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Too Easy/Too Hard

I recently recalled the first round of quiz questions that I ever set for QuizQuizQuiz.

It was March 2006, I’d been given a job with the company, I was full of myself and raring to go. I’d already run a couple of quiz nights, which I hadn’t written the questions for. I’d been given some rounds to write for our two weekly pub quizzes (now dormant) in Putney and Hammersmith.

I wrote various questions for various rounds and was assigned the 20 question Jackpot rounds for both quizzes. Excited to see how they went down, I was at the Fox in Putney on Monday night, not as quiz master, but as marker.

I had form with this quiz. In fact, I’d participated in it very successfully for several months – that’s how I got the job. It was a very high standard quiz and the jackpot round was, deliberately, the hardest round. Teams had to score a minimum of 17/20 to have a chance of the money. I knew the target audience, I knew how to pitch it, I thought.

Now, bear in mind, as someone who loved quiz nights, this was my blank slate. They often say about first and second albums that the first is full of the songs the artist has been perfecting their whole life, while the second is something they only have a few stolen months to write. Well, this was my first album, these were my questions, the best I had.

9/20 was the highest score. The quiz had been, as every week, buzzing at the usual expertise of the QuizQuizQuiz quiz master, it was at fever pitch for the culmination, the jackpot round. And my round killed it stone dead. Puzzled looks and shrugs, shouts of “it’s too hard”, “I don’t get it”. I was a little bit crushed.

I’m just looking at the round now on our database. Any gems? A couple, but yes it’s far far too hard, and there are quite a few ambiguous questions – the subject matter is a showy-offy display of my own interests – Scottish indie pop, linguistics, philosophers, 60s athletics and rock music, Medieval history, Art pranksters, ancient Greek, 90s comedy, old radio adverts, Pubs and Beer, African politics, cricket-playing Irish playwrights. I didn’t realise the extent to which my history was not shared history.

I should have, I had no excuse. I’d been to the quiz night for months. But I got it totally wrong.

I still get it wrong occasionally. I ran a corporate quiz with entirely new questions last month and slightly misjudged the first round so that scores ranged from 5 to 9 out of 12 rather than a preferred 7 to 11. I quickly adjusted the difficulty for the rest of the quiz.

Judging the difficulty of quizzes is something anyone can get wrong. People’s gauge is based on what they themselves know and don’t know. To some quiz masters, difficulty may not be that important if they think the questions are interesting enough, but it ought to be.

After 10 years of doing this, we’re now very good at gauging difficulty. We’ve seen 10s of 1000s of questions, we get statistics on how well they’re answered. We’ve turned it into a little bit of science.

It’s still not perfect, as the example of my recent opening quiz round shows. I thought the crowd would know a little more than they did. They were untested questions. But such instances of small misjudgement are pretty rare.

Despite the misadventure of the first round I ever set, I now have a confidence bordering on bullishness in the suitability of my quiz rounds. I have not written a round since where the highest score was less than 50% (well, not without intention and very good reason!)

 

The best thing at a quiz

I’ve been asking myself – What is the most enjoyable and best sensation for a quiz master at a quiz night?

To me, it is the experience of subverting expectation, of surprising people, of making people feel good about something they didn’t think they would feel good about.

It struck me this can happen on several levels, particularly at a corporate quiz, where the participants are not necessarily experienced and enthusiastic quizzers.

Firstly, people often come into the room simply not looking forward to the quiz. They are there as a work obligation. If you can succeed in giving them a good time, showing them quiz nights can be fun, that is great.

Secondly, a given round might be off-putting to people, whether it’s a single-topic round (eg Sport) or a  more general round with a certain structure/set of rules. Sometimes I’m explaining the rules of a round to people, and some of them look a little confused, and then it’s great when the round is a real hit.

Thirdly, a question can seem quite complex to people to start with, and you can see a few nonplussed faces, before suddenly, as they think about it, they realise it’s not so impenetrable, and their faces light up.

And fourthly, you can send people the wrong way when giving out the answer. It’s a bit of basic trick sometimes (eg … “Bristol (boooo) ……. is the wrong answer, Bath is the correct answer” (hurray)) but there are various ways of doing this in a fun, original way.

This way of turning people around is sometimes a necessity (eg in the first example given, where you’re dealing with an apathetic or antipathetic crowd) but often it’s actually part of the risk-taking involved in a really good quiz.

It’s fun to risk briefly annoying or confusing people to bring them out the other side – that’s the essence of a really good quiz. It’s why Only Connect has become so popular, why people like riddles etc.

Experience as a quiz master tells you when you need to play it a little safer, when you need to keep things as clear and straightforward as possible, when the crowd will remain suspicious all the way through but you can at least give them an enjoyable, (not too terrible!) time.

But the best quizzes definitely involve a little bit of subversion and a little bit of risk.

 

 

Comparing Corporate Quizzes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Year in Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Places to Run Quizzes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Hosts with the Most

This blog post is about trained and skilled professionals doing a better job than non-professionals. And specifically about trained and skilled professional QuizMasters doing a better job than people who are not professional quiz masters (even though they may be professionals in something that may appear to be similar).

We run around 250 hosted quizzes per year, most of which are run from start to finish by one of the highly trained QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters. And we do it very well, we think, and our clients think.

There’s a decent-sized minority of those quizzes (10-15 a year or so) which we don’t run. We prepare the quiz, we are in attendance on the night making sure everything runs to schedule, we play the music and the audio clips, we do the marking, but someone else is on the mic. Often this is a celebrity host, sometimes it is someone from within the company who wants to run the quiz themselves.

Sometimes it’s at the lower end of “celebrity” (someone that quite literally nobody at the quiz has heard of or recognises – i.e. a circuit stand-up comedian), sometimes it’s a really impressive and prestigious star of TV. Whoever it is, almost without exception … no, I’m being overly diplomatic … without exception, it’s not as good as if we run it ourselves. [If you think this is being arrogant then do a quick thought experiment: imagine a stand-up comedian doing his stuff. Then imagine him trying to prepare material for someone else to deliver: someone who has never done stand-up comedy before, someone he has never met, and someone with whom he might get a maximum of half an hour to brief before the gig. You get the idea.]

I said “almost” above because there is one gentleman I’ve helped run a quiz, who really does hold the audience in the palm of his hand, but a) he’s working a crowd from an industry within which he’s a respected, beloved figure and b) he’s run the same quiz with us several years in a row, so he knows how our quizzes work, so he doesn’t need the constant instruction and prompting.

And even then, however good he is, I’d still say the quiz would be better if one of our hosts was running it.

I can hear you saying “You gotta lotta noive, kid, thinkin’ you’re some kinda big shot who runs a classier quiz than all doz celebrities” (in the imaginary slang of mid-20th century American gangsters I envisage you’re speaking). But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything else in the world I’d be better at than these esteemed hosts except running quizzes (and specifically QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights). But, these, yes I do. Because this is what I do, and what my professional QuizMaster colleagues do, often several times a week.

If a client books us, they hopefully realise they’re booking the whole package, they’re booking us because they know about the quality of our quizzes and the way our quizzes work. It’s not just reading out questions, it’s an awful lot more. It’s choosing the questions, adapting the questions, pacing the quiz, adapting the pacing of the quiz, playing the music, getting the sound right, judging the mood, making last minute adjustments, it’s being quick, efficient and thoroughly well-informed and confident in the material. [again, think back to the comedian analogy…you’ve got to believe in and understand your material to be able to sell it to the crowd]

Often, a client who has their own host in mind is surprised when we inform them that will mean a significant rise in the price we charge (not to mention the additional cost of paying a separate host). Surely it’s less work for us? On the contrary, it’s significantly more work for us. More work preparing the quiz in advance, making sure the questions make sense to the quiz master, providing instructions to them, dealing with any feedback, giving them a script for round introductions, going through the quiz with them before the event, whispering into their ear regularly, reminding them of instructions they’ve forgotten to give, little asides which will make a question work better. Also the quiz usually still goes out under our brand name. In a way the additional costs also compensate us for the reality that the quiz will not be as good as a QuizQuizQuiz quiz should be.

I get way more nervous if I’m helping someone run a quiz than if I’m running it myself. For the latter, I turn up, do my job, and I’m in control. If I make a mistake, I can make a joke of it whilst still retaining complete control. I know how to deal with every eventuality.

So much more can go wrong if someone outside our company is running the quiz, and it’s our reputation that suffers.

How many ways is the quiz better if we run it ourselves? Too many to list. Here are a few. It’s adaptable, in terms of subject matter, rounds and difficulty levels. Every question is understood and treated with enthusiasm and never tossed away as if it is doesn’t matter. Answers can be given out with maximum effect: if there’s a reaction to be had, we will get it. There isn’t someone whispering in the host’s ear all night. There are no awkward silences. Every opportunity to inject energy, entertainment and fun into the quiz can and will be taken. The QuizMaster will not start flagging after the first hour (there aren’t many celebs or stand-up comedian who are used to performing at full energy for 2-3 hours single-handedly – it takes a lot of practice and training to be able to keep it up for that long, as it were) Need I go on?

Like I say, this is a notable minority of our quizzes, and we always make it work, and make it good, and often the guest hosts are really good, engaging, smart, adaptable and charismatic. It’s often a real pleasure to see them getting the hang of how to make a quiz work really well, and gaining confidence in the whole thing as the evening progresses.

But there’s not one quiz which any of our quiz “hand-holders” leaves and doesn’t think “I wish I’d run that. It would have been much better.” And since we are obsessed about running truly outstanding high quality quiz nights, this makes us a little bit sad from time-to-time – sad for our clients who have made a decision (for one reason or another) that means they will not have the best possible quiz night.

The Feel of a Quiz

I’ll probably return to the issue of Minor Quiz Night Complications soon (there are still a couple I’d like to get my teeth into), but while it’s still in my mind, I’d like to write about the somewhat nebulous notions of the “feel” and “rhythm” of a quiz.

Funnily enough, the idea came to me when I was watching film critic Mark Kermode do his weekly blog on the BBC website. It’s usually pretty interesting and the subject matter is varied, but every week it’s somehow exactly the same. His phrasing is the same, his mannerisms are the same, the order, the rhythm, the way he delivers it is always the same. Not a bad thing at all. He probably doesn’t realise he’s doing it, it’s just the pattern he needs to fall into to be able to talk smoothly to camera for five minutes.

Quiz masters have to talk smoothly for upwards of two hours. Sure, we know what we’re going to say, we can make reference to our questions on screen or paper so it’s anything but one long ad lib, but still it’s a long time to be up front with a microphone attempting to maintain complete control of a room and ensuring everyone knows what they’re doing and is having a nice time.

To start with (I started as a quiz master almost 8 years ago) it’s a trip into the unknown. You know what you’re going to ask, but you don’t know how people are going to respond and you don’t know what you’re going to say in between and you don’t know how you’re going to get anyone to do anything. But gradually, as you run more and more quiz nights, you develop a patter, a patter you’re confident in, that comes naturally and unknowingly, and you develop a rhythm, a rhythm which sometimes has more control of you than vice versa.

To some extent, with me, it can be a bit overpowering. Someone might come up to me at the end of a long quiz night and say how well run it was and how much they enjoyed it and while I’m grateful for the praise, if I felt I lost the rhythm, my disappointment will override any satisfaction. It’s the little things. I hate to leave too long between questions, I don’t like to have to repeat questions too many times, any kind of silence (dead air) is anathema.

To the participants, they may not pick up on any of this consciously, but years of experience helps a quiz master to gauge a room, to know that the loss of rhythm will mean participants will be thinking things like “Nice quiz, but when’s my train home”, “Who’s playing in the Champions League tonight?”, “I’m really stupid, I’m no good at quizzes” etc. If I can run the quiz just right, with my flow and my pattern, I feel I can keep those thoughts at bay.

You know what it can be like when you see a stand-up comedian or a band? There’s the big start, the great gags and the roar of laughter, the rush of adrenaline. But then, 10 minutes later (if it’s not a comedian of the highest order) the momentum drops and the chemical comedown can be really crushing. Likewise a gig where a band plays a couple of rather dull slow ones and tunes up interminably in between. In a quiz, we don’t necessarily deal in such large surges of adrenaline, but we just want to keep the right feelings bubbling along.

It’s not like every quiz is the same. Far from it. Being an itinerant quiz master who works for the corporate dollar, every quiz is very different in every way. The venue is different (with the accompanying sound challenges), every crowd is different, the rounds I run change from quiz to quiz, the questions change, the length is different, the helper is different, the prizes are different.

But it’s my rhythm, my feel for the quiz, which allows me to deal (hopefully) seamlessly with those differences.

What am I talking about? What I say at the start, how I structure the questions, the breaks in speech, the time between questions, the hand gestures, the length of musical clips, the way I deal with enquiries, all those things and no doubt plenty more which are even more subsconscious.

From both sides of the fence, do you know what I mean? As a quiz master, are you aware of your own rhythm? And, as an experience quizgoer, can you notice when the quiz master’s “lost it”, when the atmosphere in the room just changes imperceptibly from pro-quiz to indifferent?

 

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!

How long is a piece of quiz?

When people book a quiz night with us, they can book us, as long as we have availability, for whenever they like and for as long as they like.

But that is not to say that we don’t have a good idea of how much time a good quiz should take up. We can make a 20 minute quiz great and we can make a three hour quiz great, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a bit better if they were closer to the optimum length.

I’m going to carry on with my theme of comparing quizzes to other forms of entertainment. How long is a good gig? Generally if you get less than an hour, you feel short-changed, and if it’s over two hours, you’re running out of puff. There are exceptions, of course. I saw Leonard Cohen last month and the old genius played for three hours (including a 20 minute break) and it was all magnificent. But, two things 1)  to my chagrin, I had to leave a minute before the end of the final song of the 3rd encore, otherwise I would get caught in the crowd leaving and definitely miss the last train home. As it was I only just made it (as you can tell, I’m finding it hard to forgive myself) 2) Leonard Cohen is a legend of 20th century culture who I and 20,000 other people felt privileged to be in a room with. QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters are all excellent at our job, but we don’t presume to hold such personal sway!

We provide entertainment. When a gig is entertainment (as opposed to recital/masterclass), it has an optimum length (1 1/2 hour- ish), as does a film (between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, and even 2 1/2 is pushing it, take note The Hobbit etc). A masterful work-of-art film, watched by real fans and buffs, may take longer to unravel, but again, we know, as QuizMasters, we are not creating a work of art.

Furthermore, a quiz is a participatory experience – it is more mentally draining than a film or a gig. 3 hours of quiz could give anyone brainache!

What else? Booze. We’ve written before about the role of booze in a quiz. it’s unavoidable and it’s also perfectly welcome. But I think we all know a room full of people drinking for 2 hours has a very different atmosphere and attention span to a room full of people drinking for 3 hours.

I’m pretty happy running a quiz for anything between an hour and two and a half hours, but I do think 1 1/2 – 2 hours is optimum. This gives time for a real momentum, a real test of different subjects, a spread of scores to develop, for the cream to rise to the top, for any quietness and reticence at the start to be completely overcome, but it also means that people don’t begin to get quiz fatigue.

We do often get asked to do longer quizzes, sometimes people will book us from 7 to 11, but we are usually able to persuade people that is a bit long.

The thing is, people may be used to slow and steady quizzes with long gaps between rounds where the marking is done, lots of general awkward spaces, and 3-4 hours time being just enough time for, say, 100 points. Because of the way we run our quizzes, with the speed of marking and emphasis on pacing and flow, we can probably fit in more in a shorter space of time (while also giving people plenty of time to think).

All the timings I have given have not mentioned breaks. Breaks are also an important part of the evening. Again, there is probably an ideal of one break, of 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what food people have. More than one break, for whatever reason, can shatter momentum, as can one break which is too long. However, if I’m doing any quiz of over an hour and a half, even if a break is not written in to the evening, I’d recommend one – and usually put one in, if only to avoid a mass cigarette/loo/fresh air exodus at a point where a sudden, temporary emptying of people will affect the momentum of the quiz (and indeed my control of that momentum).

So, what’s the optimum? Honestly. Notwithstanding “we’ll fit into any schedule”, true though that is.

I like a quiz that starts at 7 (with people hanging around and having a drink or two for half an hour or so beforehand), breaks for half an hour at 8, finished by 9.30. Perfect. It’s amazing how many event planners see things exactly the same way. I’ve probably done more quizzes that fitted that precise time frame than any other. Within that time, I’ll be able to fit in up to 9 rounds of different lengths, pacing and format, including picture rounds and buzzers, and there will be 100+ available points. That seems like plenty!

How long is the quiz you run, or take part in? Could it be longer or shorter, and how do you maintain people’s interest for the length of time?

 

What makes a quiz team?

A good quiz team name, of course, helps make a quiz team. But we’ve written about that before. Once the team name is sorted though, anything goes.

A winning team can be one person or it can be ten people (though perhaps it shouldn’t be!). It can be teetotal or fuelled by booze, it can be made up of friends or strangers, it can be studious or boisterous, picky or relaxed.

First of all, let’s talk about quiz teams at pub quizzes. The chances are these will be made up of friends/colleagues/family members etc. People will know each other. Perhaps not everybody all the time, but mainly. I’d say this helps, and this is something we’ll get to.

Then what? Well, one thing I observe is that the old’ division of labour’ idea (“You’re good for TV, I’m good for sport, you’re good for food and drink, old Jim will deal with 60s music” etc) doesn’t necessarily work. As I’ve found to my own chagrin on a few occasions, going into a quiz team as the touted sport expert, you’re on a hiding to nothing. For a well-written quiz, lots of generalists will often work best.

Also, a really bad thing for a quiz team is when even one person switches off for a round, thinking they’ll have nothing to contribute. You want as many brains as possible, and you also don’t want any atmosphere of ignorance and impatience.

It may be the case (and often is) that there is one top brain, the real king/queen of the quiz. That’s not detrimental to a team’s success, but (I’m talking to you now) you need to know how to use your powers. You don’t know everything, and it’s rare that you’ll be able to accrue enough points to win without your team’s help. Don’t alienate them. Let them speak and discuss first rather than leaping on every single answer you know. If you do that, they may not be there to help you when you need them.

And if there’s a fairly unforthcoming team member who suddenly is convinced of an answer which you don’t agree with, don’t dismiss it out of hand. The fact that you’re used to being right does not mean you’re right in this circumstance. Why are they so sure now when they haven’t been on other questions?

Again, I speak from bitter personal experience of being a know-all. I almost blew it on the very first occasion I represented the best team I’ve ever been in, when I was convinced a picture was Macauley Culkin, and someone else was sure it was Corrie star/pop star/young Tory star Adam Rickitt. When it came to handing in the picture round, it went a bit like this:

ME: Look, I’m certain, certain I tell you, it’s Culkin. I’ve even seen that very photo. That is what he looks like these days. If you think I’m any good at quizzes at all, trust me on this. I know it.

My team-mate gracefully relented, and I waited smugly till the Quiz Master read out “and Number 13 is … Adam Rickitt …

….

ME: Aah. Pint, anyone? Some nuts? Quavers, perhaps? See you next week, chaps? Chaps? Will there be a next week?

Thankfully, I’d displayed sufficient quiz skills to get asked back, but, if you’re good at quizzes, don’t be that person, I beg you.

In general, whether they’re good at quizzes or not, a loudmouth, a know-all, a domineering personality is not great for either the success or enjoyment of a quiz team. The more so if they’re rubbish but don’t realise it, I suppose.

After a while, a good team will know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, will know that if someone is speaking up, you should listen, while if someone is a bit hesitant and lacking confidence, they’re still worth listening to etc.

The blend and sense of team harmony is probably the most important thing, more important even than a range of ages, backgrounds etc. Having said that, it’s rare, both at pubs and corporate quizzes, to see a winning team that is either only men or only women. The chances are that a good quiz will have been put together to appeal to both genders. Whether stereotypically “male” and “female” areas of knowledge exist and whatever they are, the chances are that a good quiz will cover both, deliberately or otherwise.

This is a surprisingly smooth segue onto the brief section on teams at corporate events. Here, it’s much less likely that team members will be friends, or even all know each other particularly well. Quite often, they’ll have been put together deliberately for networking, so that people who don’t know each other at all are sat next to each other. In some ways this can be helpful, as a team might cover a broader base, but a little too much awkwardness and politeness can be damaging. For the sake of team harmony, a strong player might even have to concede an answer when s/he is all but certain they’re in the right.

Hopefully, by the end of the night, all awkwardness will have disappeared, and people who wouldn’t say boo to each other at the start are screaming at each other, in the friendliest possible way, across the table “I told you it was ****ing 1984, you useless **** ***.”.You get the idea…

If we’re advising clients on how to put teams together from scratch for corporate events, the shared agenda is that we want everybody to have fun, we don’t want any teams to do too badly, we want the quiz to be a fair test, we want people to enjoy each other’s company and get to know colleagues better, and we want people to feel clever and relaxed.

So, we’d usually suggest teams between 4 and 8, we’d suggest mixing up departments, a range of ages, a mix of gender. Hopefully it will come together from there.

There is no perfect quiz team. Maybe the best team in the world hates each other, shouts at each other, is all of one gender, is three people. Maybe, but we hope not.

Who is in your perfect quiz team?