The magic of QI: Presentation tips to keep your audience quite interested

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Comedy quiz show QI has been running for over 13 years. As longtime host Stephen Fry steps down to be replaced by Sandi Toksvig, we asked – what makes the 'quite interesting' show so compelling?

QI is the TV show pretty much everyone likes. It's the programme you turn to when you're too busy playing on your phone to fully concentrate. The one you stick on when you're watching telly with gran and Downton gets too saucy. 

QI may be background fodder but the viewing figures are nothing to be sniffed at – the Christmas XL episode drew in 1.25 million viewers last year. So what is the secret to QI's mass appeal? 

Delay gratification

If you're anything like me, you hate not knowing the answer to something. But making the audience wait for an answer is part of the joy of QI. All the humour comes from the teams (wrongly) trying to guess the answer to some obscure question. 

Case in point:

Making the audience wait gives us a chance to try to guess ourselves, which makes us feel part of the action. Which makes finally getting an answer extra satisfying. 

You could employ this technique in your next presentation by asking an intriguing question at the start and promising to tell your audience the answer at the end. It'll keep them hanging on your every word. 

Play on assumptions

There are a lot of duff facts floating about. The kind of misconceptions your uncle throws around after a few too many beers at a family lunch. 

QI's writers know this and use it to their advantage, setting up questions we think we're familiar with and then – BAM! – shattering our misconceptions. 

These segments work well because they disrupt our expectations. Amidst the mundanity of life we're reminded that the world is still weird and wonderful. 

Give your audience a little jolt every now and again by toying with their assumptions. You could play devil's advocate against your own argument, making 'common sense' assertions – before demolishing it completely with a surprise counterpoint. 

Tempt with information

Nobody enjoys feeling like a chump, so the promise of finding out more or better information is always a draw. 

QI has a dedicated team of 'elves' whose job it is to find the bizarre facts that make their way into the show. Not a lot of these facts are useful day-to-day, but knowing them makes us feel smarter and gives us something to chat about. 

If people are coming to hear you speak, there's no harm in reaffirming why the talk will be useful. Give them a taste of the knowledge you can impart and they'll be inspired to listen more closely throughout. 


We can't all be as witty and erudite as Stephen Fry, but harnessing your audience's natural curiosity to keep them engaged is simple.

I hope these tried-and-tested tips give your presentation a little of the QI magic that keeps audiences coming back again and again.

And with that, it's a big thank you and goodnight from us. We leave you with the words of Fry himself –

'Curiosity about the world and all its corners is a beautiful thing.'


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