Common Quiz Night Complications Part 5: Questions in Advance

Every now and then we are asked, usually by events companies on behalf of their clients, if it will be possible to see the questions we are going to ask at their quiz night in advance. It seems to be a perfectly reasonable request (as long as we don’t find out that whoever has seen the questions in advance has then participated in the quiz – this does happen…!) but we strongly suggest that this process is not only unnecessary but very counterproductive for the quality of the quiz.

Why is it unnecessary? Clients may well want to make sure the questions are not inappropriate or rude, are well-judged for their staff, make sure the difficulty level is right, may even have their own suggestions about what will make a good question. Occasionally, for a certain type of event, a collaboration between ourselves and our client works well – if there is a very specific aim (e.g. a brand launch) or a very particular theme. But this is rare indeed.

By and large, it’s unnecessary because we know what we’re doing. We spend all our working (and waking hours) striving to make quiz questions and quiz rounds work perfectly. We can find out enough about the event and the questions required in an initial consultation to make sure we get the questions right. We don’t include inappropriate material and we’re very good at judging difficulty. If we do agree to clients seeing questions in advance, we do our best to stipulate that we’ll accept comment on the subject matter and feel of the quiz, but not really on the difficulty of specific questions. A client may flag up certain questions as “too hard” or “too easy”. What that means,usually, is simply that they do or don’t know the answer themselves (and rarely is it a balanced judgement based on writing and asking tens of thousands of questions for different audiences). Furthermore, our quizzes are structured so as to include some questions which are relative “gimmes”, some which are extremely tricky, and some which may appear difficult but are in fact relatively easy (and vice-versa). We don’t want everything to be at same level. It’s not untrue to say that 99% of the feedback we’ve had to act on about questions being too easy or too hard has been unhelpful to the quality of the quiz.

We hope that when people pay to book us, they accept what we offer. We have skills and expertise and a process, and hopefully they can trust us that it works.

That’s where it can get to being counterproductive for people to want to see quiz questions in advance. In general, we don’t prepare a quiz weeks in advance. In fact, the content of the quiz is never set in stone. The skill of all our QuizMasters is to be able to adapt the questions and rounds as the quiz is happening. I might have mapped out roughly what I’m going to ask beforehand but, for whatever reason, that might need to change on the night. The timings might go askew, there might be more non-British people than we’d been told, everyone might be getting a little more drunk that we had anticipated – the ability to change the quiz as it is happening is one of the very most important things that make our quizzes, we think, a cut above the rest.

I’ve often felt, if running a quiz where we’d sent our client the questions beforehand and everything was set in stone for the night “I wish I could change this a bit”.

We often compare our work to that of a stand-up comedian or an after-dinner speaker or a DJ: the jokes, anecdotes or tracks don’t necessarily work out of context, and we wouldn’t expect them to send their routine, speech or tracklist in advance…this is also why we are often reluctant to send “sample questions”: if you were booking a comedian you’d judge his/her performance as a whole rather than on the basis of a few one-liners out of context of the whole set. A good comedian, speaker or DJ adapts on the night to the audience, as does a top quality quiz master.

We’re far from awkward: we want to make sure we talk with our clients beforehand in order to deliver the very best quiz we can, but we do hope that means we are trusted to get our questions right without needing to go through them in advance.

Common Quiz Night Complications: Part 4

Another entry in this ongoing series, where I highlight recurrent, apparently reasonable enough,  requests from clients which we prefer not to include in our corporate quizzes and charity quizzes. So far, I’ve mentioned

  • Exaggerated Theming
  • Penalty or Bonus Points
  • Buying Clues

Now, it’s time to discuss (and eventually dismiss)…

Running Scores

Firstly, we’ll admit there isn’t a right and wrong  with this one. Plenty of good quizzes have running scores being read out, or indeed displayed on a flipchart, screen or laser display board.

You might well say “It’s like suggesting there shouldn’t be a Premier League table throughout the season. That would be rubbish”. Well, that would be impossible, for starters (unless Sepp Blatter announces even more sinister top-down proposals than he has managed to yet), but would it really be rubbish? Think how many dull games between mid-table teams with nothing to play for there used to be at the end of  the season, how much that lack of inspiration can still, even now when financial incentives have been brought in so that every position is worth fighting for to some extent, adversely affect the end of a season.

Here’s another sporting example. Occasionally, in Championship Boxing, someone’s had the bright idea of having the judges’ tallies being announced to the crowd (and hence to the fighters) at the end of the 4th and 8th round. But they found that the disheartened boxer who discovered he was miles behind on the scores would just give up, knowing that without a spectacular knockout there was no hope for him. Now, opponents of boxing might suggest that’s a good thing, that a boxer getting soundly beaten might be spared further punishment, but the point is that something introduced with the intention of providing the crowd with greater excitement actually had the opposite effect.

It’s not even necessarily the teams at the bottom who might lose interest. There’s glory in being rubbish and acting up to it. It’s those teams who might have gone into the quiz thinking they had a decent chance, but if they’re gradually dropping a few points per round, they’re falling behind. If it’s just the odd point here and there, they might well think they’re in with a chance right to the end, even though in truth, they’re about 10 behind. If they know it, disappointment and ennui might become evident, it’s only natural. No one wanted to be Spurs throughout the 90s (even, really, up to now), did they, with their endless mid-table boredom, and trust me, I was a Spurs fan, almost wishing we could have the occasional relegation scrap to liven things up.

We appreciate that people think that reading out running scores might keep things lively and exciting, foster and nourish rivalries, but, really, it can have the opposite effect. Here are a few other reasons …
1. It adds excitement to the final round, which in our quizzes has a format carefully designed to include an element of jeopardy. Teams gamble a little bit on what answers to write, and that gamble is more fun if they don’t know exactly what they’re aiming for. E.g. if the top team knows going into the last round they are leading by 6, they know they can play it very safe on  the last round – if they don’t know exactly, they have to take a bit more of a gamble, and, if they blow it spectacularly in the last round by getting lots wrong, well; that just adds to the fun.

2. Time. Our quizzes run to a well orchestrated flow. We build momentum and like to keep it going. Reading out running scores at the end of each round will slow the quiz down. This is only exacerbated if, as we’re sometimes asked, we put scores up on screen. In this case, the amount of time for scores to be added up and typed up will severely slow the quiz down. The only way to do this even remotely quickly is by inputting the scores directly into an excel sheet with a formula and then switching the signal to that laptop displaying the scores (as the quizmaster’s laptop will be in constant use and everything would come to a grinding halt if he had to stop using his laptop for a considerable time while scofes are inputted).

There would be cost of significant time and/or an extra, expensive piece of equipment.

3. The marking. We pride ourselves on the speed and quality of our marking, the way it blends seamlessly into the running order of the quiz. Running scores would make life a lot harder for the markers and prevent them doing their job as best they could.

Mistakes can be made, in both marking and adding up. In marking, it can take a fair bit of work to decipher some teams’ messy scribblings and getting all the sheets, correctly marked, to the quizmaster in time to read them out. Our markers are very good at it, but part of the process involves double-checking, throughout the quiz, that we totted each sheet, each round up right, so that we can be sure we’ve got it spot on by the end. Running scores puts pressure  on the marking to be perfect every step of the way, but any minor mistake, which we’d pick up during ongoing checks, would be highlighted by instantly giving out running scores.

What we do, always, is give out the scores for each round immediately the round is finished (though sometimes just a handful of the top scores in a larger quiz, for the sake of  time and momentum, though we’ll do our best to make sure all the team names, funny or not, are read out at some point).

Alert and sharp teams may well have a very decent idea of how they’re doing and who their rivals are – that’s fine. Likewise, sometimes individuals come up to us and ask us how they’re doing. We’re happy to give a vague idea – indeed I often announce how many points are separating teams etc. but anything more precise is to be avoided.

Really, tension and suspense is at the heart of it. It’s a similar case to when people hand in their answer sheet and say “Ooh, number 7 was a tester. What was the answer?” and we say “We’ll let you know when we read it out” and they say “But we’ve handed it it now, what’s the harm?” and the harm is that, once they know the answer, that will probably spread through the room, and so, by the time I read out the answer, which teams have been quarrelling over, rather than the roar of joy/shriek of despair which will greet it if teams are kept from knowing, there’ll be a damp pfft if everybody already knows. Might as well just hand people a sheet at the start, take it in, mark it and hand it back without a word.

Likewise, if teams know their scores all the way through, the tension will gradually be drained from the evening. Who knows, some teams might go home, start throwing paper planes, start cheating.

I said there wasn’t a right and wrong answer, but I’ve written this post as if there is! There are, I’m sure, positives to giving out running scores, but they don’t work for our format of quiz – and so we don’t do running scores: generally when people hire us they do so because they want us, with our thousands of quizzes worth of experience, to do what we know works best for our quizzes,

Culture Clash

I’m an avid viewer of ‘University Challenge’ but there’s something that always bothers me about it. It’s obviously a difficult quiz show with subject matters which reflect academia – that’s fine. It’s what the contestants are there for and it’s what the viewers watch it for.

But what bothers me is that, in the early rounds, the once-a-show music question might be either something to do with classical music or pop music, but when it comes to the later rounds it is always, without fail unless anyone can contradict me on this, on classical music. As if they’re throwing the stupid ones a bone early on, but when it gets serious, getting on with the proper stuff. I’d much rather there was no popular music at all than that it’s quite clearly treated as something “beneath”.

I fear this is reflected in Paxman’s own attitude whenever something from the “low-culture” world enters the realm. The superciliousness which he is – often unjustly – famed for enters his voice. “How ridiculous of you to know that!” he seems to say (sometimes he doesn’t seem to say it, he just says it …). “How ridiculous that anyone bothers to know that.” The danger, for him, is that this blanket approach to the low arts can make him look a bit silly – I remember a question about Canadian singers where he took the same “what nonsense!” approach to a team identifying songs by Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain and Joni Mitchell. It doesn’t take a degree in pop music and a slavish devotion to the greatness of late 60s/early 70s singer-songwriters to know that there are vastly different degrees of “nonsense” within that question. He ended up just looking a little ignorant.

Perhaps it reflects his own tastes and cultural perspective, perhaps it’s the show’s party line. It’s a highbrow show for highbrow people, fine. That’s its USP. But, both in my professional life and my personal life,  I find the persistence of that cultural divide pretty insidious.

As a quiz master, it works both ways. First of all, to fend off any claims of hypocrisy, those who’ve ever been to a QuizQuizQuiz quiz might know we often include a round called Culture Clash where, yes, we differentiate between “High” and “Low” Culture. We say there’s something for everyone,  a bit about books, art, and a bit about film and TV. I’d like to claim that’s a bold subversion and a lesson in breaking down the walls of elitism but, nah, it’s just a good round format where we try not to exclude anyone, where there’s an opportunity for a good range of questions.

If we do that round, we make it fair. We make it suit the crowd. It might be weighted more one way or another depending on who it’s for, but, either way, it’s generally about well-known books, well-known artists, well-known TV  shows, well-known films – interesting facts and quirky questions within that.

So it can be frustrating when the eyes roll when I say “Now a question about classical music” or, likewise, “Which TV show …”. I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing which’ll make a quiz master grit their teeth so much as the phrases “I wasn’t even born then” or “I don’t know anything about celebrities/pop music/TV”.

The thing is anything can be good and anything can, likewise, be worth knowing. Culturally speaking, if I live up to that credo, it means saying that the possibility of there being a good song by Westlife exists or the possibility of a good film by Michael Bay or a good TV show featuring Amanda Holden. It is possible, it might even already be real … might not … People might describe this as a form of (pop) cultural relativism.

Likewise, it follows that within each topic is something worth knowing. Our job as question writers is to find the thing worth knowing, or at least worth thinking about, within the topic, but the responsibility of the quizzer, as I see it, is to at least not dismiss the subject out of hand before it’s begun. I’ve seen people scorn questions about everything from sport to celebrity to politics to history to theology to pop music to TV to geography (really, I have! I mean, how do you think geography is beneath you?), and it bugs me.

Trivia’s a funny word, isn’t it? I disapprove of its use when applied to quizzes. Sometimes I tell people I write and run quizzes. “Like, trivia?” they say “No, not trivia, quizzes”. The word trivia is more persistent in America than the UK when applied to quizzes, to the business of knowing stuff in a competitive format.

But the word “trivial” is right there in both countries – that which is trifling, inessential. My “high-culture” background tells me that it’s from the Latin for where three roads meet, i.e that which is appropriate to the street corner, tittle-tattle. But whether is on high culture, low culture, celebrities, Ancient Greek architecture, sport or fashion, I think you’re missing a trick if you treat all or any of it as “trivia”, as vulgar and irrelevant to higher concerns. One day something that you learn  at a quiz may just save your life … or at least save you in an awkward social situation.

 

 

 

Confex

In March, for the first time, we decided to exhibit at a trade show, specifically Confex at London Olympia, a two-day event for people in the conferences and events industry.

There were stalls belonging to everything from hotels to singers to events companies to ice cream stands to Austin Powers impersonators. There were a lot of extremely impressive stands and big screens and people with clipboards and there was plenty of free coffee.

Since QuizQuizQuiz began, over 10 years ago, we’ve run quizzes at all sorts of events – fundraisers, after work bashes, client events, school competitions, nothing too big or too small. We’ve run plenty of quizzes at conferences too. Usually, these take place at nice hotels outside London, they often take place over dinner, they’re pretty fancy, there are usually various people buzzing around, organising. We’ve gained loads of experience in how to adjust and adapt our quizzes to make them work perfectly for that kind of event.

Sometimes they’re just a way to relax and unwind at the end of a long day, sometimes they’re integral to the team building aspect of the week.

Either way, we’ve been looking to increase the number of Conference quizzes we do, because we do them well, because we suspected it was a relatively untapped market, and because they’re fairly lucrative.

Our suspicions that it was a relatively untapped market were pretty well confirmed at Confex. We spoke to a lot of people who had never considered holding a quiz night at a conference. We were hopefully able to persuade them that it was a workable idea and to explain to them how it would work.

Various members of the QuizQuizQuiz came down and some of us were more natural salesmen and women than others! Rather than try to pretend we were something we’re not, we emphasized the fun element of what we do. We engaged people with picture rounds and quiz questions and gave away a lot of jelly beans. We ran a few ad hoc buzzer rounds and generally tried to give people something enjoyable as they wandered round what occasionally could have been quite a dry event.

Time will tell how much new business we brought in. We’re already seeing positive results. We happen to think that a quiz night, especially a QuizQuizQuiz quiz night, works wonders in almost every context, and sometimes it’s worth making the effort to explain that to people who might not have considered it before.

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.

Making quizzes work for a mixed audience

This is a guest post by veteran QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster Barry Bridges

I’ve been inspired to put pen to paper (or should that be finger to keyboard?) following a quiz that I ran last night which involved a very challenging, complicated audience.

They weren’t challenging because they were loud, rude or rowdy – far from it – but instead the difficulty came from the fact that within the small group of participants sat some of the very top names from within the British judiciary, including a number of high court judges. It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated.

As a general rule, if I ever want to make a quiz more difficult I tend to push the questions into a higher-brow direction. Last night was the first quiz I have run in nearly 9 years where to make the questions more challenging I skewed them towards a low-brow, popular culture direction.

All of which leads me to ask the semi-rhetorical question: how do you handle audiences which have a very disparate mix of abilities, cultural references and where the standard of general knowledge is very high? I’d like to share my thoughts.

First off, I’m a firm believer that quizzes need to be inclusive. One approach I am not keen on is making some questions appeal to one part of the audience and other questions appeal to others: for me that  that doesn’t work as I think we want people to participate in the whole quiz; not for it to feel like there are several mini-quizzes taking place at the same time. Additionally, if you’re cherry-picking questions to cater for specific sub-audiences, the quiz doesn’t scan well; easier questions alienate brainboxes as much as intellectual questions put off the man-on-the-street.

A key part of how I like to make mixed groups work is to include questions which are very much outside of everyone’s immediate frame of reference, which require a problem-solving element. For example, Call My Bluff-type questions work well, as do questions that might ask people to place locations on the map that you’ve heard of, but might not know the position of.

Around this, I would argue that you shouldn’t be afraid of popular culture: it’s a great leveller. Often, I’ve found that the more high-brow the audience is, the more they like to be indulged with a question on Eastenders, or teased with a clip of Kylie and Jason. I’m convinced by my own theory that even the greatest intellectual snobs secretly like to switch on X Factor when no-one is looking.

When all is said and done though, what happens if – despite all your attempts – you genuinely cannot reconcile a group of very different abilities? When one team is streaks ahead of the rest, or when one team is proving to be a rather tragic lantern rouge? I think there are two ways of addressing this.

The first one – although drastic – is to put a group out of their misery. Although cheating is most definitely not allowed (and we’re pretty good at spotting it if someone does try to bend the rules) I don’t feel there is any harm in giving a bit of additional support to a team that is languishing miles behind everyone else, provided it’s done with good intentions and in the knowledge that no number of clues will ever catapult them onto the metaphorical podium (although I would caveat this by saying that if a quiz has a wooden spoon prize, we would never deprive a genuinely badly-performing team with the chance to come away as the ‘loser’!).

The second one is to play up to the worst team’s lack of knowledge and showcase this in front of others. You would be surprised just how proud some people are of their lack of general knowledge; it’s a great talking point within the office and 9 times out of 10 the team in last place has a company-wide reputation for troublemaking and hi-jinks. Sometimes, the more you highlight their woeful performance, the more they feel involved (and – ironically – the more teams sometimes try to compete for the last place position).

So, in summary, catering for a mixed crowd can be difficult. You never want a walkover, but at QuizQuizQuiz I’m very careful to structure the quiz and question-order to provide a varied, balanced data of cerebral interrogation which caters to everyone in some form. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but hopefully I please all of the people most of the time, which is the next best thing.

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.

 

All Quiz Nights are Boring!

Aren’t they?

So they often need a bit of livening up with a bit of extra fun, like karaoke, a dancing hedgehog, making foil animals, dressing up as pirates, a mariachi band, an egg and spoon race, swapping teams, anything to keep people “engaged”.Quiz Night Hedgehog

Or that can be what people think if they’ve been to one too many slightly dull quiz nights where the questions were on the quizmaster’s favourite topic, and read out one after the other monotonously before the 30 minute wait at the end for the answers and the scores.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen all the above extra activities at quizzes I’ve run (and a lot more) and sometimes they can be a hoot, if they’re well organised, well coordinated, the atmosphere is good. But do I, fundamentally, think a good quiz night needs them, that the evenings were “enhanced” by them? Well, to be honest, no (apart, I admit, from the dancing hedgehog, which was amazing!). And quite often, indeed significantly more often, the very opposite. Evenings where the pudding is overegged, where too many cooks might spoil the broth, are a recipe for disaster (yes, I just wrote that ridiculous sentence, and I’m sticking with it).

I know, quiz nights aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (can I not escape from the food and drink theme today …). Quite often, I see people wandering in to the quiz, moaning a little good-naturedly – “Oh no, I’m terrible at quizzes”; “Oh no I don’t know any pop culture”; “I hope it’s not too hard”; “Remember the last quiz when Steve made it all about golf!”. And it is quite often on the back of Steve’s slightly underwhelming quiz on a heavy golf theme that QuizQuizQuiz is called in, as it’s decided that it’s probably worth seeing what the professionals can do.

And we deliver. I believe. Our quizzes are not boring, they’re anything but. The fun and excitement comes not because of forfeits or dressing up as jockeys or silly prizes, but because we genuinely know how to make a quiz exceptionally fun and everything but boring. Our quiz nights have really good quiz questions, quizmasters who know what they are doing and are knowledgeable and engaging. Our quizzes are fair, not dragged down by “dead air”, and everything rattles along at a good pace. There is something for everyone, even the person who thinks they’re rubbish at quizzes, because we explain what’s going on all the way through, because we have questions which involve music, interesting visual cues, and unusual and surprising thought processes. And we have all sorts of tricks up our sleeves according to what we think will suit the quiz night in question.

When I run a quiz, I don’t look out and see people looking bored – they look attentive, sometimes fiercely engaged with their team mates, sometimes delighted, sometimes furious with themselves. They sing along (who needs karaoke, and don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of karaoke) sometimes they even dance, they find themselves involuntarily performing actions relating to questions, and they cheer along.

That’s what quiz nights can be like – both competition and celebration, and really, anything but boring; that is, when they are done properly. If not, then wheel out the dancing hedgehog.

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].

Similarities

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

Differences

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.