The importance of this lesson was rammed home one evening at my local pub quiz where the regular host was incapacitated for some reason or other. His well meaning mate, an old chummy regular who knew one of the quiz teams too well stepped in instead to help out and compere. All well and good except the guy was a monotonous drone.
First he took forever to start the quiz, flitting about, chatting to his friends in one of the teams - matey banter that was inappropriate and excluded everyone else. Nobody knew what was going on, or when. If finally came as a surprise to some that he had already read out the first five questions.
Throughout the quiz he bumbled and fumbled his way through the questions, he kept having to be asked to repeat himself because even though he had use of a PA system. He simply seemed to use it to address his table of mates in the corner, and seldom even turned to acknowledge the players in the next room.
Again throughout the quiz he seemed to forget he was hosting, and lost himself in what he must have thought was amusing banter or flirting with his friends. Regular players started chatting amongst themselves and as a result no-one could hear the questions when he finally tried to deliver them.
The evening drew on, and on and on and endlessly onwards, and we were still only half way through. Normally the quiz would have started about 9pm proper with a picture round followed by two rounds of ten questions each, a 10-15 minute break for refreshments and nicotine addicts to gather sociably around the front door of the pub, and resumed with three more rounds. Finally after another break the answers would be read out, with the quiz wrapped up by about 10.20pm, leaving people to wind down for last orders, and to drift off home. But not on this night, we still had half the quiz to get through, before then revealing the answers and who had won.
By this time several of us were ready to drag the old goat out, tie him to a tree and shoot him.
Finally people started inevitably gathering their things and leaving before the quiz was over. Some people had trains, buses, taxis or lifts to catch. Others had to be up in the morning so could not aford to hang around 'til midnight to find out what the answers were, or who had won. Others had just lost the will to live and didn't care any more.
End result: a lot of regular quiz participants were irritated, pissed off and some likely to not come back. Not so much a case of metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot as a case of blowing your bloody leg off!
So What Did We Learn?
- Whoever presents your local quiz night needs a modicum of charisma. Dig up a corpse at your peril.
- Let the players know when you are going to start, how you will proceed, when you will take breaks for refreshments, and when you will be resuming with further rounds or the answers. Repeat this throughout the quiz so everyone knows what is going on, and just as importanntly, when.
- Monotone delivery will at least put your players to sleep, if not utterly irritate them or push them into a coma.
- Make sure everyone can hear you. Stage actors are taught to project their voices to the people furthest away from them, at the back of the theatre. Same principle here, everyone needs to hear you.
- Pause briefly between questions, allowing the teams to discuss amongst themsleves and then answer the question, but dont leave it too long - you still have the rest of the quiz to get through!
- Start bumbling, farting about then people will get restless and agitated. As soon as this happens noise levels increase and your question delivery is lost amidst the hubbub. Keep a steady tempo and people will settle down to hear you read the questions, but if your delivery is constantly broken and irregular they will not know when to expect the next question.
- Be clear, be concise, get on with it, you have several rounds to get through. Delivering the questions with authority means people will settle down to listen whilst you are speaking.
- Remember you have an audience, so cut the cute banter with your mates. You are there for everybody, not just your table of favoured cronies in the corner. Have a bit of common courtesy. If you must share a joke, share it with everyone.
- Don't dawdle. Remember that you may well have all evening to waste, but some people have jobs to get up for in the morning so bloody well get on with it, and don't keep people waiting forever while you fraternise with your mates. People came for the quiz, not to sit around waiting for you to get your shit together.
- Summarise each round before and after. This punctuates proceedings nicely. This again lets the players know what to expect, and allows for the repetition of any questions. It also keeps you in control.
Hopefully you have the good fortune of a great quiz master, with punchy, timely delivery and sound judgement. He will ensure that he is heard, and that everyone is treated fairly, and that no apparent favouritism is shown. Everyone will feel that they got the same opportunity to hear and answer the questions, and that he repeated any required without taking forever.
Remember at your peril that you are supposed to be entertaining your customers and quiz participants, not trying to grate on their nerves or bore them to death...