s going to happen next. You don’t have to give them a detailed itinerary, in fact it’s far better not to, but make sure everyone knows exactly what is happening and how the current round works. If you repeat a question clearly and efficiently once or several times at the time of asking it first time around, you won’t have to keep repeating all the way through.
  • Authority. Know your material, that’s the single most important thing I’d tell new quizmasters. If you’ve written the questions, read round them a little. If you haven’t written them, know exactly how to pronounce every word, and make sure you know exactly why the right answer is right and why possible alternatives are wrong.
  • Judgement. Even if you can’t, as such, adapt a quiz on the hoof, get a feel for the participants and how they want to be treated. Some quizzers don’t want to be mollycoddled, they just want the good, tough questions and they want to win. Some crowds need all the help and encouragement they can get.

Most of the effort a quizmaster puts in to making a great quiz night goes unnoticed, or should do. But with experience, a quizmaster developers their own set of unseen rules and guidelines which are all rewarded but just by the simple words “That was a fun quiz” at the end of an evening.



Food for Thought

This could be awkward …

Erm … can you spare a goujon?

Thankfully, it never really happens like that, but the issue of whether our quiz masters are fed at corporate quiz nights is a surprisingly odd one. It would be a moderately entertaining game of chance, if it didn’t occasionally accompany hunger.

Our policy has changed. For several years, we decided to be overly polite and not explicitly ask to be fed at an event, and we didn’t ask in advance or on the night, and often left it to chance. If it happened to come up beforehand,  our bookings manager might tentatively say that we wouldn’t mind some food if there was any going.

This could be tough – you’d usually have a little something beforehand just to make sure, and then, when time came around, quite often hosts were very thoughtful and generous, and if they weren’t, well, so be it.

After a few years, out of responsibility to our quiz helpers, who often asked in advance and might have come straight from work, we decided to be a little more clear, and ask the question “Will there be food for the QuizQuizQuiz team?” in our questionnaire.

It felt like an obvious improvement – if the answer was “No” well, that’s fine, we can eat substantially beforehand or buy our own sandwich for the break, if “Yes” (as it is about 80-90% of the time, where applicable) hurray! Guaranteed food.

But it’s not so simple. Oh no.

Certain issues arise. It is entirely understandable that the host organiser has several more pressing issues on the night than whether our team is fed, so forgets to mention it to us, which can be awkward; they might also not have mentioned it to the venue, so, even if they say to us “there’ll be food for you” they may not have communicated that to the venue. Or they might have done, but the venue haven’t communicated it properly to their staff on the night.

Of course, these problems don’t really arise if there’s a buffet. Buffet, hurray, we say. As long as at some point someone has said it’s ok for us to have something to eat, a buffet is fair game …

But, when it’s pre-ordered meals, table service, that’s when it gets tricky. Because, even when the client host has said we’ll be fed, in advance and on the night, even, sometimes when the restaurant manager has said to us they know we’re getting food, even then, there is still a further obstacle, and that’s the interesting bit …

Waiters …

I love waiters. I’m never rude to waiters. I know (as most of us, do from personal experience) what a tough job it is, so I note this purely because it’s interesting. Waiters sometimes just do not bring us our food. Even if there is a plate of food for us, they wander round the venue, looking keenly for a mealless diner/participant, stare straight through us, even if we’re giving them our most pleading eyes, and return to the kitchen with the plates. I think it must be something with the attitude of servility ground into them, where they see us, like them, as inferior staff, who cannot possibly be eating high-class food in the open. We are invisible to them as human beings. It really happens like that surprisingly often.

I mean, we are service staff, and sometimes the client insists we can’t be seen eating by quizzers, so asks us to eat, if they do provide us with food, behind closed doors, which is kind of fine, if a bit weird, though perhaps less weird than munching down a plate of food up on a stage in full view of everyone. Something in between is best, really.

Because, the thing is, what most clients realise, but some don’t, is that … how can I put this … we are the most important people there. The whole evening’s success depends on us above all. We’re worth treating well. We’re not rock stars, we don’t have a rider (if I had a rider, it would be samosas … and chocolate hobnobs …) but we are, for that night, a valuable commodity.

So, in addition, a little hint, if anyone’s reading … if there is a mid-quiz food break, then feed us first, if I might be so bold. It seems a little counter-intuitive, when there’s a room full of invited grandees, and we do usually end up being fed last.

Why should we be fed first? Because there is a lot more for us to do towards the end of a mid-quiz food break e.g. marking, making announcements, even restarting the quiz as opposed to finishing our meal. Let us just get our eating out of the way and get on with work.

I had a pretty ludicrous occasion at a large quiz recently (30odd teams), which I’d run several times before and had always been a buffet, but this year was table service. Well, it wasn’t just us kept waiting, but suffice to see barely half the participants had their meal after the half hour allotted for a break, let alone us. The quiz was briefly delayed but we ended up cracking on as the waiters carried on serving. Finally, 1.5 hours after the dinner break began, just as I’m finishing off a round and sending my markers out to collect sheets, the waiters arrive with cold meals. Not ideal timing. It’s not the best look, scoffing down chips while talking into a microphone, so I went hungry that night.

Gosh, this sounds like complaining. Being fed is a bonus, and it usually works very smoothly, and I have had some really fantastic meals in the service of quizzing down the years, but yes, sometimes, it is the hope that kills you.

Comparing Corporate Quizzes

Corporate quizzes are our main business. I’ve explained before what a “corporate quiz” is, but essentially, most often, it’s like a pub quiz except there are more people in suits i.e. the “corporate” is in the participants, rather than the content.

So, what of those participants? How do they fare? As a QuizQuizQuiz quiz master, I’ve spent a lot of my life dipping into the corporate world, given my name to a lot of receptionists, worn a lot of lanyards, seen a lot of offices and conference suites, met a fair few CEOs and a lot of PAs, have along the way picked up a little bit of what the difference is between various industries which, when I was younger, I would categorise in blanket terms of being “business” or “city”.

We’ve done quizzes for all kinds of professions and non-professions … lawyers and bankers and support workers, doctors and traders and insurers, programmers and advertisers, marketers and teachers, consultants and accountants, journalists and electricians, charity workers, salespeople, teachers, builders and chefs, gamesmakers and engineers, as well as children, parents, volunteers and churchgoers, not to mention all other uncategorisable quizzers.

What can I tell you? Do any stereotypes hold up? Well, I will say that on the occasions we’ve found that teams have been keeping their own (and everyone else’s!) score to the end, vigilant and competitive, they’ll be lawyers or parents of private prep school children. And I will say, that, yes, traders are extremely loud and bawdy and competitive but also that they actually really listen and pay attention, even when it seems like they’re not.

Beyond that gentle generalisation, well, people are people. Sure, one picks up little things about the differences between groups, but quite often that’ll be about the culture within a company, rather than wider professions.

And can I tell you who is best at quizzes? Well, we did once try to find out, just for a laugh. We did a statistical study of the scoresheets for all our quizzes. Now, there is a massive caveat  which really renders the study a little bit worthless, which is that people aren’t getting the same quiz. Indeed the very skill of a QuizQuizQuiz quiz master is to prepare the quiz beforehand and adapt it as it’s happening so that it is neither too easy for the best team nor too hard for the worst. So, actually, across professions, we would hope to discover that average scores are very similar.

I’ve also said that we’re aiming for the highest score at any quiz we run to be no higher than around 90% and for the lowest to be no lower than around 60%, so I suppose we’d hope for the average scores across professions to be somewhere between 70% and 75%, if we were really good at what we do …

Well, what do you know? Our statistical research told us that, across professions, the  highest average score was just over 75% and the lowest, just over 69%. So, we can be pretty happy with it. In fact, nearly all the professions are between 71% and 75%, and as for the only one a bit lower, at 69% (to ensure no embarrassment, I won’t reveal what it is), we actually run a lot of huge events for that profession with anywhere up to 60 teams, and the more teams there are, the harder it can be to make sure the lower teams just there for the jolly are still staying in touch in the scoring charts, so it’s an explicable blip.

What profession was the winner, for interest’s sake? Technology, just ahead of Education and Law. But do take that with a pinch of salt. My own experience tells me a quiz crowd, a company, a profession can always surprise you. If you go in thinking either “they’ll be really good at quizzes, they’re lawyers” or  “let’s keep it pretty basic, they’re …” you may get your quiz level totally wrong. It’s always subtler than that.

Which profession is really the best at quizzes? Well, quiz masters, I hope ….

A Year in Quiz

We’re approaching the end of the busiest quiz season – our quiz masters have been flat out for the last few months running charity quizzes, school quizzes, brand launch quizzes, company quizzes, quiz competitions, university quizzes and Christmas quizzes up and down the country. And then, when it gets to the few days before Christmas, naturally enough … nothing. Not for a while, anyway. It gradually picks up again as January progresses (a good time to get a free date in our diary, if you’re interested) and hits a decent stride again in February.

But late December and early January gives us the breathing space to take stock and look closely at our product. We review all our feedback from the year, we look at all our material, write new questions where needed and collate everything we’ve produced in the previous year into a brand new database.

Every year, we want our quiz masters to run better quizzes than they did last year, so we have to improve our material and train people to use that material as well as possible.

At the start of 2014, in particular, we made a determined effort to improve our quiz nights as much as possible (I keep on resisting the urge to use a phrase like “take it to the next level”, “give us the wow factor”, “dial up the quiz experience to 11” … phew ….). We gently phased out a few old favourite rounds which perhaps belonged to a different era; we redesigned our on screen graphics, we created a lot more video content; we improved our picture rounds; created lots more varied audio content; came up with several new round ideas and determined to actually use them rather than relying on the tried and trusted; we bought a few new little gizmos and gadgets which just make quiz running a little smoother; and we continued working on further technological advances (technology not being my own strong point, I shall elaborate no further out of mild ignorance).

Anyway, it’s been a more exciting year than usual, seeing how all these new quiz night ideas stood up, seeing if we’re bringing a noticeably better quiz than in previous years.

Speaking for myself as a quiz master (rather than as a question writer), it’s been great. My first quiz with all the new material was for 55 teams in a huge conference room in London … and was being filmed … so no pressure. But I instantly saw what a positive response the new stuff was getting. One of the best things has been having a larger range of rounds to choose from. I can go into a quiz confident that I have different styles and lengths of round to suit every occasion, to adapt on the spot if needs be. Countless new questions have rapidly become old favourites.

As we’ve gained more and more repeat clients down the years, it became a challenge ensuring they were getting something fresh in terms of quiz rounds and content every time, but this year, we really haven’t had to worry about that so much. There’s so much new, fun stuff, it would be impossible to do something that was same-old, same-old.

And the good thing is we’re full of ideas to improve our quizzes for next year. There’s a massive bank of new material to incorporate and a few great new round formats to work on promoting from the “lab” to the “field”. Just need a little Christmas break, and then back to it!

Don’t ask us this question

Please don’t ask us for a male QuizMaster. Or a female one. Or a fat one. Or an old one. Or a gay one. Or a non-[enter name of religion here] one. etc. etc.

We’ve written about this before.

We have, perhaps half a dozen times in the last 10+ years that we’ve been running quizzes, been asked “Please can we request a male QuizMaster – we don’t think a female quiz host would be suitable for our event because of [xyz]?”

The problem is, as soon as the question is asked, we are put in a horrible position.

We have to politely and forcefully explain that this isn’t appropriate.

And we have to politely and forcefully explain that this isn’t how we work. All our QuizMasters are highly trained professionals, and their attributes other than how good they are at being a QuizMaster are irrelevant – we allocate our QuizMasters to quizzes according to a blend of, amongst other things, experience vs event complexity, client relationships with QuizMasters, subject matter compatibility and individual availability.

It’s our job to make sure our events are superb, and we hope our clients will trust us to get this right – and we do: our client approval and rebooking rate is as close to perfect as we think is achievable in this kind of industry.

Back to the main topic: once we have been asked for a male QuizMaster, it is difficult for us. We could just say “Sorry, with that question we cannot do business with you.” Maybe we should. But we are a small business, and we generally need to be able to ride difficult situations if we can. So, if we then persuade you to retract the request, do we then send you a male QM anyway? Or a female one to prove you wrong?

Or what if your fears about having a female QM are because you are worried your group can’t be trusted to behave and will cross a line of banter into unacceptability and potential misogyny or harassment? If the group is so awful/sexist then we shouldn’t really be sending anyone. But let’s say we do. Then what will happen? More than likely everything will be great, our QM (male or female) will entertain and control the participants really well. But just possibly something bad might happen. Our staff might complain (and we’d always encourage them to speak up if anything at a quiz made them feel uncomfortable, or worse) and get you and everyone in trouble (rightly so). And then where does that put us as an employer having sent female staff (perhaps not just the QM but also one or more female quiz assistants) into a situation which we could have anticipated would be inappropriate (or worse)?

So, please don’t ask. There are many reasons why we operate as we do (i.e. sending the best person to be the host of each quiz). Luckily the reasons explained in this blog post are only a very small part of why we operate this way – the main reasons are to be efficient and excellent in everything we do.

All QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters are created equal, as long as they are brilliant at their job – and that job includes being able to adapt to vastly different audiences and rabble rousing/crowd control situations in an appropriate way to ensure the event is awesome.

So please don’t ask.

What are people trying to achieve at a quiz?

I’ve been thinking about the fact that different people at different places want different things from quizzes. That’s obvious, really, but it’s definitely worth every quiz master remembering that fact.

What I want from a quiz that I am hosting (from a personal perspective) can coincide loosely with what the event organiser wants. Event organisers, depending on the event, may want a variety of things like team building, networking,  employees feeling good about their employer, the publicising of a brand, a particular message to get across – all these generally boil down to it being a good, fun event where people get on, enjoy themselves and people will say afterwards that it was a good event.

That last bit’s what I want too, basically, for different but linked reasons. I want it be a good, fair, lively, competitive quiz, for it to be smoothly and well run; I want it to stand out from other quizzes they’ve ever had, I want people to think the questions were memorable, the rounds were innovative; I want there to be no mishaps and controversies. Above all, I want people to be entertained.

At the back of my mind, I know that’s because I want the client to think well of QuizQuizQuiz, to book us again, to think we’re a safe pair of our hands and to think we live up to what we promise.  By and large, I forget about that once the quiz is underwasy and the momentum of the event takes over: I want the quiz to be fun and competitive because of a mixture of professional pride and taking pleasure in other people’s enjoyment.

These are all good solid motivations. I’m a professional working for a business and I’m trying to do my job well, which is to entertain and provide an enjoyable evening.

But sometimes a quiz master might forget that the motivation of nearly everyone else there is different from that. Many participants may not really care about there being a positive atmosphere and thinking  that it’s a nicely put together quiz, that it’s all being run smoothly and with clear direction A few might notice that kind of thing and it’s great if they do, but basically, most people want to win the quiz and feel that they, personally and their team, have had a good time. Purely and simply.

They’re not thinking about any kind of bigger picture. Of course having a few drinks and a laugh is an important part of it for many people, but, above all, the really important thing is that they want to  get as many right as they can in order to win.

Whereas, obviously, I, as the Quiz Master, don’t care at all who wins. I’d rather one team didn’t win by a huge margin but, otherwise, I’m a bit removed from people’s fierce competitiveness.

If you’re not careful, it can take you aback. A participant might act in a fiercely competitive way, for example marching up to me while I’m speaking and demanding I repeat a question I’ve already repeated twice because they were in the loo, and a quiz master might think “does this person not realise that this is a small delay which adversely affects the excellent momentum this quiz has built up and the altogether delightful atmosphere?” Well, of course they don’t, or if they do realise, they don’t really care. They want to win and they’re going to fight for it.

That’s what many people can be like when they take part in quizzes, anyway. Even for me, though I have a professional hat I can put on, and I can think “aah, that was a good question, this is a very efficient quiz master, this room has a good atmosphere etc …” I still will put that all aside in my effort to win the quiz.

So, it’s an obvious thing for every quiz master to remember. On a good night, where everyone is in perfect harmony, it can seem like every participant is collaborating with you with the same agenda to have a fine all-round quiz evening. But above all most people are just trying to win the quiz.

Weird Places to Run Quizzes

I ran a quiz recently in a London night club, which isn’t a particularly weird place to run a corporate quiz. Quite often clients arrange for their quizzes to be in rooms in clubs – sometimes this is ideal, as we can just plug into a perfectly set up DJing booth.

On this occasion, there was one little problem: the “separate” room we were in had swing doors through to the main dancefloor with nothing in between – I fought a battle with the cheesy hits coming from the adjoining room all night – I think I won the battle, but ended the evening a little hoarse and a little deafer than I was before.

It got me thinking about the stranger/less ideal places I’ve run quiz nights.  It’s one of the main differences between what we and most quiz masters do: we travel around and set up ad hoc to run quizzes in many, many different venues. We always get it to work, but sometimes it’s easier than others.

There isn’t, as such, an ideal venue. What we’re looking for, roughly, is a room where everyone can see us/the screen(s) (so columns, nooks and crannies and L-shapes are usually a bit of a no-no), where either portable/in-built speakers can be placed where they don’t deafen participants or give feedback, where there’s enough space for everyone, where there’s at least enough light to read and write, where there’s atmosphere rather than sterility and, above all else really, a distinct space where there isn’t noise from somewhere else seeping in and likewise where we don’t have to worry about disturbing other people who aren’t taking part in the quiz. Different kinds of rooms can suit different events, and, like I say, we can make it work even when it’s not perfect.

Generallym, our clients choose the venue and we help them in advance as much as we can – it’s very rare that we say a venue they’ve chosen is really impossible, but we do sometimes advise a repeat client that a venue they used one year really shouldn’t be used for a quiz again.

It usually works very well. There’ve been some tough ones though. Open courtyards in the rain, while 100s of office workers looked on from the outside, bemused. Sections of restaurants separated from the rest of the venue by no more than a bench. Nightclubs where the light could not be raised above a dim twilight. Riverboats with very small indoor sections. Private member clubs without chairs or tables. Downstairs rooms at curry houses where I had to set up on a fridge. Tiny alcoves where our helpers had to sit on the floor, under the table. Such a severe lack of space that our helper had to sit on the other side of a closed door. Space museums with teams in separate exhibition rooms. Leith Dockers Club at 10pm on a Sunday after karaoke night (that was probably my all time favourite). Those are just the ones I can remember. Often, though, a room which ought to be fine has some surprising problem, but rarely anything which can’t be solved out of the QuizMaster’s bag of tricks (both literally and figuratively): vast lengths of cable, an ingeniously positioned speaker or two, huge amounts of duct tape, auxiliary cables, standing in exactly the right spot and speaking at exactly the right volume. It’s all part of the fun, I suppose.




Two rooms of Norwegians

One of our most experienced QuizMasters, Brewis, faced an interesting challenge earlier this month: run a 45 minutes quiz for 50 people, all from Norway (+ 1 from Sweden), on an away weekend in the Cotswolds. Brewis picks up the story:

“As I was preparing the quiz for this very specific audience, I realised that some of the things that I rely on when there are a lot of non-native British people in the room simply didn’t apply. Normally, there are a good number of British people mixed around, so it becomes fair to expect answers to be submitted in English: but when nobody is a native English speaker that doesn’t seem quite fair. So I had to check the Norwegian names of all the countries, films, TV shows, chemical elements, etc. that were answers throughout the quiz so I could be sure of marking fairly.

For example, on one of the questions the answer was “Knight” as in the chess piece – but 3 teams wrote down “Springer”, the Norwegian word for “Knight” in chess. We also have a question about chemical elements whose name begins with the letter S in English…but Zinc in Norwegian is Sink, whereas Sodium in Norwegian is Natrium. So I allowed them both – but I was well prepared.

I was intending to do some Mystery Voice questions, but it occurred to me that many of the English voices are ones that Norwegians may never have heard, because of dubbing or the like. After all how many British people know what e.g. Angela Merkel sounds like when speaking German? She’d always be shown with a translated voice-over on British TV.

But much excitement was had when there was a tie-breaker at the end, and I summoned one person from each of the two teams in equal first place to identify a famous song from a film that I played in rewind…I have to admit that the reason I chose it was to show off that I knew the Norwegian name for the song…Alas neither player got the answer (despite almost everyone else at the quiz not involved in the tie-break seeming to know): it was ‘Superoptikjempefantafenomenalistisk’ or, in English, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Onto the second tie-break, which was children’s TV themes, and this time they got it very quickly, identifying ‘Brannmann Sam’ (which I played in Norwegian: that’s ‘Fireman Sam’ in English). And the whole audience was singing along, in Norwegian.”

Brewis was also very proud of his handling of a logistic difficulty:

“As it happens the teams were spread out across two rooms, so although the speaker system fed both rooms, I didn’t want to spend too much time back and forth between the two during the quiz for fear of slowing things down too much – after all the allocated time for the quiz was very short at just 45 minutes. But I wanted to make sure that both rooms saw me, and I saw them, for a proper introduction at the beginning. So I turned the speaker off in Room 2 while doing the introduction in Room 1, then headed over to Room 2 having muted the speakers in Room 1 so they got their own introduction. I created a sense of competition between the two rooms, and then headed back to my base station and re-connected the sound to both rooms and got on with the quiz.”

I’ll leave you with this:

Killing the atmosphere

We’ve written before about different methods for marking answer sheets. Our method at QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights is always to mark them ourselves. The Quiz Master or assistant will do all the marking: compared to other methods, it’s quicker, more accurate, and crucially (for the purpose of comparison in this blog post) helps with the atmosphere of the quiz.

One of the reasons why we like to mark is that it helps us create more suspense, and from there more excitement, at the answers.  As we wrote in a previous blog post: “Many of our questions require teams to think very carefully about answers – and are designed to make them feel clever when they come up with the correct answer. Often they will not be 100% sure that they have the correct answer until we announce it. Now, if they are marking another team’s paper then they may see that this other team put the same answer as them. They will be much more sure they are right with this confirmation, and when the correct answer is read out they will cheer much less if at all. Multiply this to every team, and a guaranteed spontaneous cheer from the entire room could disappear completely.”

I went to an excellent quiz the other night at a local pub – but it was suffering from a lack of teams over the summer (we were one of only 5 or 6 teams playing compared to the usual 12-16 that they said they normally have). To make matter worse the QuizMaster did things in a rather unusual way. She took the answer sheets in to mark herself (which we approve of!), but then she handed them back out complete with ticks and crosses BEFORE reading out the answers. This meant that the only source of suspense for us was waiting to hear what the correct answers were for the ones we had got wrong. There was no sense of suspense or excitement on the several (for it was a well written quiz) questions where we were making carefully deduced guesses but weren’t sure if we had plumped for the right answer. Of course we knew we had (or hadn’t) before the answers were read out, so it wasn’t very interesting at that point.

Maybe I am being harsh, but these things do matter!