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Testing Testing

As a QuizQuizQuiz Quiz Master and main Question Writer, all aspects of my job require testing things to see if they’re at the right level.

Of course, I do a sound check before every quiz. This is just as important when using our own portable equipment as when plugging into a venue’s own AV system, though the challenges are slightly different.

With our own  system, the challenge is placing the speakers so that everyone can hear properly with no one being blasted with noise, making sure there’s no feedback, that my voice sounds clear and crisp etc. Some rooms we turn up at can provide more of a challenge than others.

With a venue’s own AV system, whether in a pub, a hotel or a conference room in a company’s offices, it ought to be simpler, but there are pitfalls to avoid. The system should have been perfectly set up to suit the room, and often it is. Often it really is a case of plug in, play a little music, say a word or two, yes, this’ll be perfect. But as a quiz master, we’re very aware of how much more volume is required in a room full of 100 people than an empty room; aware of it in a way that sometimes a venue’s own AV specialist isn’t. Often, one has to politely suggest “I think I’ll need a little more than that on the mic” and be told “No, no, this is fine” when I know full well that as the hum of 100 people chatting and cheering and drinking grows, I really do need a little more on the mic.

Likewise, every now and then, a conference room’s sound may sound fine and clear at mid-volume, but may begin to struggle at a slightly higher volume –  a bit of hiss, a bit of crackle. Experience has taught me the importance of a rigorous test – or as rigorous a test as possible.

Likewise, testing is important for a question writer. We update the database for our corporate events regularly, write 100s and 100s of new questions a year, and we want these questions not just to be ok, decent, forgettable questions, we want them to be great, memorable questions. I have a  pretty good idea when I’ve written a question if it’s a cracker or not, but, in many cases, questions I think will be surefire hits get a muted response if not quite used right, while seemingly innocuous ones bring the house down.

So, we ask all our quiz masters to provide us with feedback on new questions they’ve used when we send out new questions. We’re always swapping ideas and thoughts on how a question has gone down or can be slightly improved – we all want every question we run to be a bit better than the last one we ran.

And, finally, in my capacity as the writer of our multiple choice questions, getting the right level is of paramount importance. Often, because of budget and timing, that testing has to be internal. If I’ve written 5,000 questions for a game, all of which  require a difficulty level, I (and the client) must rely on my own experience, my own hard-earned sense of what people know and what they don’t. I’m pretty good at it. As well as me, there’ll always be at least one other experienced question writer, editing and checking my questions, and if they  feel I’ve mislevelled a question, they’ll let me know.

Sometimes, if the budget’s higher, if the questions are more specialised, we can build a thorough question test into our schedule. You may know we’ve done that recently, with a game we’ve written and which we’re rather excited about. Because of the nature of the game, it was important to test the difficulty ramping.

And, we’re lucky, we’ve got a ready-made focus group, our Friday Quiz mailing list, who we think we’ve got a pretty good relationship with and who, frankly, enjoy a bit of a quiz. So we put a message out for anyone who wanted to help us testing and got a big response. It was hugely helpful to test how quizzers responded to all the questions in the game and will hopefully improve it for the wider audience we hope it finds.

Of course, part of the  experience of surveys and testing is not to blindly accept what basic statistics tell you. Above all, at QuizQuizQuiz,  we trust our own experience. We think we know what makes a good quiz question, a well-balanced round, a fair subject matter. Whenever that confidence is put to the test, we’re happy to see it confirmed (or not – and we learn from it!)

The First Quiz Night

It’s eight years, almost to the day, since the first QuizQuizQuiz quiz night I helped at. I’d just been told that I’d got the job as the company’s first full time employee (who was not also a founder). Though I’d been interviewed by all the founders, my more important application process was undoubtedly the months I’d been attending the Fox pub quiz in Putney, run by Jack Waley-Cohen, at which I had an ideal opportunity to display my aptitude for the quiz game.

I recall the first quiz night at which I was a quiz assistant: I was helping company director and founder David Brewis in a swish bar near Aldgate, and I took delight in being able to comfortably mark the 13 teams in the short time it took him to read out the answers to each round.

Shortly afterwards, I helped at another event in the grimy upstairs room of a city pub (at QQQ, you get used to working in all kinds of venues) and then I was deemed ready to run my first quiz.

I was not computer illiterate, not quite, but certainly computer ill-adjusted. Though I’d had a bit of time to practice with the technology that we use at our quizzes, it would, sensibly, be a while before I was set free to run a quiz in its entirety – setting up the equipment, playing the music, the video etc.

So I had two helpers for my first quiz – founder-director, Lesley-Anne Brewis, and one of the early investors, James Brilliant (yes, that is his actual name). I was naturally a little nervous, and my nerves weren’t helped by arriving  at the Leadenhall Market (I think it was Leadenhall, it was definitely one of the Markets) nice and early to find that not only was our client not there yet, but the venue wasn’t open, and showed no signs of being so.

After a good few minutes standing outside, everyone necessary (bar staff, quiz helpers and quiz participants) turned up, and we set up, and got ready to go.

I’m not going to pretend it was perfect! I remember just before starting I got it into my head that I would conduct the quiz sitting down, and only Lesley’s frantic whispering to remind me of the first rule of QuizMaster club raised me to my feet.  I also remember, about an hour in, realising that I hadn’t plugged my laptop in and it was rapidly running out of gas. Neither of those are mistakes I have made in the ensuing 8 years.

I don’t remember much else of that night, except that they enjoyed it and clapped at the end, and I was pleased with myself, but still not sure.

By the second one, at a North London school, I was getting into my stride. I had banter, jokes, a bit more fluency, and I knew after that one that I could definitely be good at this.

As is our policy at QuizQuizQuiz, we don’t throw quiz masters in at the deep end. The full process of question selection and multimedia management came gradually over the next few weeks.

The first quiz I was let loose on as a full multimedia extravaganza with no “handholder” was a blazingly hot May day in a hot room at a media company near Euston. It was all a bit random and off-the-cuff, I think I set a speaker up on a pool table and ended up having to start about an hour late because of all sorts of other activities going on.

I think I was too nervous to ask for a glass of water and I did the whole thing, sweating like the whole room, on adrenaline. It went exceptionally well. I got to the allotted finish time and asked if they fancied another round – they shouted their approval. I ended up running three extra rounds and, though it was still early evening the atmosphere was one of drunken delight.

That’s when I realised how much fun it was to be a quiz master, when you and everyone in attendance is of the same mind to have a jolly good time.

At QuizQuizQuiz, we give a guarantee of professionalism and quality. We stand up, we plug our laptops in, and we do all sorts of rather more sophisticated things as we strive to give our absolute best to ensure everyone has a good time. Of course the participating teams play a massive part in that two. That same Euston company taught me that. I was invited back to run the quiz for them a year later, and really looked forward to it.

As I waited for the start of the quiz with that same crowd the next year my host told me “Bit of a strange atmosphere here today, sorry, there’s been a few redundancies …” Aah, ok. Did that affect the atmosphere of the quiz? Yes, of course. Where there’d been delighted shouting the year before, this year there was more restraint and, dare I say it, strain.

I remember raising my game as best I could – I’d improved a lot as a quiz master in the year gone by, and by the end, that atmosphere was great.

Since then, I’ve run 100s of quizzes for different groups in different venues, with different vibes and different purposes. I’ve asked 1000s of questions, I’ve written 10s of 1000s of questions, I’ve even worked out how to use a computer … a bit. This is still my job because I love doing it, as we all do. So, I look back on those first quiz nights, nerves and mistakes and all, with great fondness.

Interactive Quizzes?

Something we often hear from people who’ve just booked a quiz night from us is “We want the quiz to be really interactive”. We take note, but we’re not always entirely sure what this means, as it can mean different things from different people.

Sometimes it turns out that people want there to be lots of use of music and things up on screen, sometimes it means that they want us to use interactive keypads for teams to enter their answers, sometimes it means that they want the quiz master to talk a lot to the teams, but more often than not it simply means that they want the quiz to be lively and fun.

Which, we hope, we can guarantee. The last thing we want is a dry evening where the quiz master sits at a distance, merely reading out questions for individuals to quietly write down their answer in isolation. [Or if the quiz was to be literally un-interactive, the quiz master would read out the questions and answers while everyone just sat back and watched, as they would watch a one-man play]. We want all kinds of interaction, between quiz masters and quiz helpers, between quiz masters and teams, between quiz masters and individuals, between individual team member and, indeed, between different teams (albeit, not answer swapping). That is our idea of an interactive quiz.

Equally, we don’t necessarily go down the “Hello, Team Number 2, what’s your name and where do you come from?” route. We’re not, as such, putting on a show with spectators. We’re running a quiz and we, and our players, overwhelmingly want to get on with it. The banter and the humour, will come naturally over the course of the evening. It’s the questions and the format that matter most, and everything else should be closely related to those. We want to waste as little of your time as possible on non quiz-related matters. The quiz itself is the main vehicle for the interaction our clients are looking for.

Over the years, we’ve developed more and more ways to make our quizzes interactive, with various different lively rounds which require different degrees of noise and movement, of consultation and support, of speed and sometimes of reflection.

So, whatever people mean when they ask us for an interactive quiz, from something very high tech to something very basic, we think we can provide what they need.

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!

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.

 

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.

 

How do you like your Quiz Master?

Every now and then, we have to deal with an enquiry which specifically requests that the quiz host is not a woman. To which we are prone to reply “Certainly, sir/madam. Are there any other types of quiz master you’d like to discriminate against? Jewish, perhaps? Muslim? Disabled? Black? Gay?” Well, no, we don’t say that (but we do think that).  We’re don’t want to be quite so provocative, but, suffice to say, we are not all together impressed by the absurdity of the request.

Is there anything which makes men better at running quizzes than women? Short answer. No, there isn’t. Obviously.

We’ve been told that “We went to a quiz run by a woman once, and it was rubbish” – but that will be because she was a rubbish quiz master and/or had rubbish quiz questions (but certainly wouldn’t have been one of our quiz masters), not because she was a woman.I’m sure you can remember a rubbish quiz you’ve been to run by a man – and that was because he was a rubbish quiz master, possibly with rubbish quiz questions, not because he was a man.

Two of our busiest and best quiz hosts are women. Suffice to say, no one’s ever complained after the event about the gender of their host.

So, where does the mindset of the enquiry come from? Generally, we find that people making the request think a woman won’t have the authority to control a room full of men. Utter nonsense. Perhaps there is a certain cliche based on the traditional Master of Ceremonies role based on a large hairy man belting out instructions. Don’t worry, we do also have large hairy men, we have baldy men, beardy men, ginger men, all manner of men. None of these factors make them good quiz masters – good quiz knowledge, good humour, a calm, authoritative manner, good training, and good material make a good quiz master.

Maybe the idea comes from the same outdated notion that women don’t make good comedians http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/fosters-comedy-award-winner-bridget-christie-i-was-standing-in-a-bookshop-when-i-realised-that-thiswas-a-show-i-just-had-to-do-8784433.html.

Maybe from the recently proposed daftness manifesting as cold hard fact that women are no good at mental games http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ukip/10244637/Ukip-treasurer-Women-are-not-competitive-enough-for-the-board-room.html

…which has been splendidly rebutted by one of Britain’s finest poker players/quiz hosts http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/25/women-poker-players-financial-crisis

So, to finish this post/rant, we don’t have much time for requests that the quiz host is not a woman/man or anything else. If this is your request, please a) think twice about your request b) if you have a genuine, non-discriminatory, non-prejudiced reason for the request make sure you explain it to us (could be interesting…and we are open-minded)  c) be prepared for us to try to talk a little common sense into you and d) be aware that you request may potentially be illegal (can you imagine refusing to be operated on by a surgeon who was a woman, or refusing to be driven in a bus by a woman, or indeed being looked over for a job because you were a woman…)

The younger generation

I’m almost 35. Not young anymore. Not long since I was young, but not young like the young folks anymore. This is fine. I can’t play football anymore, can’t play cricket without my whole body aching for a week, but it’s fine. It’s not the issue here.

I’m talking about quizzes here. What difference does my age make to my ability to run quizzes? Well, it depends who it’s for, doesn’t it? We run quizzes for all ages, from Primary School children to venerable pre-rock’n’roll quizzers, but the heaviest weighting is, as it has always been, the mid-to-late twenties. When I started running quizzes for QuizQuizQuiz, I was in my mid-to-late twenties. It was quite rare to be running quizzes for people significantly younger than me. This has changed.

What’s more, we run more and more quizzes for students and interns, people who are nominally adults but really are a whole generation younger than me. Can my quiz master skills cope with this?

First of all, once I hit 33 I didn’t start exclusively listening to opera, watching Ingmar Bergman films and complaining that it’s not like it was in the good old days. I still have relatively “young” tastes, if they were ever young. I’m into pop music (of a sort), modern films, watch things on TV other than ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and hang out on street corners drinking alcopops. So, in a sense, and especially as it’s my actual job, it really shouldn’t be that hard for me to know what works in a quiz for folk a few years younger than me.

But I am noting a few more challenges, as the gap gets wider year by year. I do think it’s particularly marked because there has been the most remarkably accelerated rate of change in media, communication and culture in the, say, 15 year gap between me and the intern quizzer. Just remember, when I left school, hardly anyone was using the internet (I don’t think I’d even heard of it, though I was the kind of kid who thought these computers were just a flash in the pan), there was certainly no facebook or twitter, about 10% of people had a mobile phone, most of us still had 4 (not even 5!) TV channels, Top of the Pops was still a popular show and the way to find out about what was in the charts, I could go on … some of it is trivial, some of it is pretty significant, impacting on the whole way people grow up, what they know, what they like, how they understand the world.

So, what you really want to know is, are the kids any good at quizzing? Yes, pretty good, and in some ways you don’t have to alter that much to get the tone and the content right. I haven’t yet had anyone shouting out “Hey grandad, this is so square …” or whatever the whippersnappers say these days.

There’s obviously a chance of getting it wrong by referencing something they’ve no idea about, whether it’s The Fast Show or Menswear or England putting in a decent performance at a major football tournament, but, actually, that’s pretty straightforwardly avoided if you give it enough thought beforehand. [Don’t get me wrong, it is important to avoid that, important not to think you have a shared cultural background and what you were watching/listening to when you were growing up is the slightest relevant to what’ll be fun for them]. It’s actually the opposite that is more the problem, though – in avoiding stuff that you worry may not be suitable, there may be a tendency to play it safe, make it too easy, even patronise them.

For a start, there’s certainly no particular reason why their general knowledge, geography, history, politics etc won’t be as strong as anyone else’s, or their ability to think quizzily and work out puzzling questions. Indeed, their tendency to drink a little less than the more experienced quizzer can mean their heads are a little clearer for trickier questions.

It’s when it comes to “culture” that it can be trickiest, whether that’s Video Games, TV, Films or particularly Music. Because I don’t know exactly what they know, what they’ve experienced, how they take it all in, and can only work it out approximately, there’s a real danger of asking something which just seems like the simplest, most pointless thing in the world. “Here’s a question about one of those video games you all seem to spend all your time playing.” “Yes, but what you’re asking us is like asking us what is 2+2”. It can be like that if you’re not careful.

And the same applies to pop music – I don’t just know what the big hits were of my era, I know which songs were kind-of hits, tunes you’d remember but might not be too sure who they’re by, and that’s what makes a good question. I know what old bands people my age might know about, too. It takes a fair bit of research and experience to get a music round right for younger people – will they know Frank Sinatra, the Stone Roses, will they know the Strokes, say, whose first album came out when a current university student was about 7? Yes, they know the modern chart-toppers, the songs that are everywhere, but the skill is going a little deeper.

It’s an interesting, and growing, challenge. The gap in age will continue to grow between me and the average corporate quiz participant. As a company, we’ll take on new, possibly younger, quiz masters, every now and then, and we’ll think more and more conscientiously about making sure our round formats and questions are tailored to the audience, whatever their age. Quzzing is certainly not a young man or woman’s game, so I don’t think I’ll have to hang up the spikes just yet – maybe now is a good time to take inspiration from the Rolling Stones and look forward to entertaining the kids of quiz for another four decades.