Few months back, I mailed Giri to report a issue, which I observed at one of his quizzes. To my surprise Giri called on my mobile immediately and promised to escalate the issue(as it was organizers responsibility to fix it). I was surprised by the gesture,come on why will a ace quiz master call back and explain his point of view.
I requested Giri to reply to a small email interview to understand quizzing, and how it all began and his experience as quiz master. Giri was kind enough to spare some time and replied back, So presenting you all ace quiz master Pickbrain 'Giri balasubramanyam'
Q: Now, let me began this interview with a question, that's been in my mind from quite a long time, whats the story behind your name "pickbrain"
Giri: It’s a long story like any quiz answer! I was employed with the Times of India and we decided to introduce a quiz column for a kids supplement and being an in house resource I was asked to contribute. The catch was I was part of the Brand Team and not editorial so technically my name could not appear as a byline, hence a fictional name was coined. Overtime the name became a character and the character a personality so I just lived on.
From my point of view, I get to live two lives
Q: I guess you been into quizzing from mid 1990's, have you seen any significant changes?
Giri: Oh quizzing has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the last 50! Fundamentally quizzing is today a sport and not just a hobby over wine and cheese. It is also about big budgets, big prize monies and far far tougher than the fun days. In short it is serious business powered by corporates and technology
Q: Why did you choose to become a quizmaster?
Giri: Quizzing in our college days (early 90’s) was an activity that attracted probably 20 to 50 people. Winning was directly proportional to your ability to read and ransack libraries. During my Disney days in corporate life it dawned on me that anything could be made fun oriented and we tried to make quizzing more fun oriented with interesting facts rather than unknown facts and that made us popular. This translated into a viable business model and we started this company.
Q: Giri's quiz generally surprises participants with formats (pyramid quizzing, nano quizzing). How do you approach a quiz? What kind of efforts generally go in making a quiz successful
Information in this google era that we live in is no longer a great differentiator. Its how you manage your knowledge that matters. Hence, we have modeled our shows around the ability the work answers out of clues or posers rather than mere recall. The effort for this is huge because our starting point is where research ended few years back – that is with identifying a fact. For us once a fact is found we work on how to present it etc.
Perhaps I am like the curator of a cricket ground who is testing players with different wickets.
Q: How tough was it to quit a corporate job and do a startup, in a rather unknown industry?
Giri: It was a tough call to be honest. It is a decision that took more than a year to take especially because I was with a giant like Walt Disney and there were many telling me I was a fool to chuck such a job.
In retrospect, it seems a wise call and my advise to youngsters on this front is simple. If you have a strong, economically viable idea, define a clear time frame and practical goals and tell yourself if I don’t reach there I get back to the corporate world.
Q: You took Tata crucible from an India level quiz to international quiz, how is quizzing culture in places like Singapore. London
Giri: It is very very different from what we see in India. They do not have a quizzing culture or system like ours. They quiz for fun and not necessarily to win, so the intensity and pressure levels are not as much. Having said that, I think the scenario is fast changing and at Singapore the second year was a lot bigger and tougher than year one.
London is an interesting location for a business quiz. Given the quality of the B-schools there you get contestants who join these schools after 3-5 years of work experience. Hence, the quality of contestants seems to be very good.
Q: Tata Crucible grew tremendously in last couple of years, participation keeps growing year on year, is it putting you a extra pressure on you??
Giri: Yes the growth of a quiz especially the way Tata Crucible has grown puts a lot of moral pressure on you as a research team. Its as simple as this. There are two types of audience that I get. Regular Teams who prepare from a few wks to a few months for your quiz and you don’t want to disappoint them, so you do your best to ensure everything is tested over and over again. The other is the first time entrant who comes with huge expectations from you because he/she has heard a lot about the quiz
Q: 1000 + quizzes, Could you share some of your interesting experiences while conducting quiz contests?
Giri: Oh the numbers don’t matter. Every show is like the first of our lives – if you don’t view it that way you can take things for granted and errors can creep in. We do encounter a lot of interesting experiences given the extent of travel we undertake but the one that I never forget is when I was at Muscat for a quiz and a man started shouting in Arabic and I thought I had done something wrong. It took a few people to gather to explain to me that he had recognized me.
Q: What advice would you like to give to young quizzers
Giri: Use quizzing as a tool to help yourself know more. Never read to win shows, read to gain knowledge. Once you start enjoying the process of knowing things you start doing well in life and in quiz shows as well.
Q: And finally what advice would you like to give to young aspirant quiz masters?
Giri: Three important things
1. Don’t try to become a quizmaster because of the glamor you see. It is one of the toughest public personality domains because you need to prepare for atleast 10 days for 1 hour show.
2. Accept the fact that as a quizmaster you role is get answers out of the teams and not use the forum to display how intelligent you are.
3. A good quizmaster is one who understands the pulse of his audience and can get his teams to answer atleast 75% of the questions and have his teams and audience understand all 100% of the questions.