How to write (and host) the perfect virtual quiz

While the lockdown is beginning to ease, the likelihood is that we’re still months away from total normality. And even when things get back to normal, it’s likely that our collective tastes will have changed. Many people will be nervous about large gatherings for some time, and all of us are now intimately familiar with working and living online.

Even out of lockdown, a quiz can be a great way to connect and entertain. Whether your aim is to impress friends and family or draw eyes towards your brand, a well-staged online quiz can be a lightning rod for organic traffic without controversy or clickbait. If it was that easy to get started, however, everyone would do it - which is why we’re here to help.

Getting started

Starting a quiz can be as simple as buying a big book of trivia, but it probably shouldn't be. To make yourself stand out from the crowd, you'll need to put a little effort into creating your own format, crafting questions, and making the presentation as slick as possible.

Pick a format

The first thing you'll need to decide when writing your quiz is what format it will take. While straightforward trivia is the easiest option, you should try to take advantage of the online format where you can, and limit the potential for cheating. It may not be something you can eliminate, given that everyone is sat in front of a computer or phone, but there are ways around it. One example would be to create original content that isn't easily googleable, such as mashing up different images or songs.

You should be wary here, however, as the usual rules around copyright still apply to modified media, as well as to live streams. While there is a good chance that nobody would notice or be able to prove exactly which image you've modified, you are relying on luck to skirt the bounds of the law. You may be able to find attribution free images to mashup, but if they do require attribution - as many do - that obviously poses a problem to disguising the images! It may be sufficient to include attribution after the fact, such as at the end of the quiz, but this isn't an area we can advise on.

One way to get around this would be to think of more interesting formats for questions in order to liven them up. A way around the issue of copyrighted music, for instance, could be to badly sing a song and have people try to guess what it is. Alternatively, looking to popular quiz shows and seeing what you can adopt from them is always a good idea, as these formats have been tried and tested. A version of Pointless or Family Fortunes could work well if you can find enough people to poll, while a spin on Only Connect could make for a fiendish quiz to lure in the experts.

Write what you know

While there's nothing wrong with a bit of general knowledge, it makes sense to play to your strengths, as well as those of your audience. This might consist of a single themed round within your quiz, or it might permeate the whole thing. This will usually depend on the audience you’re looking to reach: the more niche you make it, the fewer people who will likely be interested.

A great quiz will tread this line carefully, taking care not to make people feel stupid, but also giving them enough of a challenge. One good way to achieve this is to construct questions in a way that allows people to contribute without an in-depth level of knowledge. An example would be to make questions that rely on knowing the title of a film or book, for instance, but not having actually watched that film or read the book.

One of the most challenging aspects of writing questions for a quiz is making them watertight. You'll need to make sure that there is only one possible answer to a question, while also making it just ambiguous enough that it doesn't come immediately to mind.

This can be easier or harder depending on the question format you've chosen, but it ultimately comes down to good research, and gauging what people will know vs what is only googleable. A bad quiz is one that always goes one level too deep - reaching just beyond the things that people know about a topic, into details that few people remember.

Do a dry run

Once you’ve compiled your quiz, it’s a good idea to have someone else playtest it, or at least run through a question or two from each category. This will give you an idea of how difficult the questions are, and how well the format works. You may find that you need to tweak the phrasing slightly, such as adding more clues or other information to the question to trigger people’s memories.

Another important aspect of this is timing. While you may not be able to run through the entire quiz with someone, you should be able to extrapolate out roughly how long it will take based on how long they needed to answer. This will let you set strict time limits for rounds, and more closely manage the time the quiz will take. It will also let you get familiar with the software you will be using. Speaking of which...

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How to host an online quiz

Now that you've got a framework for your quiz and produced some questions, it's time to think about how you plan to host it. Hosting an online quiz may be slightly more low fi than a TV show, but you'd be surprised at what you can achieve - and what people will expect. The standard of online content is now so high that even a livestream needs a bit of jazzing up - or at least some thought as to the best ways to take advantage of the format.

Choose a streaming platform

To distribute your quiz to the masses, you’ll need somewhere to host it. Unfortunately, conducting it on a platform like Zoom isn’t very conductive to helping people find it, as they need to be specifically invited.

Instead, you’ll need to host it on a popular streaming service, so that people can simply tune in like they would a TV channel, and find the quiz organically. There are a few options, which we’ve laid out below:

Twitch

Twitch is the internet’s most popular live streaming platform, dwarfing rivals such as YouTube and Mixer. While it is predominantly home to video game content, you can stream almost anything on Twitch, and the platform is home to numerous musicians, artists and quizzers.

While it’s possible to stream directly from devices such as games consoles, streaming other content on Twitch requires the use of free third party software, which you will have to get to grips with. There are numerous tutorials to help you along, however, and the software is hugely customisable, allowing you to change the look and features of your stream.

One of the unique aspects of Twitch compared to social media live streaming is its community features. Twitch allows people to subscribe to your channel at different tiers, giving you money each month in exchange for emojis and badges which appear in the chat feature. This can be a great way to capitalise on the success of your quiz, and make it a long-term feature.

Facebook Live

Facebook Live is the name commonly given to Facebook’s live streaming capabilities. You might also see it called Live Producer or Facebook Watch - the branding is a bit confusing. In short, it allows you to broadcast live video to the feeds of your followers, and to anyone else who happens to find it.

Facebook Live is primarily designed for individual streamers recording footage on their phones, and you’ll often see it used by eyewitnesses to cover breaking events. However, the Live Producer platform also allows you to stream more professional content from third party software, letting you reach a more mainstream audience than other platforms with the same production quality.

The discoverability of content on Facebook Live is both an advantage and a drawback. As Facebook has a large built-in audience, you may find that your content quickly snowballs and draws in viewers, as people share and interact with it. Conversely, the only real way to discover content is through other people’s feeds, as there is no real curation or homepage for videos.

Youtube Live

YouTube Live is YouTube’s attempt at a live streaming platform, challenging the long-term dominance of Twitch. While it is also geared largely towards gaming content, it also plays host to many live news feeds, press conferences and other events by major brands.

Like Facebook Live, YouTube Live allows you to upload directly from a phone or device or by using third party software. The platform is a bit more stable and user friendly than Facebook, and gives you more options in terms of video quality, but is perhaps less shareable.

It has some of the same issues with discoverability - the Live tab is buried in the interface - but live feeds will pop up in people’s recommendations, giving you a chance of reaching people outside of your usual circles. You also cannot monetise your streams unless you are part of the YouTube Partner Program, which requires at least 1,000 subscribers and regular content.

Instagram Live

Instagram Live is a feature that allows you to broadcast live to your Instagram followers. It's usually designed for influencers and individuals to connect with their followers on a spontaneous level, and is ideal for things like Q&As, live streaming from events and short classes such as exercise routines.

Instagram Live is extremely limited compared to most other live streaming platforms, and is not recommended as a main platform for quizzes. The biggest issue is that videos can only last for an hour, but you are also severely constrained by only being able to film on a phone camera, and by the fact that videos do not remain accessible after the fact by default.

Mixer

Mixer is Microsoft's answer to Twitch, and has much of the same functionality. If you've heard of it, it's likely to be because of Ninja. The world's most popular streamer and multi millionaire has an exclusivity deal with the platform, which has been recruiting streaming talent en masse, particularly within the gaming sphere.

Mixer has a lower attachment rate than many of its rivals, owing to it being one of the newest platforms on this list. Many people who use it go there for individual streamers, so it's probably not ideal for discoverability. However, there is a chance that the lower number of streamers on the platform may also make it easier to get noticed.

Can I stream on multiple platforms at the same time?

Live streaming to multiple platforms at once - a process called simulcasting - is technically possible. Traditionally, this required that you upload multiple video outputs to multiple different sites, a process that would test your bandwidth and computer to the limit.

In recent years, however, multiple software packages have been designed to handle this process for you. In essence, they work by sending your video output to a remote server, and then uploading it from that server to the various platforms.

This fulfils the same function as the old method, but saves your computer and your internet connection from having to process the same video multiple times. This video goes through some of the options available to you, although the free versions may have limitations.

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Setting up your live stream

Live streaming can be as simple as picking your social media platform and hitting record. And if you’re doing the entire thing to camera with a smart backdrop, this may be enough. But as your quiz develops - or if you want it to look more professional out of the gate - you’ll need to invest some time and money in broadcasting using a computer and third-party software.

Third-party software is useful as it allows you to add more than a single video feed to your live streams, known as ‘live mixing’. For many streamers, the most useful application of this software is to key out green screen backgrounds, allowing them to superimpose themselves over the video. But you can also add animated elements, borders, ‘be right back’ screens, audio tracks and more, which you can easily switch between when you need them.

Unfortunately, this won’t all set itself up for you. Not only will you need to learn how to use the software, but you’ll also have to create the assets you want to use, and set yourself up with the requisite audio and video equipment. The goods news is that there are ample tutorials available for free online, and plenty of guides as to the best microphones and camera for your budget.

Which streaming software should I use?

The two pieces of software used by most streamers are extremely similar, to the extent that they share a name. Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) is a free and open source streaming and recording platform that has been adapted into another piece of software, Streamlabs OBS (SLOBS). Both are broadly similar, but we’ve done our best to lay out the differences below:

OBS Studio

Open Broadcasting Software, commonly shortened to OBS or OBS Studio, is the most popular live streaming solution available. Released in 2012, it has been continually improved on and optimised since then, and is freely available to anyone through their website. It’s known for being modular, making it user-friendly but also flexible for more advanced users.

Advantages

  • Good for lower end computers

  • Straightforward interface

  • Supports most live streaming platforms

  • Frequent updates

  • Modular design

Disadvantages

  • Not as intuitive as SLOBS

  • Lacks plugins out of the box - no chat integration etc.

  • Lacks Streamlabs exclusive functionalities

Streamlabs OBS

Streamlabs OBS (SLOBS) is a version of OBS developed by Streamlabs, an offshoot of hardware manufacturer Logitech. SLOBS was an attempt to add more functionality and advanced features to standard OBS, while also fixing some of the issues with the software at the time. Its main drawback is that it is exclusive to Windows - an issue if you’re Mac only.

Advantages

  • Easy first-time setup

  • Extensive plugin library, inc. built-in chat

  • Supports most live streaming platforms

  • Free library of resources (alerts, backgrounds etc)

Disadvantages

  • More resource intensive than OBS

  • No Mac OSX or Linux version

  • Updates are less frequent

Conclusion

This is just a whistle stop tour of all the things you will need to conduct your online quiz, but it should be enough to get you started. If you’re looking for more information on how to make your livestream look slick and professional, including how to create overlays or other assets, there are plenty of guides and resources out there for your streaming platform and software of choice.

Fundamentally, people will always turn up for any livestream because of the quality of the content - the visual presentation is just an added bonus. With all of the information above, you should be able to start your quiz on the right footing, and build yourself a following. With luck and dedication, you’ll gain an audience to justify the investment, and create the perfect quarantine quiz.