In Defence of Quiz

A quiz master should never be defensive, of course. In particular a QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster who is trained and paid specifically for the skill to convert even the most fervently anti-quiz, to be inclusive and thoughtful and not make anyone feel like they’re stupid or too young or too old or not from the right place to enjoy the fun.

Sometimes, though, as part of the quizzing community, when one comes across certain expressions of contempt for the whole quizzle bizzle, one feels it reasonable to speak up a little.

“Who cares?”

Well, that depends. If no one cares, that’s obviously the quiz master/question setter’s fault. If hardly anyone cares, likewise. One shouldn’t ask questions that are so esoteric as to exclude all but the quizziest of quizzers.

But quizzes are a participatory, collaborational competition. If you’re in it, you’ll enjoy it more if you engage with it. If you don’t know an answer, well, someone else might, and even if you don’t know an answer, you might be able to provide a bit of information which will help someone else get the answer.

So, if a question is asked, and a fair proportion of the intended audience care enough about the answer, then that is a fair and reasonable question to ask and “Who cares?” is not necessarily a fair and reasonable question to ask …

“I wasn’t even born then”/”I’m not interested in modern celebrities/pop music”

Ever hear that one? A part of me understands and sympathizes. If excluded from the generational “sweet spot” of the quiz audience, and if a quiz is overly geared towards popular culture fans who grew up in the 70s and 80s, then you might feel a little discriminated against.

But if you’ve ever heard someone complain about a question about Buddy Holly (who died in 1959) as “bloody pop music”, or likewise about the end of the Cold War as “not fair, that was before I was born”, then you’ll hope that sometimes reluctant quizzers have to understand that they won’t be able to answer every single question, but a good quiz master does hope to give every team a fair crack of the whip.

If the age range at a quiz is from 18-70, you’ll try to throw something in for every generation, but if every single question was to be answerable by every single person in the room, you’d have a very narrow frame of reference and a very boring quiz indeed.

Quizzes are tests of knowledge. If you don’t know answers, hopefully there’ll be enough in the question that you can have some kind of fair guess. If you can’t have a fair guess, hopefully there’ll be someone on your team that can. There’s nothing too unreasonable about that.

I remember going to a pub quiz once which was so hard that my team got 18 out of 50 and still came second. Perhaps that was a little much, but I do remember that the questions were interesting and so I didn’t feel that put upon at the end.

And, sure, there are some people that like that mental challenge more than others, people whose brains work more effectively in other areas, and haven’t felt the need to store up bits of knowledge.

But, you know, sometimes it’s worth sticking up for quizzes a little. They are what they are, a test of knowledge, problem-solving and team work, and hopefully a fair one.

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.

The Flexible Quiz Master

Before we allow anyone to run a quiz night for QuizQuizQuiz, we put them through an intensive two-week yoga course to improve their flexibility. Well, we don’t, actually, though to be fair, sometimes the equipment we have to lug about and the tight corners we have to squeeze into in some pub’s back room do require a certain amount of physical flexibility. A pub quiz night can be great exercise for the quiz master!

But obviously that’s not what I’m talking about. Some of our quiz masters, sad to say, have not touched their toes since 2002. No, the flexibility which we’re really proud of can manifest itself in a number of diffferent ways.

Since we run several hundred quiz nights for different companies each year we have to be able to adapt.

We are prepared in advance for different kinds of crowds, different kinds of venues, to run different types of quizzes. We are prepared on the night for the numbers of participants in the quiz night to be totally different from what we were expecting, to have to shuffle teams around, for the timings to change completely, for the equipment at the venue to not be as we were anticipating. In any circumstance, we can adapt to put on the best quiz possible.

Timings, for instance, can often change a lot on the night, for reasons entirely out of our control – e.g. key guests turn up late, food from the kitchen is running late or early. Nevertheless, we still need to be able to run the quiz around whatever else is happening with timings. Just last week, one of our quizzes had to start 25 mins late, but still ended on time as I knew that that was important to the organiser, who was delighted that it still finished on time to ensure people could catch trains etc. and not be stressed about being out too late on a work night.

One of the main ways we can as good as guarantee that our quiz nights will be perfect for the occasion is the fact that we go into a quiz without a set script: we are prepared to change the quiz as we go, whether that means putting in or taking out rounds at the last minute, or deciding which questions to ask at the last minute. This is where a QuizQuizQuiz quiz master really earns his or her corn.

We’ve explained in some detail in previous posts how we put together our quizzes, so I won’t go into the technique much in this post. Instead I’m aiming to make a coherent case for running a quiz with an extremely flexible approach.

I suppose, without getting too grandiose about what we do (we know it’s not an artform, it’s just a way to help people enjoy themselves) think about going to see a comedian. Do you prefer it if they just go through their routine, one you’ve maybe seen them do elsewhere, without interacting, without improvising? Or, even more fittingly, what about a DJ? If a DJ just pops on a pre-mixed CD at the start of the night (and bobs his head up and down to the tracks and occasionally shouts something incomprehensible over his mic), is that likely to be as successful as a skilled practitioner who gauges the crowd, chooses each track carefully, judges the mood to a tee? [and believe me, i know what i’m talking about here, I’ve DJed at least, ooh, two weddings, and have managed to heed the groom’s instruction, at pain of death, not to, in any conceivable event, play ‘Come On Eileen’, in both cases].

Well, we back ourselves that our quiz masters are adept enough and experienced enough to get the quiz just right whatever the circumstance. For my own part, that doesn’t mean that I roll up with no idea what I’m going to ask. Of course I’ll have thought about it beforehand and done my preparation to the point where I’ll have a pretty good idea as to what kind of quiz I’ll be running, but the important thing is I’ll be able to change the plan, potentially dramatically, if necessary. I’ll be able to throw in a question that suits if I notice something about the crowd, or take out something that doesn’t. I might add in a round, make a round shorter or longer, or change the emphasis in a quiz depending on the mood of the event. Pretty much every quiz (in particular any given works quiz  / company quiz night) requires some adjustment on the night, minor or major.

Sometimes this approach can initially be a little bit of a surprise to our clients. We might be asked how many rounds there’ll be, what the rounds will be, how many points it will be out of, and sometimes clients will ask if they can see the questions in advance. For all parties, this is best avoided. We believe a lack of flexibility compromises the quality of our quizzes and a pre-scripted event can lead to the wrong questions being asked. As already discussed, you wouldn’t ask a DJ to send you a pre-recorded CD in advance, or have a comedian send you his script.

Of course we listen extremely carefully to our clients’ requirements, making sure we understand and adapt to the spread of age range, nationalities, jobs, etc. (just as a DJ or comedian would) – indeed this information is essential to our preparation. However, our experience tells us that a little bit of flexibility, and the ability to change things significantly on the night if needs be, goes a long way.

The other key element with our flexible method is that the participants only notice one thing: that the questions were bang on in terms of difficulty, content and context (i.e. format). It will never have occurred to the participants that we would, or could, adapt and craft the quiz in this way on the fly.

NB. I know pub quizzes are different from our corporate quiz nights, for a number of reasons 1. The Quiz Master should know his/her pub quiz audience well already 2. The quiz questions might have come from an outside source 3. There needs to be a weekly turnover of new questions 4. It’s perhaps more of a straight competition (as well as being entertainment). When we ran pub quizzes, they were, of course, pre-written. Even then, though, if a pub quiz master is not prepared to think on their feet, reword a potentially misleading question, add in a or take out a clue or two etc, then they may get into trouble.

 

Quiz Master Bingo

Some things come up every now and then at QuizQuizQuiz events, some more than others. Let’s have a look at some of things people say at a quiz night…

In no way am I mocking the use of these phrases, in no way am I saying these are phrases people shouldn’t use or that in any way cause me to bridle or sneer, they’re simply phrases one hears, and part of the fun and games of being a professional quiz master. Do they ring any bells?

So, in no particular order, here are the phrases that I’ve heard once, twice or maybe even rather a few times:

  1. If I slip you a tenner can I see the answers?
  2. Do you need them in order?
  3. Do you do weddings?
  4. Can I have a P, please, Bob?
  5. They won last year. Can you make sure they don’t win again?
  6. I wasn’t even born in 1980. How could I know that?
  7. Do you need the name of the song or the name of the artist?
  8. Can you repeat Question 4?
  9. If there’s a sports round, there should be a fashion round too.
  10. This is by far and away the best quiz I’ve ever been to. QuizMaster, you’re a genius, and I’ll definitely recommend you and your company to all my friends.
  11. Sorry, it’s on two sheets.
  12. We’ve written on the back of the sheet, and put PTO at the bottom of the first sheet.
  13. Where do you get your questions from?
  14. Can you tell me where the toilets are, please?
  15. What happens if you leave it blank?
  16. Can you tell that team to stop using their iPhone?
  17. We should get a higher number of points because there’s only four of us.
  18. Sorry, there’s beer on the sheet.
  19. Your flies are …wa-hey, made you look.
  20. Are they all from the same year?
  21. Do we need to answer all of the questions on the picture handout sheet?
  22. Can you give us an update on the overall scores?
  23. Is this your actual job?
  24. Shouldn’t we get a half mark for that?
  25. You said it would be General Knowledge. Geography isn’t General Knowledge.
  26. Can I have a bonus point for getting it in first?

Anything else along these lines that you hear people saying at a quiz night? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Sweaty QuizMasters

In this very hot weather, it can be tough for a quiz master to remain cool. Quiz venues are typically pubs, and pubs aren’t renowned for their ventilation systems. The people at the quiz have come to do a quiz, not to admire sweat patches oozing across the quiz master’s shirt. We’re even seeing “heat” themed quiz team names. One of our QuizMasters had a team called “Sweat on my Face” last night, which is nice.

So how to cope with the heat and still maintain at least some respectability of appearance?

As a QuizMaster, I have two simple tactics. I wear a t-shirt underneath my smart shirt. I might get hotter than I’d like to, but at least it won’t show. And I take my car to the quiz, and sit in freezing air-conditioning for 5 minutes before it starts.

TMI?

 

To Mark or Not To Mark?

At our quiz nights, the quizmaster and/or the quizmaster’s helper(s), does the marking. But I’ve been to many a pub quiz night in which the routine is for teams to swap papers and mark each others, and even quizzes when teams are trusted to mark their own quiz sheets.

In an earlier post about our crack squad of speedy and efficient quiz night assistants we wrote the following about teams swapping:

“It allows inconsistency, foul play, all kinds of grounds for querying, makes players work when they should be having fun, and is, simply, not as professional. It is also no quicker, if not indeed slower, than having one good marker doing all the sheets.” [and that one good marker could be the quiz master in many circumstances.]

In an exclusive extract from the QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster guide (which is for internal use to help our professional Quiz Masters share ideas) this is what we say about marking:

“We do all the marking ourselves. Why? Because we’re better at it than other people. Swapping papers is just something we never have to do. Anything that involves other people takes away our professionalism increases the chances of bad feeling, and will not end up saving time, as every five seconds someone will want to know if they should give a point for x or y and if the spelling matters. To be fair, this is never really an issue. People usually take pleasure in seeing us mark quickly.

There is another slightly lateral, but arguably even more important, reason for us doing the marking. 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.”

If you run a pub quiz night (or attend one), what is the form at your quiz night (and please tell us more in the comments!).

[poll id=’1′]

Go on then, tell us a joke

I’ve heard professional comedians complain that as soon as they reveal to someone that they are a stand-up, they are asked to tell jokes. I’m no expert but I am a big fan, and I know enough about stand-up comedy to know that many of the best stand-ups don’t tell jokes. And even if they do tell a joke, a single joke in isolation doesn’t have impact – you can tell a joke and rarely will people literally LOL. They’ll nod and say “Oh yes, that’s a good one.” Or worse, they might not get it, and then you have to explain and suddenly you are a bit of a rubbish stand-up comedian in their eyes.

There is an equivalent situation, frequently suffered by me and my fellow professional quiz masters. Everyone loves a pub quiz  – or so they say when they find out what I do for a living. What they also say when they find this out is “Go on then, ask me a quiz question.” So I do, and either:

(1) they get it quickly because I chose an easy one (or more likely something I think they will know based on what I know about the person), or

(2) they don’t get it quickly because I chose a puzzley-thinky type ingenious question (like “In the UK, what is the longest month of the year?” (*answer at the bottom) to show off the finer nuances of quiz question crafting – although such questions are usually designed to be answered by a team bouncing ideas around to try and reach the correct answer.

What happens next? In scenario (1) they say “More! Ask me another” and do the festivities continue. In scenario (2) they think about it, try to work it through and either get there (with or without a bit of prompting and guidance) and appreciate the elegance of it or they refuse to be helped and we sit there with an unanswered question simmering in the background making it impossible to continue any kind of meaningful discourse.

This may sound like a bit of a complaint – but actually it isn’t. It is often more fun a “conversation” than many other options. I think people may just be jealous that I can have such a fun job. Much like with stand-up comedians…but the advantage we have is that quiz questions usually can work in isolation in the way that jokes don’t always work (unless perhaps you are someone like Jimmy Carr or Tim Vine – who incidentally was an excellent celebrity quiz master at an event with us last year).

*October (31 days…clocks change…)

 

Profiling the Professional QuizMaster

Who becomes a professional quiz master?

If you run a quiz night, and get paid for it you are a professional quiz master. As Aleksandr Orlov would say: “Simples”.

But there is a difference between running an occasional quiz night and getting a bit of pocket money for it, and it actually being your main, or one of your main jobs. So I’m going to attempt to look at pub quiz masters, amateur and professional, according to the frequency (and type) of quiz nights that they run.

Mr. Church Hall / PTA / Charity Quiz Man Once or Twice a year

This quiz master is a very popular man in his local community. He will either be a bit of a character or will be famous for getting to the second round of 15-to-1 in 1994, not to mention the fact that he applied for Mastermind (and definitely not to mention that he was once the Weakest Link). He won’t be paid to run the church/PTA/charity quiz night, but he does an excellent job, and the quiz goes down well, and everybody says “We should do this more often” (but they don’t do it more often because it is a lot of effort to organise).

Mr. Landlord Pub Quiz Master

A pub landlord who runs his own quiz is almost always an excellent pub quiz master. He knows the locals and the regulars, and quite probably sets many of the questions himself. He is far more likely to be found hosting the quiz in a rural pub rather than an urban one – that’s just the way it is. Of course he does get paid – because he is the landlord, and the quiz night, all being well, results in a boost in takings that comfortably exceeds the time, cost and effort of putting the quiz together.

Mr. Bemused Desultory Member of Bar Staff

This is the awkward, often slightly inarticulate, cousin of the Landlord run quiz, and best avoided by punters and pubs alike. That’s not to say that a member of the bar staff can’t run a good quiz (and when they do it well they can elevate the quiz at least to Mr. Landlord Pub Quiz Master territory) but that when the wrong person ends up doing it then the worst kind of quiz experience is often the outcome, frustrating to all concerned.

Mr. Member of Last Week’s Winning Team

Plenty of pubs operate a “Win one week, set the next” system. This can result in wildly varying quality of questions and quiz master skills, and almost always results in one or two questions of monstrous difficulty on the quiz master’s pet subject. However, these quizzes often have the greatest variety, and in the right pub quiz environment can result in outstandingly good pub quizzes. No payment, but kudos.

Mr. Pub Quiz Master Once a Week

Not the landlord, but a regular at the pub who drew the short straw many a year ago, and now runs the pub quiz night once a week (apart from August and December when he takes one week off). Payment: multiple pints of beer.

Mr. Professional Couple of Nights a Week But Someone Else Writes the Questions

This quizmaster will work 2-3 nights a week, running a quiz provided by a company who does all the business side of things with the pub. Usually big quiz enthusiasts or people who like performing or some combination of the two. This is where we move from amateur to professional as payment now is half-decent and may even include a cut of the entry fees into the quiz.

Mr. Professional Several Times a Week and Writes His Own Questions

This is his actual job. Yes, his actual job. Writing quiz questions. Hosting quiz nights. What a job! He is, by definition, very good at both writing and hosting quizzes. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be busy enough and would need another job. He might well have another job anyway (but doesn’t need it) because he is a very talented man. Seek out such quizmasters and their quizzers. As the Michelin guide might say: 3 stars, worth a specific trip to visit. We recommend the Dale Collins Fun Quiz, which is on several times a week (six at the last count) in Oxfordshire and surrounds.

I’ve decided to stop here, and not comment on the world of the company quiz night that is our main world. It is a bit different, and we’ll talk about running corporate quiz nights and compared to a more traditional pub quiz night in a future post. We’ll also do some interviews with the QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters in coming weeks and months so you can get to know a little bit more about the people behind this blog.

[A quick word on spelling. We always used to spell QuizMaster without a space and with a capital Q and M when referring to one of the professional QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters, but we forgot about it, and actually once upon a time google wasn’t quite so clever at distinguishing terms and it seemed to help our search positions to spell it quiz master, with a space. So –  nowadays our spelling of this all important word (or words) is a bit haphazard!]