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Levels of Questions

As something of a follow-up to my last post about Corporate and Company Quizzes, I’m going to write a little about the varying levels of difficulty you might find at different quizzes.

This is sparked by recently hearing a view from a pub quiz master that he believed that corporate quizzes are generally much harder than pub quizzes, which, I must say, is not my experience at all.

When we used to write one or two pub quizzes a week, and then use the accumulated pub quizzes as source material for our corporate quizzes, it was definitely true that the difficulty was significantly reduced from pub quiz to corporate. To be fair, this was a particularly strong pub quiz crowd. There were a high number of high quality teams, and we tailored the difficulty to reflect that.

And by and large, that’s what every quiz should do, so it would be slightly inaccurate of me to simply say “Corporate quizzes are easier than pub quizzes” – if I know that a corporate event I’m running is for a number of really good teams, I’ll up the difficulty level, and likewise, I’ve been to some really easy pub quizzes.

Generally, though, my reflection is that, because pub quiz goers are people who have gone somewhere to take part in a quiz, they tend to like quizzes and have some competence in them, whereas a corporate quiz is usually a pretty random assortment of workers who don’t necessarily have any inclination to quiz. Generally, that’s how I find it, and why, in general, pub quizzes are tougher than company quiz events.

Perhaps it’s more interesting to consider easy and difficult questions, and, to expand on that, easy and difficult quizzes, in a few different ways.

Firstly, it is, I think harder to write easy questions than to write difficult questions. To come up with a real gem of an easy question is always a great pleasure. Perhaps what I mean is it’s hardest to write easy questions that aren’t facile. “What’s the capital of Belgium?” OK, that’s not a hard question to write. “What three word phrase connects ‘Bob the Builder’ and Barack Obama?” – still very easy, but a little bit more pleasing to ask and to answer.

I’d tentatively suggest that a pub quiz may contain a few more facile questions – questions about what’s happened recently where all you need is to have read the paper to get it. That’s fine – in the context of any quiz, not everything needs be a beautifully constructed brainteaser.

Too many facile questions are, of course, a real turn-off. One can sometimes see the people that rate themselves at quizzes rolling their eyes if a question is a bit too simple. [Incidentally, a real delight then is the question that appears facile but, without being a trick, trips people up. I have a really good one of those at the moment, where I often see someone scoffing when it’s asked, then getting it wrong – “What year is 100 years after 90 BC?” Think before you join the scoffers …]

It’s not always about easy/difficult anyway, but more about suitable/not suitable to the participants. And then you can ask, which participants? All the participants, or the best, or the worst? What I find is that even very good teams rarely get over 90% in a quiz, even if it is “easy” – the easiness will mean that the less good teams’ scores will improve. A “hard” quiz is likely to mean greater separation, and, for me as a quiz master, that’s not really desirable. As I’ve said various times, I want a range between 60% and 90%. If I get close to that, I’m happy and know that I’ve done a pretty good job in question selection. If it’s 90% to 40%, less so. Then again, if it’s 90% to 80%, say, then I probably will have made the quiz too easy.

So, when should a quiz be hard? Well, rarely, I think. It is necessary, obviously, when a pub quiz has a reputation for being fiendish, of course: when difficulty is its calling card. And, for a corporate event, if we’re told they want it be tricky, well, sure, but even then, I’d use my discretion. I know that I could ask a good set of questions where no team would get more than 50% of them, and most questions would be answered by at least one of the teams…yet they’d still have a better time if I tone it down a bit and they’re getting far more of them right.

Serious quizzers like to be challenged, that’s why they watch shows like ‘University Challenge’ and ‘Only Connect’, but even then, you want to feel you’ve got a chance on the questions. When Paxman’s asked something where no one’s got a clue, it’s a bit of a damp squib.

The truth is, then, perhaps “difficulty” is a bit of a red herring – it’s about suitability of questions, quality of questions, maintaining interest, variation and and about offering a fair challenge.

Do you have a favourite “easy” question?

In Defence of Quiz

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

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

“Who cares?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

The Flexible Quiz Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To Mark or Not To Mark?

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

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

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

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

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

There is another slightly lateral, but arguably even more important, reason for us doing the marking. Many of our questions require teams to think very carefully about answers – and are designed to make them feel clever when they come up with the correct answer. Often they will not be 100% sure that they have the correct answer until we announce it. Now, if they are marking another team’s paper then they may see that this other team put the same answer as them. They will be much more sure they are right with this confirmation, and when the correct answer is read out they will cheer much less if at all. Multiply this to every team, and a guaranteed spontaneous cheer from the entire room could disappear completely.”

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

[poll id=’1′]

Go on then, tell us a joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

*October (31 days…clocks change…)

 

Quizman’s Holiday

I was lucky enough to attend the pub quiz at the Fox in Putney in its 2005-2006 pomp. Lucky on three fronts 1. it was a great pub quiz 2. I happened to be in a very good team so regularly went home with a bit of cash in my pocket 3. attending that quiz led directly to the job I have been doing for the last six years.

That was my first experience of a QuizQuizQuiz quiz, and it’s not idle promotion of our brand to say it was by far the best pub quiz I’d attended, and up to that point I’d attended quite a lot. I’d not necessarily been a furious all-year-round quizzer like a lot of my colleagues and their associates. If I found a good quiz in my area I’d do it and if my friends invited me along to one I’d do it. As much as I enjoyed quizzes, I sometimes held myself back from doing them because I tended to get a little nervous from the expectation of winning and also rather tetchy at any perceived injustices that might prevent said victory, be it poor marking, poor questions or the knowledge that other competitors were cheating. [Frankly, my former self would be a nightmare for my current incarnation as quizmaster.].

Still, it’s fair to say that I liked a good quiz, and I was good enough at quizzing, as is reflected by the fact that my participation at the Fox led to me getting this job – a very successful and enjoyable interview. The one downside of getting the job was that I could no longer take part in the Fox quiz. I had mixed feelings about the fact that my former team continued to prosper without me, too!

Because the job of running quizzes instantly took up at least two evenings a week, my participation levels dropped. My old team were still taking part in a quiz I was now helping to write, I was tired on my free evenings, I might be a bit quizzed out, also the days of the week I was booked out might vary, so I couldn’t find a regular night. In fact, I haven’t been a regular at a pub quiz since then.

But I have been to plenty of quizzes. And what this post is about (after my rambling introduction!) is what it’s like to attend quizzes when your job is on the other side.

Well, I’d like to say that my former tetchiness and nervous competitiveness had faded as I gained empathy for the tough job a quizmaster has to do, but, in truth, the opposite has happened. I’ve become more horrified at the prospect of not winning, more intent on picking apart bad questions rather than just answering them, more critical of long pauses and mispronounced questions. Even when my team has won, a sign of the success of the evening would be more likely to be me saying “That wasn’t a bad quiz” rather than “Woohoo! We won! I’m rich! Rich beyond my wildest dreams!”

I don’t feel too bad about that though. Running a decent quiz isn’t that hard (not that easy either, mind you) and when they fall below a certain level it is reasonable to hope for better. Indeed the last pub quiz I went to (quite a few months ago) left me thoroughly underwhelmed and grumpy. It had not been written on site (fair enough) but one could tell that whoever had written it (I’m not saying who) had done it without any enthusiasm. Also, an eight minute gap between Question 2 and Question 3 of Round 1 while the QuizMaster said farewell to his girlfriend was unconventional and, dare I say, not wholly successful as a technique for getting the teams to a fever pitch of quizzy delight. I’m sure my eventual disgruntlement had nothing to do with the fact that, for the first time in years (if not ever) my team had finished outside the Top 2. “Look, at the end of the day, if I haven’t won, there’s something  seriously wrong with these questions”. Like any formerly good sportsman past his best, I blamed everything but myself …

But it is interesting what effect running quizzes and writing questions has had on my quizzing skills. Initially, I’d say, all was positive. Scouring the news all week and really getting into the mind of a quizmaster gave me a big advantage. The day I went to a local pub and won on my own by 12 points was the day I realised I had to know fewer facts.

Which is broadly how it’s gone. I’m still in with a good chance at any quiz I take part in, but success is not guaranteed. I think my style of question writing has changed somewhat, for one thing. I’m more looking for the fun fact in what is common knowledge rather than casting around for every possible news story which provides a question. Also, I’m doing more and more “written to order” multiple choice questions for machines/games etc where you tend to focus on a particular topic for a period of time, rather than cover everything under the sun.

So, how are pub quizzes for me now? Well, to be honest, I don’t go to that many anymore, which is rather sad. I still love a good pub quiz, but i wonder if the quality of QuizQuizQuiz quizzes has rather spoilt me. Which is not to say that there aren’t lots of good pub quizzes out there, I think it’s just my time to find them is less than it used to be. I hope that my job doesn’t entirely take one of my favourite hobbies away from me.

If you both run and take part in quizzes, how do you find the experience on both sides of the fence? Does it spoil or enhance the experience of an old-fashioned pub quiz for you?

Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing

Some audiences can be extremely difficult to manage, and require a Quiz Master (or indeed any other entertainer / speaker) to use all the tricks of the trade and force of presence and personality to keep things under control.

I recently ran an 80s themed quiz for a very exuberant group of 120 sales people, 30s-50s, and 80 % men. The room was tightly packed, everyone had been drinking for a couple of hours before the quiz started, and noise levels were very high. Most of them hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months as they work all over the country, and there was a great deal of general machismo, back-slapping, guffawing and gentle-to-aggressive sales person banter going on amongst colleagues.

After the quiz, our client said: “I’ve never seen this group so effectively engaged and entertained for so long. Normally they are impossible.”

Before the quiz, this is what our client had said: “It must be stressed that you can expect everything from this group. Literally. I have seen a professional comedian leaving the stage almost in pieces and saying this was the most difficult group he had ever handled. Don’t get me wrong – they are a good bunch, but with lots of energy and will let it be known if they don’t like something. So I usually pre-warn all entertainers.”

We have a section in our QuizMaster bible called “Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing”. I’m not going to divulge many QQQ trade secrets (!), but the key is to manage every aspect of the quiz and be in full control the whole way through. The crowd need to know you are in charge, but you hope to do that in a way that allows them to let their hair down. You hope to have plenty of singing along and shouting and cheering, and but at the same you want to try and ensure that for participants it feels entirely spontaneous (and generally, it will be). However, if you get it right as a QuizMaster then you should be able to know, almost to the nearest millisecond, exactly when the crowd will react and when. If you can get them singing and shouting and cheering (preferably extremely loudly!) on your own terms then that is a good result..

And above all, you have to keep the pace up, and try not to give the exuberant crowd any breathing space to get bored or wander off.

When we work with celebrities as quizmasters they often start very well, but lose energy, concentration, momentum, and thence the crowd as the quiz goes on. Running quizzes is not easy, in particular this type of event is never easy. Auto-pilot is out of the question. Experience in running all sorts of corporate quiz events plays a massive part so that you know what techniques to use for a particular event.

So it is all about this vital combination of Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing – you have to try and do both. The former without the latter is a recipe for boredom for the participants, and the latter without the former is a recipe for disaster and misery for the entertainer.

So there we go. This particular event went very well, and (without bigging ourselves up too much more!) is a good example of why our clients come back to us for their company quiz nights – because they know we’ll get it right, whatever the circumstances.

The Charismatic Quizmaster

A few aspects of what it takes to be a good quizmaster have already been touched upon in this blog, but I’m going to focus on whether it is necessary to possess that rare and undefineable quality of charisma.

Having run 100s of quizzes myself, I can at least say that my own complete lack of said undefineable quality has not been an insurmountable hindrance to running reasonably enjoyable events, but am I kidding myself? Is charisma, star power, real personality a key ingredient in the quality quizmaster’s armoury?

Not necessarily. Anyone going into running quizzes thinking they can get by on personality alone may well be in for a fall. Far more important are the basic and unglamorous components of a good, clear voice, a good general knowledge and a bit of patience. Arguably, charisma, if misapplied, can be less blessing than curse. Most quiz participants are there for the questions, for the competition. If they want to see a comedian, they’ll go and see a comedian.

Having said that, I’ve seen several circumstances where a bit of genuine personality is a vital ingredient, not least when there is a poor or indeed no soundsystem. A powerful and rich set of lungs can save a quiz set for disaster. Likewise, if you have a thoroughly disinterested audience, the ability to engage, to get them on your side, is a real gift.

But, in truth, for quizzes, those situations are fairly rare. Whether it is a pub quiz, where most people will have gone along because they like quizzes, so are already “on side”, or a corporate team-building event, where people are generally likely to behave themselves and engage, you usually have enough of people’s attention not to have to exude sheer charisma.

For my own part, I tend to be quite reactive. I try to make sure I get the basics right, have good sound, speak clearly etc (of course, the main thing is to have a good and entertaining set of questions, but that’s for another blog) and then if the crowd is receptive, one can relax and have a bit of banter. There’s no need to force it, to have a set of bad jokes stored up, the quiz can still be successful without any great humour, and indeed better to play it safe than to alienate the audience.

Still, that’s just me. I make do with what I’ve got. Rest assured, there are plenty of other QuizQuizQuiz Quizmasters who are simply oozing raw star power, and they may have a very different take on it.

What do you think? Do you prefer a QM with a bit of something about them? Have you ever seen a good quizmaster save a bad quiz? Or a try-hard quizmaster ruin a good quiz?

Born in the 1990s

At a comedy club I regularly attend, the compere will always pick on a young looking chap in the audience, and ask him what year he was born in…inevitably, if he is under 21 and the answer is 1990-something then the whole audience gasps “No way”, “1990! That’s so young!”, “How can someone born in the 1990s be allowed out at night” etc. etc.

It’s a cheap win for the compere, but for quizmasters such gasp inducing youth poses a challenge of its own. These children of the 1990s were foetal, at best, when Thatcher left office. ‘Thundercats’ means very little to them. Even PJ and Duncan means little.

If you go to quizzes from time-to-time (as I assume most of our readers do), then you will almost certainly have had the experience of finding the questions badly out of your knowledge zone. It is one thing to find that there are too many questions on (e.g.) sport or music for your liking, but another thing to find that you are a young person at an “old man quiz” or an older person at a “Radio 1” quiz.

A quiz master/mistress should know his/her audience, and equally you might say that a quiz punter should choose the right sort of quizzes to attend. However, it is always possible to set a quiz that caters to different age groups. At QuizQuizQuiz our quiz masters earn their plaudits by their ability to create an entire quiz in realtime that is perfectly suited for the audience, but here are a few pointers that can help with the age issue. We’ll deal with other demographic issues in future posts.

1. Include some content that very directly addresses a minority age group in the audience. Seems obvious, but I’ve been to plenty of quizzes which have ignored the young / old  contingent. Easy enough to throw on a bit of Buddy Holly or Kings of Leon to keep everyone happy that at least one thing was friendly to them.

2. Put the majority of questions in the middle ground – things that everyone should know, and for which age is irrelevant. This doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of popular culture – some pop culture is pretty much universal, particularly “event” TV / films. A question about The King’s Speech at the moment should do the trick for most age groups.

3. Think a bit laterally for suitable topics. Different age groups will know about different subjects in different ways. Take children’s literature, and specifically Roald Dahl. Almost everyone British (again – dealing with international audiences another time) will be familiar with his children’s books. They will either have read it for themselves when younger which could mean 50 years ago or 5 years ago (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, is from the 1960s), seen a film adaptation, read it to their own children, or simply be aware of it by cultural osmosis, such is the cultural status of the books.

4. Ensure guessability – this is almost always a requirement for a fun and inclusive quiz question. You don’t need multiple choice for this. But many questions can be virtually multiple choice in the way you phrase them.

Here are some sample questions that I think would work at almost any quiz with any age spread, assuming the participants are all (or mostly) British:

1. In ‘The Wizard of Oz’, which one of Dorothy’s three main companions does she encounter first on the Yellow Brick Road from Munchkin Land to The Emerald City? (almost everyone young or old has seen the film and/or read the book, and even those who haven’t will probably be aware of at least one of the companions)

2. On British road signs, what symbol is used to indicate a zoo? (everyone has seen such a sign – can you remember what is on it?)

3. In the Superman movies, what colour is Superman’s belt, when he is in his full saving the world costume? (You barely need to have seen the films. Anyone and everyone will at least have seen a picture of Superman in his garb)

4. Which of your lungs is larger (assuming your organs are fairly normal) – Left or Right? (you can just guess if you like, but with luck you can try and work it out – and everyone should be able to contribute to the thinking process)

5. How many ball boys and ball girls are there on Centre Court at any one time during a match at Wimbledon? (find me a person who has never watched at least 20 minutes at Wimbledon on TV…you might know this from observation, or from knowledge, or you might be able to work it out, or try to visualise based on a match you enjoyed watching.)

Do you have any solid “age-inclusive” questions that you’ve heard or written recently?