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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?

 

Pop/Quiz

Having thoroughly flogged the cricket/quizzing analogy in my last post, I’ll now delve deeper into the world of ill-considered comparisons by drawing a few parallels between the “art” of quiz and that of pop music.

Right now, I don’t know how far I’m going to take this. The chances are I’ll take it too far.

What got me started was thinking about whether a quiz is automatically better if the quizmaster has written their own questions. You can see where this is going already, I imagine …

We music snobs (I am one, or perhaps am a recovering one, a lapsed snob, a snob manqué – perhaps you are not) we scowl at these manufactured pop acts and cry “They don’t even write their own songs!” Like Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Martha and the Vandellas – well, such snobbishness already seems a little silly.

But I do love a good singer-songwriter, a musical auteur, whether it’s Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z or David Bowie. I like it when they do it all themselves. What’s a good equivalent term for the singer-songwriter? The quizzer-quizmaster, the master-quizwriter? The quizmaster-quizwriter?

There are various models to follow. Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we have a core question-writing team and we have several trained, skilled quizmasters who, even if they have not written the questions themselves, know our database inside out, can question it, adapt, create their own quizzes out of the questions that already exist. They make the quizzes and the questions their own.

Why not extend the analogy to the point of absurdity? If QuizQuizQuiz is Hitsville USA (the home of Tamla-Motown) there is room for the Temptations, for Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Four Tops, master interpreters, and there are the writers who also perform, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, say. This is the point where I compare myself to Smokey Robinson… oh dear.

Likewise, there’s a very good pub quiz company based in London, whose nights are of a reliably strong standard, where the questions are mainly written by one person and who brings in quizmasters particularly suited to the task. So, perhaps he is Phil Spector and they are his Ronettes and his Crystals …

And then, there are some big pub quiz companies who write excellent quizzes and send them to 100s and 100s of pubs along a formula, and occasionally less care is taken that the quizmaster is in full control of their material, they can quite often just be whoever is available to read out the sheet on the night.

I can’t decide if an apt comparison is just a dodgy covers band or, yet more cruelly, the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory of the late 80s. Don’t get me wrong, there may be the odd gem uncovered (let us say Kylie or, if you will, Rick Astley) but there’ll be a few Reynolds Girls or, dare I say it, Sonias …

Anyway, I’ve probably lost you by now. I just wanted to mention the Reynolds Girls. They’d rather Jack than Fleetwood Mac. A lot of people might prefer the good old-fashioned master-quizwriter, who writes and performs all his/her own material. Maybe there aren’t always that many bells and whistles, but there are clever solid questions, moments of genius, and it’s got integrity.

Who’s the Bob Dylan of the quizzing world, I wonder? And who’s the Woody Guthrie? Who’s the James Brown and who’s the Madonna? And who are the innovators, the ones who used technology to take it to a new level? Who’s Public Enemy and who is Kraftwerk? But who’s the Chico? The Nickelback?

Anyway, what’s my point? I suppose that it’s really important for a quizmaster to know exactly what they’re asking, that the question means something to them, that they ask it with purpose and understanding.

We’ve all seen kids on the X-Factor who, even if they’re technically proficient, haven’t the slightest relationship with the words they’re singing. And it’s horrendous.

But you don’t have to have written the questions to take ownership of them. Some of my favourite questions in our database are questions I haven’t written, some are questions I can’t remember if I’ve written or not. But they feel like mine now, and that’s what matters.

 

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.

Corporate Quiz vs Pub Quiz

We’re finally drawing to the end of our busiest quiz season, when our team of quiz masters run quiz night after quiz night – themed quizzes, Christmas party quiz nights, wedding anniversary quizzes, intern quizzes, school quiz evenings – anything people ask for. What we haven’t done much of late is run straight up pub quizzes, and so I’m going to write a little bit about the difference between corporate quiz nights and pub quiz nights.

QuizQuizQuiz has, at different times, run regular quiz nights at five different pubs, most notably for several years at the Fox in Putney and the OSP in Fulham, then later the Normanby, also in Putney. Great fun, halcyon days – we tried to take the same perfectionist approach to our pub quizzes as we do to our company quiz nights, tried to make each one an “event”. Since I first encountered QuizQuizQuiz as a participant in the Fox quiz, I’m well qualified to comment on the excellence of the QQQ pub quiz experience!

But, of course, there are big differences between a pub quiz night and a corporate quiz night. I imagine, of those of you reading who have run or participated in quiz nights, the vast majority have been pub quizzes. So, it is worth going through the main differences between the two.

[There are some corporate quiz events which are absolutely nothing like your standard pub quiz – there’ll be keypads, or particular themed rounds, there’ll be fancy meals, mariarchi bands, huge screens, dressing up contests, there’ll be jellybeans, buzzers, flying monkeys, the lot … however, most of our quiz nights are very deliberately similar to a classic pub quiz – it’s those two I’ll compare, the “standard” pub quiz (no doubt quizmasters up and down the land bristle at their event being described as standard, and rightly so) and the “standard” corporate quiz].

Similarities

1. Players are in teams, usually of between 4 and 8. Teams think of their own names – one of them is called Quiz Team Aguilera

2. Questions are in the sphere of general knowledge – entertainment, music, sport, general stuff

3. Paper and pens are used

4. Rounds are marked and there is a winning team which wins a prize

5. They often (though not always) take place in a pub

6. There is, usually, a demon team who everyone boos and are too good!

7. People eat, drink and have a good time

Differences

1. A corporate quiz is a one-off event, rather than part of a weekly/monthly series. Consequently, there doesn’t have to be the same rapid turnover of questions –  a quiz master can select his/her questions carefully for the specific event.

2. Importantly (for QuizQuizQuiz at least), the above means that we can adapt the quiz as we go along, the questions are not set in stone in the way that they must inevitably be for a pub quiz. [A minor point developing from that is that there can be fewer current affairs questions at a corporate event]

3. Following on from that, at a corporate event, you usually know who is coming beforehand (in terms of numbers/demographic etc) and can prepare accordingly. This is kind of true for a pub quiz, but it is, of course, open to anyone.

4. People all work for the same company, or have some connection in those terms. Friendly rivalries can be developed and played upon.

5. [Perhaps the key difference] At a corporate quiz, not everyone is there of their own volition. Indeed, sometimes they don’t even know there is a quiz coming. They may hate quizzes and it may be a horrible surprise and they may only want to go home. You have to cater for that and give those people an enjoyable evening. Pub quizzes are for people who like quizzes, often people who are very good at quizzes. This is not so much the case at corporate events and you have to tailor the questions accordingly.

6. It is, however relaxed it may or may not be, still a work environment. There are positive and negatives to that.

7. Equally, at least, at a corporate event, there is no one there who is not there for the quiz, who is nattering away in the corner and entirely uninterested in what you’re saying.

8. Again, a very key point. At a corporate quiz night, the crowd could well be much more varied in terms of nationality, understanding of quizzes, range of knowledge. Having said that, in a different way, at certain events (and because everyone works for the same company) it might be much less varied. Basically, the key point here is that there will be more non-British people, and that has a big effect on the questions asked.

9. The drink is often free …

10. A corporate event has a higher all-round budget, so there’ll be more technology available. There is more of an onus, therefore, on professionalism and smoothness and on keeping people focused. Like it or not, it is a little more of a “show”.

11. The prize is usually not money, usually not a “stake” that people have put in [champagne and perhaps a trophy a standard example]. I don’t know exactly what, but I think that makes a bit of a difference to the fervour with which people compete to be the champions.

At different events, there are loads more differences, but what I’ve done is highlight the differences between a pub quiz and a corporate event which is most “similar” to a pub quiz. The main things, from a quiz master’s perspective, I’d say, are being able to select your questions carefully, having flexibility, and the fact that it is not an audience who necessarily enjoy quizzes.

Have any of you had experiences of both? Can a corporate quiz event capture the best qualities of a pub quiz?

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.

Putting together a quiz night (Part 2)

Rather belatedly, I’m going to follow up the post from March 30th on putting together a quiz night. Apologies for the delay – a long gap in time between blog entries is a sure sign that the question-writing side of things is extremely busy. So a rare free hour presents itself, and it’s time to see if I can remember what I was talking about.

A recap: so far, I’d covered ‘How long should it be? How many rounds? How big should these rounds be? ‘. Next up on my list of topics – How hard should it be? What subjects to include?

How hard should a round be?

On this subject, I’m happy to be pretty firm in my opinion. Not too hard is the answer. Hard quizzes are for hardcore quizzers, not for inclusive events. Anyone can come up with a set of questions which most people don’t know the answer to. Where’s the skill or fun in that?

As an example, I ran a quiz recently which generally went very well, but I ran one round out of 12 where the top score was 8 and the bottom score 5.

I consider that round a failure on my part (a relatively rare one, I hope!) – certainly not on anyone else’s.That was the only round where I felt the level of engagement dipped slightly, as there was a sequence of 2 or 3 questions which few of the teams got right. In general, I am aiming for something  pretty specific, which is a range on any given round from 60% to 100%. If any team does not know more than half the answers, that is a shame. Some Quizmasters might prefer to avoid teams getting full marks on their rounds, but I don’t mind it all. You certainly don’t want more than a small number of teams getting full marks, but it’s actually pretty rare that anyone does, and if it happens I think I’ve done my job well, not badly.

People like to know stuff. They don’t want to feel stupid. Simple as that. And the thing is, if one team has one really bad round, that can be really insidious for the overall atmosphere.

A further note – however easy I try to make a quiz, no team has ever got close to getting 100% (I’m not sure there’s even been over 95% and over 90% is fairly rare) overall on any quiz I’ve ever run. It just doesn’t happen. The desire to test and to throw in a few testing questions comes naturally, so telling yourself to remember to keep it easy will only balance that out in a positive way.

What subjects to include?

I’ll answer this in two ways and here, I’m much more aware that personal preference is key, rather than having a definitive answer. The two ways will be ‘what subjects to include in the quiz as a whole’ and ‘what subjects to include within each round’. Up to a point, the answers to both questions is clearly ‘whatever you like’ and ‘as wide a range as possible’. Simple as that, up to a point.

Another important point about what to include as a whole is you have to consider your demographic. For QuizQuizQuiz, running events, this can mean we’ve had specific instruction on what to include (which we might run with or perhaps adapt a little), or we tailor what we’re asking according to the age/nationalities of the players. I could write pages about this (and indeed, I have, in our treasured and exclusive QuizMaster Guide), but suffice to say, some quizzes are more suited to questions about 80s British TV than others. I’ve already written a long blog about whether to include sport, and many of the points made there apply across the board.

Of course, for a standard pub quiz, you may be less aware of your demographic or, indeed, there may be a more ‘standard’ demographic (ie people who like to go to the pub and people who quite like quizzes) so you have to worry less, but hopefully, some of these points are still relevant.

The issue of whether to include Entertainment and Music is less rare than the issue of whether to include Sport, but still there are times when those are best avoided. [I probably include TV/Film/Music to a fairly large extent in about 95% of the quizzes i run, however].

Beyond that, we’re careful about being too specific, and more often try to make each round a mixture. A Food and Drink round, a Fashion round, even a Geography round, all run the danger of becoming boring in themselves if they are not subjects people are interested in. If people don’t know what the next question is going to be about, all the better. So more than half our round formats do not have a specific subject or give anything away about the subject matter in the title. That’s the way we prefer it. If your questions are good enough of course, you can have a truly great quiz which includes say, a TV Round, a Sport Round, a History Round, a Science Round, a Current Affairs Round and a special guest Fly Fishing round.

So, i’ve pretty much answered the second question, which was ‘what subjects to include within each round’. Mostly, our rounds are a mixture, flitting between subjects. Even when they’re not and we do do a sport round, say, or an Entertainment round, mix it up, don’t have too much football, have TV and Film evenly spread, American TV, British TV, don’t have too many questions where the answer is a number, or too many questions where the answer is a name. All pretty obvious stuff, but the cardinal sin for a quiz is to be boring and entirely predictable, I think.

Do you attend a difficult quiz, and do you disagree with me on how much fun they are? And how is your quiz structured? Are there regular rounds? A wide range? What’s the best quiz round format/title you’ve come up with, or come across?

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′]

Putting together a quiz night (Part 1)

Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we don’t currently host any weekly pub quizzes, concentrating instead on corporate quizzes and question writing (as well as a few pretty exciting ideas in the pipeline). However, we put together hundreds of quiz nights every year and have written many, many pub quizzes in the past, so feel pretty well qualified to talk about how to put together a jolly good quiz for any kind of crowd.

In this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about quiz rounds as a whole, rather than specific questions (and their balanced distribution within a round and a quiz), which I’m sure we’ll come to at a later date. I’m talking about the overall construction of a quiz rather than the details.

How long should it be? How many rounds? How big should these rounds be? How hard should it be? What subjects to include? What should I avoid? What kind of rhythm should I establish within each round? What embellishments add to the magic?

Having listed all those questions, I realise that there’s rather too much there for one blog post. It goes without saying that these won’t be prescriptive answers, and that I, and no doubt you, will have been to plenty of excellent quizzes where the format was very different from what I lay out below. However, these suggestions reflect personal preference, a bit of common sense, and generally speaking, what we at QQQ have, over the years, discovered works best for us.

So, first of all, how long should a quiz be? Well, we get asked to run quizzes lasting anything from 20 minutes to 3 1/2 hours, and we like to think that, whatever the length, we’ll give our client just what they’re looking for (i.e. top notch quiz entertainment). However, quite often these shorter ones use the quiz as just one part of a bigger  showcase event or to be fitted in between courses of a formal meal, so I’ll concentrate on those where the quiz is the main focus of the event.

If you have an evening devoted to a quiz, whether a corporate event or a pub quiz, somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours is ideal – I’d probably plump for 2 hours of quizzing with a break in the middle. This is enough time to fit in a wide variety of question types and subject matter, to build up a real momentum, to make people feel they’ve got their money’s worth, yet can be broken up into convenient chunks so participants who feel desperate for a cigarette or something radical like a conversation with their colleagues have an opportunity to do so.

If it’s less than an hour and a half, I often feel there are things we’ve missed, and more than two and a half hours, well, maybe for real enthusiasts, but it can be tiring for everyone (think about a film that is 2.5 hours long – tiring, and you are just sitting back and relaxing…), and if half the participants aren’t extremely drunk by the end, you’d be surprised.

And, on a similar topic, how many rounds should there be?

Somewhere between 5 and 8, I think, bearing in mind that one round should nearly always be a table round (pictures/puzzles, that kind of thing). 4 can sometimes feel like too few, like someone’s speciality will be missed out and they’ll feel unfavoured. This can be addressed by including plenty of different subjects within hybrid rounds, but nevertheless, I’m in favour of a good spread. You don’t want to have too many rounds though – people will forget what came where and just feel a little confused. It’s quite hard to answer this question, though, without moving to the next, which is

How big should these rounds be?

Here, I think the important answer is that it can, and should, vary. Although it might make practical sense sometimes, 6 rounds of 10 questions ad infinitum is rather a shame. Think in terms of time rather than number of questions – I don’t think a round should be much less than 15 minutes and I don’t think even the meatiest of rounds should be much longer than 25 minutes. In this range, this will give you 10-15 questions, but there might be quite a few multi-part questions with lots of different points available.

It’s very much part of our modus operandi to keep players on their toes – so you know roughly what’s coming, but not exactly – mixing up the the pace of the rounds and the number of questions and points per round is one technique that we use to achieve that.

Lots more to come, but for now, what’s the longest/shortest quiz you’ve ever been to? What is the ideal length and structure of a pub quiz?

 

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!]