When I was in the 5th grade, the room was arranged with an aisle down the middle and rows of three desks clustered on either side of the aisle. I was in the last row seated with two friends, Bryon and Tammy.
As an adult in a classroom setting, I like to sit in the 2nd row next to a wall. But as a 5th grader, I was assigned to sit in the back.
We snickered over 5th grade antics. Tammy and I would pretend Bryon had no brain and we’d talk “through” his head as he sat between us. It was hilarious. (We were 11.)
When we giggled uncontrollably, Mr. Parks would calm us down with a comment or a cold stare. He’d cast his gaze in our direction, and the rest of the class would turn to glare as well. Soon, 27 pairs of eyes were all turned to the back of the room, shooting us disparaging looks.
We decided to be clever and play along. Next time Mr. Parks gave us “the look,” we three would use our comedic timing to simultaneously turn around and stare at the wall directly behind us.
Sure enough, it was side-splitting funny– for a few seconds. Mr. Parks didn’t find it as humorous.
Why do I share this story?
People will experience a benefit auction (and a 5th grade class) differently based on where they are seated.
As mentioned, I pay more attention when I’m near the front of a classroom. As an adult, I position myself in that 2nd row so I can concentrate. I get more out of the class and am able to ignore whatever is happening behind me.
When I do find myself sitting near the back of a classroom (usually because I arrive too late to get my preferred spot), I pay less attention to the speaker. Instead, I watch other students, observing all the activity taking place at tables between me and the instructor.
Similarly, when a prospective client visits a benefit auction to observe me or the gala, their perspective of the evening is skewed by their location in the room.
Tips for getting the most out of auditing a benefit auction.
Rookie Mistake #1: Not watching a similar type of benefit auction.
Last year a prospective client popped into a ballroom to observe a typical large, rowdy Catholic school auction. My client was over the moon with the results. The prospective client — who runs a small nonprofit gala — couldn’t believe how “rude” the crowd was. Her opinion about the success of the evening was completely different than that of my client!
Fast fix: Make an effort to observe an auction similar to your own. If you’re running a ladies luncheon, go watch one of those. If you’re running a private high school gala, try to see one that mimics your own event.
Rookie Mistake #2: Not noticing the sound system.
Prospective client “Jane” drifts into the ballroom as the live auction is getting underway. In an attempt to be unobtrusive, she positions herself in the very back of the room — and can’t hear.
Often the A/V company puts speakers at the front of the room only. Sometimes they will position speakers halfway back, but tucked along the wall.
Fast Fix: Stand in the back long enough to notice how the sound system is built. Look for a speaker on a stand and position yourself in front or next to it. Being able to clearly hear makes an enormous difference to your onsite experience.
Rookie Mistake #3: Not understanding the seating chart
If the Gala Chair put some thought into her seating arrangements, the guests seated at the back of the room are typically not expected to be active participants. The biggest stakeholders are located closer to the stage.
Some schools, for instance, will put non-paying guests (such as teachers) at the back of the space. These can be some of the rowdiest tables in the room (which means, those folks ain’t paying attention).
Fast Fix: If you stand at the front of the room just off to the side of the stage, you’ll see what the auctioneer sees — and get a better sense of what the Gala Chair was trying to create when she developed her seating chart.
In conclusion, perhaps one of the best ways to gauge an event you observe is to talk to the Gala Chair / Auction Planner herself. She’ll be able to share insights about her audience and event that a casual observer will never understand.