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 hello@quizquizquiz.com, 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.

Lesley

A Room of One’s Own

Most of the time, setting up for a quiz is very straightforward. My dream venue is a convex hexahedron with a modern, well-kept PA system built in, and a screen or screen and projector with easy connection to our laptop. When we are not confident that this sort of kit is available, we bring our own PA system, and it’s usually an easy job to pop a couple of speakers in sensible places. We are most comfortable standing behind a table with our laptop on it, presenting to a room of teams with ample space to move around and light to quiz by.

From time to time, something isn’t quite right at the venue despite our requests for space and furniture, and we have to work round a slightly tricky situation.

I’m reminded of a restaurant function room in Bristol, where Jack and I ran a corporate quiz night about 15 years ago, and in which space was so limited (they’d tried to squeeze too many teams in) that we didn’t have a table, or anywhere to sit, and poor Jack had to run the quiz with his laptop on the seat of a chair whilst he stood between two round tables of teams and I crouched at his feet, perilously close to the participants’ shuffling chair legs, to mark the teams’ answer sheets.

David Brewis and I once ran a corporate quiz in a smart London hotel where, on arrival, we were informed by an apologetic staff member that there wasn’t a single table left in the entire building. We found a table frame and some cardboard in a cupboard and made a table for ourselves using the gaffer tape we always carry.

We very often run quizzes in clubs and bars with atmospheric lighting which can be frustrating for not only the quiz master but also the teams peering at their answer sheets in the gloom. As I’ve got older, I’ve found myself buying more and more torches and reading lights to put in my kit bag!

It’s important to book a private room, otherwise teams struggle to hear the quiz master against the noise in the bar/restaurant, and the other customers are either annoyed by our quiz, or sit down and try to join in!

We will always do our best to make things work, whatever the room, marquee, boat, atrium or Routemaster bus (true story) is like.

We’re very happy to advise on venues, and can usually recommend somewhere that’s worked well for us in the past. We’ve hosted thousands of quizzes all over the UK and beyond, so please contact us if you need a hand finding the perfect convex hexahedron.

Lesley

First Hand Experience of Question Difficulty

This is a follow-up to the last post – I want to expand on how the different aspects of our work fit together. (These two strands are hosted quiz nights and quiz question writing for TV shows, games, iPhone apps etc.)

Those have always been the two main areas of our business – over the years the hosted quizzes have taken the lead, certainly they’ve been more consistent. The question writing side obviously depends a little more on what comes along. I mean, we’re always writing questions, but we’re not always working on a major commission – more like bits and bobs here and there.

In the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of really good question writing work, so much so that there has been less time for our main question writers to run quizzes.

Yet, the experience of hosting quizzes is vital, I think, to our writing questions successfully.

I’ve run over 400 quizzes for people all over this country and occasionally overseas, for people of all ages, in different industries, for different purposes. I’ve asked questions on every topic that makes a good quiz question and a few that don’t.

And I get to see, first hand, how those questions go down. I get to see what people know and don’t know, what they’re proud to know and what they don’t care about knowing, what’s workoutable and what’s not.

And because our quizzes are for different clients, we get to re-use questions, so we know whether a response, positive or negative, is a one-off or not.

And that’s just me – between us, as a company, we’ve run over 3000 quizzes, and we ask our clients and our quiz masters to feed back on every event. So, we know very well if a question is a big hit or not.

This gives us a vital edge when it comes to question writing for TV, we think. To us, calibration, alongside entertainment, is more than guesswork. We have evidence to back up the fact that we know how to set quizzes, to write questions that people want to participate in and puzzle over.

It’s not just the hosted quizzes, either. There’s also the Friday Quiz, which started in 2008 and now goes out to thousands of people a week. Every week, I look at how people have done, how many people have bothered trying to answer each question, how many have got it right. This is vital information to understanding what people do and don’t know.

Anyone can reasonably think they’re an expert in quizzes, anyone who writes questions, participates in a lot, watches a lot, but we think our combined experience puts us in a privileged position. You’re left with egg on your face if you think you always know exactly how a question is going to be answered, but the numbers work themselves out.

We see hundreds, if not thousands, of people answering our questions. Most question writers only ever see one or two people answering questions they write, so they get very skewed calibration feedback.

We tell our quiz masters, when they run quizzes, that the right level involves the worst team not slipping much below 50% and the best team not getting above 90% – an ideal spread is between about 60% and 85%. And that’s what happens. Almost every time.

It’s not a naturally easy thing – the first round I ever set, which I was terribly proud of, the scores ranged between 6 and 11 out of 20. It was a disaster. The questions, in and of themselves, were mainly interesting enough, but they were all at the harder end of the scale, some of them weren’t possible to work out. Despite my love for quizzes and my concern for getting it right, I didn’t yet have the first-hand experience of getting the overall level right.

So, this is what we do. We host quizzes and we write questions. They feed into each other. Every question I’ve ever written and every question I’ve ever asked and seen answered feeds into how I write now.

The best quiz you’ve ever been to

When I first became a quiz master for QuizQuizQuiz, almost ten years ago, I remember Jack, David and Lesley-Anne,  the company’s founders, all telling me independently that even though I’d just started, this, the first quiz that I was going to run might well be the best quiz night that most of the people attending had ever been to.

Not so bold a claim as it might first appear – notwithstanding that it might just be the first quiz night some people at our corporate events had ever been to, it might well have been that many attendees had previously encountered only run-of-the-mill pub quizzes, with 50 lifeless questions rattled through for a tenner, and we could be entirely confident, 10 years ago, that the material, the care, the thought, the variety of our quizzes was at a higher level than most people had ever encountered before.

Can we still be so sure of this? No, probably not. The world of quizzes has moved on (we’d like to think, following our lead). There are many more companies and individuals who claim to run high end quiz nights, there is wider availability and understanding of the kind of technology that can spruce up a quiz. There’s a good chance that plenty of the participants at one our of quiz nights have been to some pretty good quizzes before. Furthermore, so many of our quizzes our for repeat clients, who book us again and again, that an awful lot of people at an awful lot of the quizzes we run have been to a number of marvellous QuizQuizQuiz quizzes before. The quizzes where you’d get a buzz of excitement just from unveiling a fancy image on a screen are few and far between.

Can we really keep on exceeding ourselves? Well, we can try. It’s still important to go into every quiz thinking that it might be/can be the best quiz that some participants have ever been to, that it might stoke a dormant passion for quizzes in someone. When you’ve run several hundred quizzes, you may not find that every quiz you run is the most exciting and brilliant that you yourself have ever been to, you may encounter different obstacles, different crowds, different timings which make it easier or harder to run the ideal quiz, but there’s still a very good chance that if we keep on writing questions with care, innovating with round formats, devising new ways to engage people at every level, creating new audio and visual material, reconsidering the best ways to organise and compere quiz nights, it will be the best quiz lots of people in attendance have ever been to.

Running Quiz Nights

I’ve run quite a few quiz nights recently, and they’ve all gone smoothly. It’s not for me to judge if everyone there had the best time of their lives (I expect they did!) but there were lots of smiles and cheers and nice comments at the end. Very pleasing, and what I’ve also noticed is that there hasn’t been a single “issue” to deal with, no connectivity problems to sort out, no awkward room spaces, no accusations of cheating or changes in timetable, nothing like that.

Tempting fate I know, but pretty much every quiz night I’ve run this year has gone exactly according to plan. If they didn’t go swimmingly (which I think they did) it would have been no one’s fault but my own.

Is that preferable? Yes, pretty much. Having said that, it can be very satisfying to triumph against the odds, to deal with tricky situations and run the best quizzes we can. Quiz nights like those I’ve run recently are basically as easy as they look , but quite often it’s rather thrilling to keep everything looking controlled and easy while working extremely hard, just beneath the surface.

That, above all, is what being a QuizQuizQuiz Quiz Master is all about – if something goes wrong, being able to cover it so no one notices that anything has gone wrong. I remember, nine years ago, at one of the very first events where I was a professional quiz master, doing a full sound and visual check at a hotel conference room, then leaving the room for a work presentation, only to come back and find that there was no audio feed from my laptop and no one could figure out why. I managed to just run the best quiz I could with a complete change of questions, emphasis on visuals and interactivity and none of the participants were any the wiser. One thing I was told very early on, which we’re proud to say is still true, is that, whatever problems I have to deal with, it’s still going to be the best quiz most of our clients have ever been to. We really think that. In fact we know it.

So, sometimes, I have a run of quizzes which go completely without a hitch. The timings are spot on, the teams are smart, polite, cheerful, well-organised, the room is the right size, the sound is crystal clear, the food is good, the angels are singing etc …some time soon, the food will come out late, there’ll be 5 more teams than we were told, there’ll be a team made up entirely of people who don’t speak English, the mic i’ve been provided with will cut out, it happens … and it’s still a great quiz night, in fact sometimes even better than it would have been. And those are the ones which are often the most memorable of all for a quiz master.

What makes a quiz round?

This is a subject I’ve dropped into various posts before, but I don’t think I’ve ever written specifically on it. I’ll keep it brief and to the point.

We try to avoid quiz rounds which are too subject-specific. We get a lot of enquiries where people suggest something like “8 rounds on the usual subjects … History, Geography, Food and Drink, Sport, Entertainment, Science, Roundabouts and can we have a round on X-Factor …?” and we do our best to persuade people, nearly always successfully, that we will include all those subjects (though we might keep Roundabouts to a minimum unless we’re absolutely sure it’ll go down well) but we’ll just spread them out a bit between rounds.

The logic is fairly simple. If a round is on a specific subject and that specific subject is not to someone’s liking, they’re more likely to switch off for its duration. And if lots of people aren’t into a subject, lots of people will switch off, and we don’t want that, obviously. Likewise, if a few people are an expert on a given subject, and lots aren’t, then that’s a bit unfair.

There’s another good reason. We want to fit as many good questions into our quizzes as possible, within well-structured rounds. If we’ve agreed to do a round on, say, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of the 7th Century, it may be that they’re aren’t 10 top-class questions on that subject with varying difficulty enough to make a nicely nuanced round.

That reminds me of how we always used to start our quizzes for new clients (not so much now, so i don’t feel like I’m giving away a trade secret). We’d bring up a screen which showed a classical temple, and say “And now, the first round, on Ancient Greek Architecture …” to accompanying groans, before saying “Just kidding” clicking on the screen and the image would be shown to be part of something far more fun and engaging, to general relief and excitement.

The point being that a round on Ancient Greek Architecture would not be a great way to start a quiz, even (mainly) for experts on Ancient Greek Architecture.

We want our quiz rounds to allow for variety, to be intriguing, to get people talking, to be fair to all players. So we’re always coming up with quiz night ideas, tools for our quiz masters to keep the full crowd interested and on their toes. Over the course of our quizzes, we hope that you’ll get some questions on your favourite broad area, whether it’s Geography, History, Language, Drinks, Sport, TV, Film, Books, Art, Music, Politics or Animals, Chemistry, Business, Computers, Food, or whatever. Some of the questions, in fact a lot of them, will incorporate several of those subjects all at once. That’s another thing – good quiz questions can be hard to categorise.

When we used to run a  pub quiz, we ran a round in which, week on week, we asked teams to submit topics from which we’d choose 3 to have 5 questions of each the next week. What came back was endlessly inventive – Salty Snacks of the 80s, Kriss Akabusi, Questions that the Bar Staff could answer, Accidental Celebrity Genitalia, Big Feet, Bubbles, Countries that Don’t Exist … you get the idea. But in order to make it work, we had to think laterally. Each sub-topic had to be played with in order not to turn the joke sour and maintain the integrity of the round – and make even obscure specialist subjects accessible to the non-specialist.

If you come to one of our Corporate Quizzes, what you’ll get is a range of well-developed, easy-to-explain, enjoyable rounds which usually cover a bit of everything. Even people praying for a round on Roundabouts don’t end up feeling hard done by (actually they might do, but hopefully they’ll enjoy everything else!).

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.

Common Quiz Night Complications Part 3

This one will be very short – a suggestion that we come up against every now and then at our quiz nights is that teams should be able to “buy” clues to questions.

Now, I don’t want to be too dismissive, because the purpose is obviously to make money for charity [we do a lot of charity quizzes] and we don’t really want to stand in the way of that, but this is not one of the better ways of getting cash from people, if the quality and integrity of a quiz is at all important (which it usually should be).

If you set no limit on the number of clues teams can get, then conceivably, taken to its logical conclusion, the quiz could be won by the worst team with the most money to spend. Interesting reflection on modern life that may be, but it’s a terribly unsatisfactory way to resolve a quiz.

Then again, if there are limits to the number of clues everyone can buy, then the chances are the clues won’t make any difference at all, as everyone’s score will be improved by exactly the same amount, and they end the evening slightly less satisfied and pleased with themselves than they would have been. Of course, the plus side is that a bit of money has been made for charity, so some would say it is worth the damage to the quality and integrity of the quiz.

But there are plenty of ways to raise money on a given evening, and fewer ways to hold an excellent quiz night.

What are the best extra fundraising quiz elements that you’ve come across?

Common Quiz Night Complications Part 2

You may recall we’re going to write a series of short posts about ideas people sometimes come up with for their quizzes which, though well-intentioned, are generally complicated, hard to enforce and detrimental – and thus we usually (quite strongly) recommend against them.

Last week it was overaggressive theming at a quiz. This week, quite briefly, it’s…

Penalty Points and Bonus Points

I’m going to mention penalty points for teams cheating and (as was suggested to me last week and comes up quite often) extra points for teams with fewer members.

I’m pretty much against all bonus points. By bonus points I mean anything which doesn’t relate to how good you are at the quiz – so things like best team name, best costume, how quickly you get your sheet in. I’d pretty firmly stand against any suggestions that these should affect the result of the quiz. If I’ve ever had to give in to any of those, I’ve made sure it’s a very small number of points. And giving people a separate prize if you want to reward them for any of these things is a much better idea.

OK, it’s not the Olympics, and the main aim is fun, but a quiz should have some integrity, otherwise someone’s going to leave feeling sour. So no extra points for being able to sing the theme tune from ‘Cheers’, ok?

And likewise with penalty points. Even more than integrity in this case, it’s about atmosphere. Penalty points = Bad vibes. A quiz master is able to hold the authority of a room in as much as he is helping people to enjoy themselves and they will enjoy themselves most if they listen to him/her and follow any instructions from him/her. He has no actual authority in the lives of the people he is running the quiz for. If they turn against him, he has nowhere else to go really. Particularly with corporate quizzes. We’ve been brought in to do a job and the job is get people to have a good time. Penalty points will always be disputed, and what happens then? An arbitration panel? An appeal court?

Finally, something which can be a potential source of bonus points and penalty points: adjustment of scores according to team size.  This is suggested surprisingly often, but, like many things, is not quite as simple as it might at first seem.

Firstly, if there is a team which is smaller than others, that is (usually) their own issue or choice, they could have had more team members.

Secondly, if they win, then they might get £100, or 6 massive boxes of chocolates between 5 people, and not between 8 people. Well That’s nice for them. And if they do badly, well they can (and will) use it as an excuse. And if they beat a rival team then they can (and usually will) amplify their gloating rights.

And, primarily, how on earth are you meant to work it out? Is one person half as good as two? Is a team of 3 half as good as a team of 6? Of course not. Most people’s knowledge overlaps, so it may only be pretty small margins where there is a benefit to a larger team. Indeed, sometimes, in certain quizzes, too many cooks can spoil the broth.

We try very hard before our quizzes to make sure team numbers are evenly spread. We don’t like teams above 7 but if every team has 10 (for example for a dinner quiz) so be it. If most teams have 6ish and there is a team of 10, we’ll get them to split up. All that is much better than penalty points.

All in all, we’re not fans of penalty points or bonus points. Keep it clean, keep it fair!

Common Quiz Night Complications Part 1

Here begins a shorter series of posts (at least I hope they’re short, brevity is not always my strong point) about the suggestions our client sometimes have which, though they may be imaginative and well-intentioned, are more likely to have a detrimental affect on the quiz than positive.

It’s probably safe to say that our default position on such suggestions is sceptical and in need of clear persuasion and a reason why it’s either better than the quiz would otherwise be or intrinsic to the purpose of the evening.

The latter is important. Sometimes a client might suggest something we think is overcomplicated and potentially fraught, like, say, swapping team members, and we’ll have strong doubts. If we then discover that the purpose of the conference they’re at is to do with, say, working with different people in different contexts, we understand and make that concept work, either in its current form or by suggesting something that fulfils their aims even better, and that we know will work.

We know that people have the best intentions for their quiz and that sometimes there is an agenda beyond just having a great quiz, be it team building or raising money. So we do listen; we just have experience of the fact that not every idea is a good one, and we have a very good nose for when this is the case.

So, what first?

Theming

A common one, and often a pretty reasonable one. “We’ve got a pirate theme”. “It’s a sports quiz”. “We want people to think about speed and buildings”. “The concept is atonement …” All but the last one are real … that would be a heavy quiz.

So, ok, you’ve got a theme, but be careful with it. Let’s take an example. If your theme, for whatever reason, is the London Underground, do you want every question to be about the Underground, do you want the Quiz Master dressed in a tube driver’s uniform (don’t go there!)? Are you sure? Does everyone taking part love and know a lot about the tube? How about something simpler, like naming teams after tube lines, and a few questions here and there about the tube.

Which tube line has the most stations south of the River Thames?, for example.

The same applies to almost anything, Don’t let the theme overwhelm the quiz. It could be a dud. We’re a little wary about even having a single round on one subject – we don’t really do a Food round, a Geography round, a History round etc and have written at length about caution at using a Sport round.

So, even a Sport, Film or Book quiz, large themes though they are, is in danger of being a bit monochrome, a bit weighted and unfair.

Around this time of year and in the next month or so, there’ll be a fair few Halloween or Christmas quizzes for us, which is great, but we’d try to avoid the whole quiz being about those subjects, and it requires a fair bit of thought in the question writing to come up with fair, fun and interesting questions throughout.

So, themes. Be careful with them. The biggest issues are that themes can be exclusive, overwhelming and forced. They can certainly make an evening more fun but not, I think, if the theme is bigger than the quiz.