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What makes a quiz team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is in your perfect quiz team?

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?

What’s a Corporate Quiz like?

We write a lot in this blog about Corporate Quizzes and Company Quiz Nights, and I realise it may not always be entirely clear what that is, and in and of itself, it may even be rather a forbidding term. Visions of people in suits being questioned on tax in near silence, perhaps.

But, in truth, our corporate quiz nights come in many different shapes and sizes. We are very happy to fit in to our client’s vision for the evening (and often we help them shape their vision), however formal or informal, however grand or relaxed.

So, what does a corporate quiz look like? Well, frankly, quite often, it looks exactly like a pub quiz. It takes place in a pub, with teams huddled together round tables, relaxing after work. There are pints, there are crisps, there are goujons and little sausages, there are people popping out for a fag: you get the idea.

And is the substance of this quiz much different from a pub quiz? Well, no, not necessarily. We use similar rounds to those we have used with great success in pub quizzes, we employ a mixture of topics and styles. There’ll be more music and visual questions than the standard pub quiz, there may even be a few fancy gadgets you wouldn’t ordinarily see, but generally, nothing immediately, wildly different. Just better.

Of course, sometimes our “corporate quizzes” are a little more corporate, whether they’re in an auditorium within a company’s headquarters, or a large conference room in a smart hotel. Sometimes the dress code is strictly business and there are elegant waiters walking round dispensing fine wines.

And sometimes, our clients may want to make their quizzes more company-specific by asking us to include questions about their company or their line of work. Experience has told us that this is very rarely a good idea, but we will find ways to make it work if needs be.

Why do we tend to persuade clients against including company questions?

– usually, people are trying to get away from work and relax at quiz nights.

– sometimes, questions about the company are good-naturedly booed, which is not great for company morale, I imagine. It can certainly dampen the atmosphere.

– Sometimes, people supply the questions themselves, which has one advantage, that they know the company better than us. But as they are not written by professional quiz writers, they are not going to be of the right quality, nor can we verify their veracity, nor can we judge whether they are at the right difficulty, or whether they are going to be facile for some parts of the company and impossible for others.

– If we write them ourselves, well, it is a rare occasion where we know the subject matter less intimately than the participants, however well we research the questions.

– How can I put this, and we mean this as no insult to anyone’s business, these questions are just usually a little … dull, compared to good pub quiz questions.

– Sometimes, the company questions are more personal and light-hearted, along the lines of “What football team does Geoff support?” “Who once snogged Jimmy from 911”? Though these can be fun, they are often full of errors, a little divisive and can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Once in a blue moon, someone from within a company comes up with some nice neat clever interesting questions related to their company, and we then try to headhunt them …but, honestly, I can only think of about twice in seven years where a quiz I’ve run has been enhanced by company-based questions.

So, to get back to the question, what’s a corporate quiz like? Well, usually, not that corporate. It will be clever, well-judged, well-balanced, classy if that’s what’s asked (without sacrificing how much fun it is), raucous and silly, or indeed anything else if that’s what is right for our client.

 

The Return of Quiz Quiztofferson

Considering my job, I really don’t take part in many pub quizzes these days. Indeed, it had been a couple of years since I’d last risked my reputation in that way. So, on a Wednesday night when I was off quiz-running duty, I took myself off to a local pub and took on the world.

It was fun. I like quizzes, I realise.

It was your standard “sent out by a successful company” quiz and, I’ve got to say, the last time I’d done one of theirs, I’d found the questions pretty disappointing, but this time round, I was pleasantly surprised – they were tight, pretty clever and interesting [I went back again this week, and the questions were even better]. It goes to show – if you’re writing questions all the time, as the writers of these quizzes are, and as I do, you have good days and bad days. Some days I sit down to write questions and will only come up with a few limp and obvious ones, and then the next day I’ll write 50 questions which I know can be used and re-used. Quality can inevitably vary, it’s just about having an effective quality control system.

It’s fun taking part in a quiz on your own, albeit it’s more like a school exam than a proper pub quiz experience, where banter and discussion and working things out together is part of the fun. Notwithstanding the obligatory barflies trying to give me help when their help is the last thing I wanted, there was no banter for me.

Still, I was pleased. I pretty much nailed it, in terms of eking out the points I could possibly get, and I was pretty confident I’d win, especially when the third place team had a score 11 points lower than mine. But, no, I was thwarted, by one point, dammit, though was happy enough with a little share of the kitty. [The excellent showing of this winning team, incidentally, directly affected my performance on my second visit last night, where I took a wild risk on the wipeout round thinking I’d need everything to beat them, only to find out at the end that if I’d played it safe I’d have won].

Funnily enough, of the nine points I dropped, five of them were on football-related questions, which just goes to show that what you think is your strength isn’t necessarily so. On one of my few ghastly TV appearances, I took on sport as my speciality only to come up horribly short. And yet, I live and breathe sport, always have done, still do. I’ve written about this before in terms of writing questions, that the best questions we write are usually not on our own favourite subjects, but maybe it applies (to a lesser extent) to answering questions as well – we don’t use the problem-solving part of our brain so valuable for quizzes when the subject is something we think we already know  about. Who knows?

Anyway, it was fun to get back in the game. The essence and heart of what we do is the good old pub quiz, so I shouldn’t let so long go by without one in the future.

 

Pub Quiz Night Ideas

It’s seven years to the day since I started running pub quiz nights for QuizQuizQuiz, and it’s interesting to consider what’s changed and what hasn’t changed in that time.

Obviously, the company has grown, taken on many new challenges, in particular when it comes to question writing. In essence, though, a lot of what we do is just the same. We run fun quiz nights for people.

The first quiz I ran, at a venue in the city, was probably pretty similar to the quiz I will run tonight. QuizQuizQuiz was on to a good thing from the off. Jack, Lesley-Anne and David, who started the company, loved quizzes before they started the company and knew how to make pub quiz nights great for other people. They had great questions and great rounds. Quite a few of those rounds are still rounds we sometimes use, varied and fair and fun.

However, it would be remiss to just sit on our hands and just keep things exactly as they are. We’re constantly renewing our questions, trying to write new classics which will puzzle and entertain people, which will work for different ages and nationalities and demographics.

And we’re also constantly trying to come up with new pub quiz night ideas, which will elevate quizzes we run above the quiz night norm. Just this year, I’ve started running four different types of rounds which I hadn’t been running previously, all with success. It’s always gratifying when a new idea gets the desired response, contains something which participants can latch on to and enjoy.

There’s nothing wrong with a solid quiz of six themed rounds of ten questions, but we do things a little differently. We have a variety of formats and a variety of question styles. Yes, some of the old ideas are still great, but we want our pub quiz nights to be more than just your average quiz night, and we put a lot of thoughts into new ways to make that happen.

How does your quiz night keep it fresh?

The Question Database

Whether participating in a quiz, watching a TV quiz show, or just catching sight of a set of quiz questions in any context, I always feel, alongside the sense of admiration, a pang of disappointment when I see a really, really good, clever question. Because I then think, “Damn, I won’t be able to think of that one now. There’s one more in the pot of really outstanding quiz questions which isn’t mine. I might have thought of that question off my own back in a couple of day’s time, but now, if I do, I’ll know that someone else got there first!”

Over the years, I’ve become more and more entrenched in trying to make sure the work we at QuizQuizQuiz produce is entirely our own. We’ve, at various times, used freelance writers, done question swaps, asked for and been sent material by quiz enthusiasts, but increasingly I’ve felt a certain sense of dissatisfaction with that, however good the material is. The fun of the job is coming up with the questions yourself.

Of course, it is a grey area, and no one is going to get sued anytime soon for using a quiz question they’ve previously heard elsewhere. At freshly written pub quizzes up and down the country, multiple question setters have probably come up with almost exactly the same questions as each other, whether because they were scanning the same news sites or because their minds were just working in the same ways.

I’ve had times when I’ve been watching ‘University Challenge’ and a question has been asked which is pretty much exactly the same as one I thought up earlier in the month and thought “Damn, people are going to think I nicked that”. Well, I really do my very best not to nick questions from anywhere, not because I necessarily think there’s all that much wrong with it, but just for the sense of personal satisfaction.

I’ve been at pub quizzes where questions have been used which I know have, one way or another, come from QuizQuizQuiz, either from one of our pub quizzes or, more recently from our weekly Friday Quiz, and, really, I don’t mind at all if it’s just the odd one or two. It’s a compliment.

We generally tried very hard to protect the integrity of our questions early on, so we would turn down requests from clients to see the questions in advance or to be sent the questions after the event (which we still do by and large), but there is a big, big difference between taking a whole quiz without asking and hearing a question/factoid one likes and thinking “I can use that”.

And since we kicked off the Friday Quiz five years ago, really, our questions are out there in the world – if someone really wanted to systematically hoard them for their own purposes, there’s nothing we can do about it. We just hope other quiz enthusiasts take as much pleasure in coming up with their own questions as we do.

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.

 

Stadium Gigs

Last month I played Murrayfield Stadium. Oh yes. QuizQuizQuiz has really hit the big time now… Sadly, I wasn’t spreading the word of quiz to 60,000 adoring fans, but for 200 or so people in a corporate suite.

We quite often run quizzes in rooms at stadiums. Indeed one of the first ever QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights, back in 2003, was at St. James’ Park in Newcastle. Running quizzes at places such as Old Trafford (Cricket and Football), the Emirates, Hampden Park etc. can be a nice vicarious thrill, and, in any case, 200+ people is a pretty large number for a quiz.

I think the most people I’ve ever run a quiz for is just over 300, and we ran a quiz for over 800 people once upon a time with around 120 teams in the Corn Exchange Shopping Centre in Leeds.

Is that too big? What kind of difference does the number of people or teams make?

Theoretically, there’s no limit, but the main inhibiting factors are space, sound and vision, engagement with teams, and, of course, marking.

Big enough venues with really good sound systems, where you feel like you’re fully in touch with all the teams and you know you’re engaging them can be hard to find. And obviously, if you want to mark sheets yourselves, as we do, the more teams, the more good markers you need. [We can run a quiz night using keypads, which to some extent removes the marking factor, but the vast majority of our quiz events rely on pen and paper, at least to some extent, and thus need marking by hand].

Personally, I love running quizzes for massive crowds – the cheer is louder, the sense of occasion is bigger. In some ways it is less intimidating than just running a quiz for a few people, where you can see and hear what everyone is thinking. It’s pretty important, though, that the venue is a good, open space, without lots of nooks, crannies and corners – both in terms of considering sound and people seeing screens, but also in terms of people staying fully involved.

Likewise, whatever the venue, we need to conduct a thorough check that the sound in the venue is good before we start, and this is particularly vital for a big venue.

Any venue and any number can provide it’s own challenges, though. Sometimes we have our own portable equipment, sometimes we plug into a venue’s own, and, with experience, I’ve got the hang of getting the sound right, speaker placement, where teams should be sat etc. I’d like to think that if we ever were asked to put on a quiz for a stadium full of people, we’d find a way to make it work.

Stadium quizzing might just be the next big thing. Comedians are the new rock stars. Maybe QuizMasters will be the new comedians. Or perhaps not. It’s a nice thought though.

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?