If you feel confident in front of a crowd and enjoy interacting with an audience this could be a good gig for you. As with anything creative it is often difficult to get in.

in 2004 I met a chap who worked as a spotter at the Narellan Auctions (now closed). I was working in radio and also doing a couple of emcee gigs at the time. He suggested I might like to be an auctioneer as a vacancy was coming up. I called into the auctions and met a lady called ‘Pat’ – she was tough. But I liked her attitude and humour.

I started the following Saturday at eight am. The auctions went for most of the day. One day a week. This is where I learned the craft. I was thrown right into the lion’s den.

Thrown to the Birds

I was given a clipboard with ID’s and the cost of the item with an expected sale price. My objective was get as much possible for the client. Out of that the auction house would get a percentage. I stood in front of the bidders – seasoned bird buyers and a novice auctioneer. I couldn’t even pronounce the names of the birds let alone speak of the key selling points. But the bidders were sharp and helped me along. As I sold I moved to the next section and then finally right down the pecking order to chooks (fowls).

Psyche of the Bidder

Another day whilst auctioning the chooks the tension was too much for an average audience. I’d auctioned off the family favourites Silkie Bantam’s – I think they went for about $20 each or around that. But one Silkie Bantam captured the heart of a boy and his dad was bidding for him. It also captured the eye of a fierce bidder. She was determined to have that bird. One side was bidding on love and the other on determination and competition. When the bidding got to $250 she screamed out – ‘have the fucking thing’ and stormed off much to the applause of the crowd we had attracted. I learned, that in the heat of bidding, the value can skyrocket – often to ridiculous amounts.

One Man’s Junk is another Man’s Treasure

If you are interested attend auctions and watch the action. Ask bidders why they were so keen to get something. Watch different auctioneers and their techniques. See how some auctioneers move too quickly and let an item go for less or others that drag it out just to get an extra dollar. The entertaining auctioneers are great fun to watch; especially their description of goods. People will bid on anything if you get them excited enough.

I once had electric toothbrushes to auction and my spotter called out ‘wonderful to take away on holidays’. I played on his key selling point for a few minutes much to the delight of the bidders. The spotter stopped making suggestions.

I went to the spotter’s house one day. He had two small sheds out the back full of ‘treasures’ he had bought at the auction. His wife forbade him to buy anything further. I learned, that in the heat of the moment, we can have great ideas that never eventuate.

I was confronted with a stack of metal plates with many different sized circular holes drilled in each one. I had no idea what they had been made for or what they could be used for. I worried how I could sell them. One man saw something I didn’t. He was a farmer and bought the lot. Afterwards he told me they would be perfect for his vines.

If an item didn’t sell on one Saturday, it would remain until the next week and so on and so on. In the electrical aisle there was a portable CD player – it had been there for so long the once pristine packaging was deteriorating. I started the bidding at the recommended price of $40 and one disheveled looking man snatched it up immediately. I was horrified. I walked over to him and the crowd moved in to hear what I was going to say. In a low voice I told him “Don’t waste your money Mate, it’s a piece of shit that’s been here for months. You can get the same item, brand new at XYZ, for $40 and with a one year warranty.” He didn’t buy it but there was lots of smiles from the crowd.

Charity Auctions

Once you establish yourself as an emcee you could be asked to conduct an auction at the same event. You wear two hats. This can be dangerous for the organiser, especially if the auctioneer has a limited knowledge of how to work a crowd. Don’t accept to do an auction unless you understand this – remember each job (whether paid or not) is really your audition for the next job.

At charity auctions, expensive donated items can go for a song. Much to the disgust of the business who donated the item. I have even been to auctions where the person or business that donated has not been given a mention. As a rule I plug the donor’s name, unless asked not to. If there is high priced item I will mention it throughout the night leading up to the auction – this helps build anticipation in the audience and also lots of goodwill with the donor.

How to Auction

Don’t start too low as you end up spending your time and energy trying to get back up. Start at the suggested price by the organiser or even higher. Then make it look like you are doing the impossible by lowering the starting bid. You also entertaining the crowd. They love a good auction. Make them laugh. Build anticipation. As you auction point with your hand (not finger) towards the last bidder and remember the bid. Don’t move that hand because in a huge room of people it is difficult to remember where the last bidder was. I have failed here a few times in forgetting who did the last bid and what the amount was. Ask for a spotter to help throughout the auction. If the spotter is drink it is a nightmare.

The highest bid I ever received was 10k for jewellery and my lowest $1 for a chook. My funniest auction was at a charity auction where I auctioned off a one way single ticket for a rail trip from Campbelltown to Lithgow – the ticket cost $10 and I auctioned it off for $290. It was a charity event in aid of mental health with the theme of Mad Hatters – so it worked in well. I’m not sure if the winner used his ticket.

Auctions can be a lot of fun especially if you are the auctioneer. Give it a go.