School auctions are typically noisy, rambunctious affairs. The parents know each other. Many are close friends because of their children’s ties. And because they socialize together outside of school, the auction itself is just another party.
I love school auctions, but they can be demanding on an auctioneer. School auctions are like house parties, giving parents — especially younger parents (K-8) — the opportunity to leave the kids for a night.
And. Those. Parents. Party!
Whereas nonprofit events are often more civilized affairs, school auctions are raves.
As an auctioneer, my job is to command the attention of the crowd, reeling guests back in when their attention wanders.
I don’t seek 100% participation, but I need to have enough people listening that I’ve got involvement and am getting item value. Your auctioneer needs to have enough charisma … or “game,” to use today’s vernacular … to keep guests engaged. If I don’t bring my A Game, I’d be eaten alive at some events.
(One school told me about a female auctioneer they had used a few years prior. The auctioneer refused to return to the school, which had a particularly loud 400-guest auction. “She never felt as though she had control of the room,” the client told me. Knowing your limits as an auctioneer is part of being a good one!)
- At my events, I’m on the stage and off the stage.
- I’m teasing and poking fun, and then turning the tables to laugh at myself. It’s a back-and-forth game to keep people focused.
- I use humor to egg on bidders. When that doesn’t work, I try logic.
- I ask for the crowd’s help, and then moments later ignore them to focus on a bidder.
- And simultaneously, I’m keeping track of increments and bidder placement.
In this video clip, you’ll watch me selling Taylor Swift tickets to her upcoming concert in D.C. This event was held in a school gymnasium, beautifully decorated in a “Havana Nights” theme. Attendance was 430 guests. I had two floor crew assisting me, and I was positioned “in the round,” meaning I had a small stage in the middle of the room with tables around me.
This clip is raw and real.
The video was captured on a standard digital camera, so the sound quality is what you’d likely hear if you were sitting in the crowd that night. I’ve added captions to help you understand what is happening.
A few years ago, I heard an auctioneer say (to paraphrase), that the auctioneer’s work doesn’t start until people STOP bidding. “Anyone can stand at the front of the room and simply take orders,” he said, “Our work begins when the bidding stops. That’s the skill of the auctioneer.”
In about 3 minutes, these tickets sold for $4750.
When selecting your benefit auctioneer, watch several clips of him or her selling.
- Listen to the auctioneer introduce an item. Observe if he “reads” the descriptions (yawn!) or presents it as if he knows it intimately.
- Note if she stays onstage hiding behind a podium, or if she ventures into the crowd to interact.
- Listen to the engagement. Does it sound like he’s selling cattle? Or does it have the right tone for a benefit auction?
There are many ways to run a benefit auction, and I don’t want to suggest that one approach is simply “wrong.” If you enjoy it, it might be the right way for you! But it’s important to realize there are *many* styles, and you should find someone whose style is right for you and your crowd.
With the ease of video technology nowadays, any good working auctioneer should have many video clips to show you. Even watching a video recorded on a phone is better than seeing nothing.
Watching a non-fussy video like this allows you to get a sense of an auctioneer’s stage style. Sure, it’s great when you can watch someone in person! But when it’s not feasible, at least watch some videos.
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