How to set up a quiz society

In his four years at Oxford Brookes University, Tom De Bock has helped develop its quiz society from a loose group of people keen on pub quizzes to a strong community with a committed core of academic competition enthusiasts. In this column for the UKQB blog, he shares some of his personal experiences of the process, as well as advice for anyone who might be interested in setting up and growing a quiz society in their university.

How to set up a quiz society

The title of this post may be erring a bit on the clickbait side. When I arrived at Oxford Brookes University, there was a Quiz Society already set up, so I did not have to go through the motions of registering a new student society. Nevertheless, it was a long way up from where the society was in 2014 to how I left it earlier this year, and hopefully this article will help new student quiz teams to find their footing and get involved.

The first step for me was to discover quizbowl. Rather conveniently if you’re reading this, chances are you already have! In my case, I was advised by our University Challenge ‘coach’ to attend a tournament in a University Challenge style format I had never played before. It was a tough day, but I soon learned about the game and how it worked. This very website should help you figure this bit out!

Parts two and three should ideally be worked out at the same time but can be done in either order. These are

  • getting people to join the society, and

  • securing finances for the society.

Neither seem particularly easy or pleasant tasks and there are many ways of doing both, but the following is how I did so for Oxford Brookes.

The first person I could convince to play a quiz tournament was my first-year flatmate, soon followed by the other regulars on our pub quiz team (the only thing the Quiz Society did back then). Once a core of people had decided pursuing quizbowl as a society was worthwhile, we began to advertise it as such. Freshers’ Fair is an extremely important tool to grow your society. In our case, all we had was a student union-supplied banner, a link to our Facebook page and a single buzzer I got from a board game, but it got some attention. Once it was time to enter more tournaments, most of the people who put their names down on our sign-up sheets never replied, but enough did to have a team. Having a presence at student events and on social media helps to get an audience and a mailing list helps to retain it. You may think your society is too niche, and it likely is niche, but you will always be able to find people who enjoy learning things and showing their knowledge. It is, after all, a university.

When it comes to getting money for your society, you can get funding from the university, the student union or your own members in the form of a sign-up fee. I was personally uncomfortable with this, so instead I organised a tournament in early 2016. There’s a lot of work involved with doing this, but there is equally a lot of people willing to help you out with it. I was lucky enough to get help from the more experienced people at Oxford, and this website should also provide some advice on this level. With the money we raised thanks to the tournament, we bought a set of buzzers for the society. There are several possible suppliers each with their pros and cons, but having a buzzer set for the society was a huge boost as we could organise proper practice sessions for the following year.

The next Freshers’ Fair, we could proudly display our new buzzer set and encourage people to press it. To get more sign-ups to the mailing list, we also recommended a bunch of local pub quizzes people could go to. Then, we began to organise and advertise weekly buzzer practices. Most of the people who signed up didn’t come, and that’s okay. We probably wouldn’t have enough room anyway!

What you want to focus on is making sure the people who do turn up keep coming back. Some will, some won’t, but you can put the odds in our favour. We started off by letting everyone introduce themselves how they saw fit to make it clear that it’s a social activity, not just one part of the week where they walked in, answered a bunch of questions and left without saying another word.

The other important factor was to start with easier questions. If someone’s first exposure to quiz is so hard they have trouble understanding most questions, they likely won’t come back. That’s why I made sure I’d selected which questions we’d play before each practice session, so everyone had the best time possible.

Once this was up and running, I kept sending emails to the mailing list and making sure we had a stall at every student event. I talked about the society to potentially interested students I met and advertised on social media on special occasions. The exposure we got from University Challenge helped us out a great deal, and we used it to advertise the society at Freshers’ Fair.

To keep people coming back, we tried to keep the atmosphere of the practices themselves as relaxed as possible. New members tried their hand at reading questions and keeping score, we read different difficulties to help out both the more serious players and the more casual members who were there for the fun of it. To maintain this, we set up a group chat and added every regular member. This helped to organise the practice sessions and made finding teams for tournaments easier.

By the end of my time at Oxford Brookes, the Quiz Society had grown from a handful of friends going to the same pub quiz each week to a more organised group organising weekly practices and regular tournaments, with about a dozen regular members and enough financial resources to pay its own tournament entry fees.

In short, there isn’t one single way to build up a quiz society, but you do need to go through four important steps to get there:

  • Start the society, or at least have a goal for it. The steps for this will be different depending on your university, so get in touch with your student union and get help from your friends!

  • Find an audience. Use social media, student events, word-of-mouth or even email. Make sure the word reaches the right people!

  • Get funding. Run tournaments, get student union grants, charge membership. Once you have money, you can get buzzers and pay for other tournaments!

  • Keep the people coming. Make sure your society is welcoming, keep everyone interested, invested and involved and keep at it until you make it!