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  • Writer's pictureMike Brandly, Auctioneer

Auctioneers reading the room

I have to admit … I left auction school and returned home thinking “I’m ready to be an auctioneer” but I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to find business, manage seller and buyer expectations, hire staff, identify product, advertise, or really anything else other than bid call. I was fairly good at bid calling given I had only been bid calling a few weeks, but in fact, there was so much more to learn about that too.

As we’ve titled this story, auctioneers with sufficient experience bid calling learn a critical skill — how to “read the room.” It is a skill that cannot be taught and rather learned from experience. Once this is learned, auctioneers with this talent earn more for their sellers than auctioneers without this skill.

What is reading the room all about? In this regard, a common definition is “To use one’s intuition to analyze the general mood and that of individuals in a particular setting and act accordingly.” In other words, auctioneers with this talent seem to know when a certain subject property is up for sale … what an appropriate instant appraisal (suggestion) is when a bidder is likely to bid again, when to keep asking for more (or not,) what increments are appropriate, and what to say to any particular bidder to secure that one additional bid.

Specifically, reading the room involves analyzing eye contact and overall body language. Is the bidder looking at you the auctioneer, the subject property, or somewhere else? Does the bidder appear relaxed or excited? Are their arms open, or at their sides, or crossed? In what fashion are they bidding — by raising their bidder card, yelling, waving, winking, or other?

Bidding at a live auction is communication between the auctioneer and those bidders. How do any of the bidders indicate a “yes” and how do any of them communicate “no?” When does “no” mean “yes?” When does “no” mean “no?” When can a “no” be converted to a “yes” with a smaller incremental suggestion? When is that same smaller incremental suggestion not necessary or prudent?

I worked for several auctioneers early in my career and well over 100 auctions before I started to notice I had learned to read the room and only then knew that I wasn’t reading the room to any great extent prior. Armed with this skill, I started to not only procure additional bids but likely sold quicker knowing when that next bid was not forthcoming. In other words, our sellers benefited from additional proceeds with lesser costs of sale.

The real danger for any seller is not hiring an auctioneer with less experience and rather hiring an auctioneer with no experience, or the “celebrity” auctioneer for their benefit (or any) auction. There’s virtually no chance of a brand new auctioneer or auctioneer-impersonator knowing how to read the room, and thus we would submit this will cost the seller in proceeds and additionally increase costs of sale.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.

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