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1. Hire a professional auctioneer.

Hiring a professional auctioneer will generate more revenue as well as make the evening more enjoyable for your attendees. Quite often, organizations think they are saving money by using a volunteer from their organization or a local T.V. or radio celebrity. While using a volunteer who is “free” versus a paid auctioneer may seem like a prudent way to go, often there is “money left on the table” as the volunteer wasn’t able to energize and maximize the crowd into bidding. The local “weatherman” who is a great speaker while announcing the daily forecast, might not be your best candidate for your very important fundraising event. I’ve heard comments from attendees that attended such an event that the night was “painful” to sit through and the audience was “turned off” during the live auction.

2. Have the appropriate number of items for the time allotted.

It takes on “average” about two minutes to sell an item, so 15 items is about a half hour and 30 items is about an hour. If you have allotted the “live” auction portion of your event from 9:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., then you will want to have about 15 items.

3. Start the auction off with a lower priced “fun” item(s).

The first two or three item(s) should be items that could have easily sold in the silent auction. The auctioneer can sell these items very quickly and start at very low starting bids. By doing this, everyone can participate in the auction right from the start and it sets the pace for the rest of the auction.

4. Prepare a PowerPoint Presentation.

If many of your items are intangibles (trips, chef prepared meals, etc.), I recommend preparing a PowerPoint Presentation for the audience to follow along. You can always pull off non-royalty photos from the “Images” section of Google. Just make sure the photo is a decent size so that when enlarged on a screen, it will not be blurred. Typically, a file the size of 75k or larger will show up well on a screen. Anything smaller might be blurred. Also, you can loop the PowerPoint Presentation so that it is running during the silent auction. This way, attendees can view the items prior to the live auction. The PowerPoint Presentation becomes a “focal point” for your audience during the live auction. Finally, you can put your sponsors on this presentation and have it running as well. Sponsors like to be recognized!

5. Get bid cards with big numbers.

Quite often, I will ask clients if they have bid cards. Their reply is sometimes, “We’re going to write the numbers on the back of the catalog.” While this is fine, what happens is that after the first 50 or so numbers written, the handwriting gets a little sloppy and the writing doesn’t seem to be as large. It is hard to read scribble from close up, but it is even more difficult to read from 20 yards away! I offer free bid cards with big numbers that are easy to read. It saves time for the volunteer prior to the auction and it saves time at the auction and helps move the evening along if the numbers can be easily read. Remember, every minute of your event should be a revenue minute! Try to eliminate anything that is a waste of time.

6. The P.A. (Public Address) system needs to be a professional sound system.

It is extremely important that the sound system be adequate for the room and the number of attendees. I have seen many auctions flop over a poor sound system. Whenever someone says, “We’re going to use the house system, I cringe”.  I’ve also heard of scenarios where “Oh, we can use the house system and they have a microphone built right into the podium!”  Podium microphones are fine if you have 15-20 people in the room and they are all paying attention and are quiet. That is not the scenario in a live auction. Make sure you invest in a quality system to that not only will your auctioneer be heard and understood but so too will your speaker for the evening. It is embarrassing when the Chairperson or speaker has to say “sshhhhh!” to the crowd just because of an inadequate sound system.

7. The lighting needs to be bright.

When was the last time you went into a dark Wal-Mart or dark Target? The lights need to be turned up for the live auction.  Bright lighting creates energy! When you go to a restaurant, the lights are turned down so that you can relax and stay awhile. At an auction, as the lighting goes up, so does the energy level of the audience and so does the revenue. 

8. Don’t use a spotlight during the live auction.

Although spotlights have their place when introducing a speaker, they need to be turned off during the live auction. If not, the auctioneer will be blinded and cannot see beyond the first table or two. It is O.K. to have the spotlight on during a speech as the speaker doesn’t have to really see nor interact with the audience; however, the auctioneer does. Have your lighting person turn off the spotlight once the live auction begins.

9. Have a podium available for your speaker and Auctioneer.

A podium gives the speaker and Master of Ceremonies a place to store their notes and follow their timeline. It also gives the Auctioneer a place to set down the catalog of items and it creates a focal point for the audience. Otherwise, your Auctioneer is going to be calling bids, acknowledging bids, and trying to manipulate a clipboard and a microphone all at the same time. Also, have the podium on ground level versus a stage. The Auctioneer needs to interact with the crowd and if he/she is on a stage, he cannot interact as well with the audience.

10. Don’t interrupt the live auction with announcing winners of the raffle.

I’ve attended many auctions where the auction is moving along well, the prices are great, the momentum is up, and then someone from the organization goes up and interrupts the auctioneer (not planned nor in the timeline) and says “O.K., we’re going to announce the winners of the raffle.” For the next five minutes, this person calls out 1-3-5-3-7-2, pauses, and repeats it again because no one responded. This drags on for 5-10 minutes. It is difficult for the Auctioneer to follow this and get the momentum back as all of the air has been sucked out of the crowd. Remember, every minute is revenue minute, and announcing anything during the live auction could be costly.