Auctioneer tips & tricks?
November 8, 2007 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I volunteered to be an auctioneer for a charity event. All I know is that I have to acknowledge people's bids and try to nudge people higher, while talking really, really fast. What else should I know?

There will be about 150 people attending and I will have an assistant. What's the best use of the assistant? Are there ground rules I have to enforce? Do people have to have paddles or just raise their hand? Can people bid by raising an eyebrow or giving a slight nod, like on TV?

Please tell me everything you know about auctioneer best practices & responsibilities.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
You'll have to register (use a disposable e-mail address), but these people claim to have a best practices guide for fundraising auctions.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:32 AM on November 8, 2007

Paddles is probably best, standard at all the big auctions; easy to see, and as long as paddle-holders give their name etc. in advance (desirable) you know who has won; you can as it were confirm the contract by saying 'sold to paddle 23' or something.
posted by londongeezer at 9:37 AM on November 8, 2007

beaucoupkevin's guide was more about organizing the auction. I'm looking for information on actually doing the auctioneering.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:46 AM on November 8, 2007

Our knitting guild has an auction each year, and we always have the same woman perform the auctioneering duties.

As a participant, I'm amazed not by her speed, but by her cadence - sort of a "dah-di-di-dah-di-di-dah", where "dah" is whatever dollar amount she happens to be saying. It's very hypnotizing to listen to.

(And then you find yourself with a $30 bag of acrylic yarn you didn't want.)

She required a fully raised hand if you wanted to place a bid, but that might have been because in a room full of people knitting, there is a lot of "extra" movement amongst the participants.

If you have an assistant, he/she should keep track of who wins what.
posted by Lucinda at 9:53 AM on November 8, 2007

Make sure you know what you're selling. It looks really bad to those you're fundraising for if you're reading the packages for the first time on the stage.

The assistant is for going out there and a) getting people to bid, particularly those who've already big on a package and b) pointing out those who want to bid. Talk with the assistant beforehand to stress the importance of not missing a potential bidder. Once again, it looks really bad to miss bidders.
When we've done auctions, the assistant is basically the go-between. They yell or raise their paddle to you, the auctioneer, that they have a bidder. At our events, every bidder also has a bid card to raise making it easy to see them.
posted by jmd82 at 10:37 AM on November 8, 2007

If you do decide to go with paddles, be sure to allow those without paddles to bid - especially if you're trying to up the price on a certain item. You should say something like "just because you don't have a a paddle doesn't mean you can't bid on this beautiful ___. Raise your hand for $400...."
posted by jrichards at 11:25 AM on November 8, 2007

This guy is the gold standard (Sotheby's). I saw him in person at a charity auction about three years ago. It's not that he talks super fast... but he is cajoling and flirtatious (at least when a $72 million Rothko isn't on the line).
posted by kimdog at 11:31 AM on November 8, 2007

Unless you're really good and practiced at talking fast, I'd try to talk normally but loudly (use your outside voice)- if you try to rush it, it's easy to trip up.

should be fun tho!
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:04 PM on November 8, 2007

I once was one of the assistants at a charity auction. Our job was to stand at the sides of the room, scan the crowd for bids, and then point at the bidders if the auctioneer hadn't already called them before we could move to point. I was kind of a low-level volunteer assistant, though. I think somebody more "official" and involved with the auction did things like confirming and keeping track of the final bids. I guess if you have just one assistant, you get to decide whether the spotting or the keeping-track would be more helpful to you.

I second what jmd82 said about doing some advance study on the lots you're auctioning. Since this is a charity event, people will be forgiving if you don't have the perfectly suave auctioneer patter, but you can help the charity by talking up the auction items both before and during the bidding.
posted by Orinda at 3:06 PM on November 8, 2007

If you only have one assistant, they will be much better used writing down the names/numbers of the winning bidders, and accepting payment from them so there isn't an ugly rush at the end. Encourage people to bid big and visible, even to shout out their bids. Make it a big, friendly event, not a competitive one.

jmd82/Orinda are right: know what you're selling. If you discover you don't, call up someone who does--either a friend or a 'special guest', or the donor. This lets the crowd hear from someone else, and gives you a breather. If you're at a convention or similar, get the Guest of Honour to auction a couple of pieces, ideally one that they're associated with and that they can sign to the winning bidder.

Find out how much the auction made last year (if there was a last year) and encourage people to beat it.

If you get an item that isn't selling for much, or at all, kill it--"Sold for two pounds!"--and move straight on. Successful charity auctions are about mood and momentum, and a sticky, dull lot will kill the room. Go through the lots in advance and group the ones that you think won't make much and risk slowing the pace. Likewise, if you have more than one of the same item, don't sell them separately--offer the second one to the high bidder at the same price, and if they don't want it offer it to the second-highest for the price they bid, and so on.

Keep an eye on the time--this is something else your assistant can remind you of. Charity auctions almost always run over schedule, but try to keep at least roughly to timetable.

You don't have to talk fast, but you do have to be attentive and hold the crowd's attention. Be larger than life. If you make a mistake, make a joke of it. And have fun. I've lost count of the number of charity auctions I've compered, and when an item catches fire and the bids start going up in hundreds of pounds... there's no feeling like it.
posted by Hogshead at 4:43 PM on November 8, 2007

I'd look up on YouTube or something to get some good patter, and then practice (not fast, just fairly constant and steady) until you've gotten the hang of -- "I'm looking for a bid of 8. 8 from the corner, do I see 9, a bid of nine will take home this ball of yarn. I have a bid of 8, is there someone out there who will bid 9 for the multi-colored yarn from Peru? Ah, nine from the gentleman in orange, I'm now looking for a bid of 10..."
posted by salvia at 4:47 PM on November 8, 2007

After two years of helping at a benefit auction, here are a few things I think might be useful:

(1) Get help - have someone write down the winning bidders and winning bid amounts and at least one person stationed out in the crowd to help you look for bids in the room.

(2) Have someone in charge of the auction (or at least someone in the know) to look through the list of auction with you beforehand. Have this person tell you any special information they have about each item on the list. For instance, was it donated by someone well-known in the community (or at least well-known in the auction crowd)? You can play that up to help the item sell for a higher price.

(3) Organize the list before you go in. Start with lower value items to warm up the crowd, but don't use a strict smallest-to-largest order. Mix it up. See if you can group things into themes.

(4) Describe each item before you start asking for bids, and try to have some kind of visual for each item. Use pictures or videos on a projector screen if possible. Show off actual items. (Use helpers here if needed).

(5) I'm not sure if this is your job or someone else's, but make sure you have printed out certificates for any non-tangible items that are auctioned off. The certificate should have information about how/where to get the item, relevant contact information, and any expiration dates. People like to have something tangible to take home, and it will save the charity the hassle of untangling this information later.
posted by pril at 8:14 PM on November 8, 2007

Encourage people to bid big and visible, even to shout out their bids. Make it a big, friendly event, not a competitive one.

To get people bidding loud and clear, it always helps when an item gets hammered down prematurely. Sure, somebody gets a bargain, but all the quiet ones will think "if only I'd been a bit louder, I could have had that bargain." Of course they wouldn't have had that bargain, because bidding would have continued, but...

On the other hand, with enough people working, forcing bidders to be loud isn't as important. You have bid spotters who yell out bids and point at bidders, so..

At one auction house I've been to, when bids are coming in fast the bid spotter takes over and goes into high speed bidding mode: "15", pointing at a bidder, "20", pointing with the other hand, "25", punch the first hand out again. Bang bang bang. As soon as the bidding slows, the main auctioneer starts in again. The change in volume, tone, and intensity creates a powerful atmosphere.

Another important technicality is managing bid increments. Obviously increments have to increase with price, or you'll be there all night, "one thousand and one, we have one thousand and one, do I hear one thousand and two?" A more subtle aspect, for low value items, a big bid increment can encourage people to pay a little more. At the same time, dropping the bid increment at the right time will suck out another bid, and sometimes that will keep the cycle going and the item will go higher than ever.

There are a lot of techniques for dealing with large numbers of the same or similar items. One is to have them bid the price for one, but the buyer has to take all - people can't multiply that well, so you can net a better price.

You can also do bid price for one, buyer gets choice. If you want (if the price seems good), you can let the back bidder have a choice, and often after that, you open it up to let all back bidders have a choice. Or, you can start up the bidding again to set a new price threshold. Winner gets choice again, and etc..

Remember that this can be for any group of items (though normally they are at least similar), and this can really increase the take of the auction house. The key being, a bidder doesn't know which item other bidders are interested in. Since bidding can proceed even when only one person in the room wants a particular item, bidding wars are much more likely.

It also helps you to run through a table full of items quick, without sacrificing price. One bid sequence can set a good price for a dozen single items. Then, when the selection is looking picked over, auction the remainder as a lot.
posted by Chuckles at 7:30 PM on November 9, 2007

Having said this:
The key being, a bidder doesn't know which item other bidders are interested in. Since bidding can proceed even when only one person in the room wants a particular item, bidding wars are much more likely.
At a charity comic auction I attended many years ago, George Perez was auctioning off one of his own sketches. To be completed for the winning bidder after the auction.

When the amount hit about $300 there were only two guys left, and they drove the price to over $600. Then one of them says, "why don't you do TWO sketches, it will be better for the charity that way." Perez thinks about it for a minute, consults the guy running the convention for an opinion, and decides to go for it. A great move, because it was obvious that the price was nearing its maximum. That could only work at a charity auction.
And two awesome sketches were produced - Wonder Woman for one, and Nightwing for the other. I was always a Marvel fanboy myself, but that was awesome.

Oh ya, there was also poor Ty Templeton, auctioning off his own Stig's Inferno #1. "I'll sign it in blood", he says. As a joke? Maybe, but anything for a better price. Bidding ends and what gets tossed up on stage but a scalpel blade in sterile package! Templeton really made those old Toronto Comic Cons.
posted by Chuckles at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2007

I conduct benefit auctions as a professional auctioneer, and there are several things you can do to make the event better. Time is money, and don't waste time on the stage. You probably have an hour to do your job, and you should sell an item every two minutes. If you know how to do an emotional appeal it will it will add up to 25% to the bottom line. Wallets will start going out the door about 9:30PM, so don't waste time. See my blog at
posted by Auctioneer at 7:06 AM on November 11, 2007

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