Working The Room
One of the questions we hear frequently is about bid assistants or bid “spotters.” We get the question because our flat fee pricing includes a long list of standard services but does not include bid assistants. Most nonprofits have eager volunteers ready to step in and help and bid spotting seems to be a popular role. Many times they even claim to be experts at spotting bidders. While they are certainly well intentioned, they aren’t much help to a professional auctioneer. Experienced auctioneers have no trouble spotting a bidder. Professional auctioneers read nonverbal clues and frequently recognize a bid before the bidder gives any indication that they are ready to jump in. Most professional auctioneers have worked in auction environments where the bidders are also professional, buying things for a living. Their bid may be no more than the click of a ballpoint pen or touching their ear or their hat. Spotting bidders is a big part of what auctioneers do.
So, why are bid spotters needed at all?
- Believe it or not, there are special schools that exist just to train professional bid spotters, called “ringmen” or bid assistants. Most of the time the ringmen aren’t looking at the auctioneer, they are looking at the crowd. They communicate with the auctioneer using hand signals, usually shot from behind their backs. They listen to the auctioneers chant for certain vocal cues that signal something the auctioneer wants them to do. When the crowd hears the auctioneer, they hear, “Twenty five hundred, will you give three, bibbity bobbity, three thousand, gobbledegook, no thirty five hundred.” What the ringman hears is that the auctioneer has the bid with the person to the ringman’s right, but the lady to the left is about ready to get back in. Those “filler words” actually have meaning sometimes and professional ringmen listen for them.
- The professional ringman is an extension of the auctioneer. They can get close to the engaged bidder, look them in the eye, ask them the right questions, and repeat the next bid increment so that there is no misunderstanding. They actually establish a short term relationship with the bidders they are working, creating a trust that encourages bidding participation.
- They create energy in the room with their sometimes boisterous manners and shouts. Here’s a little secret, did you know they frequently blurt out a “yep” when they have no new bid? It’s true, and the auctioneer knows what is a bid and what is just noise to elevate the excitement. The auctioneer knows the difference in their “yip” and their “yep” and understands they are just keeping the anticipation high, so the bid isn’t advanced but the energy level is!
- We rehearse, sometimes days before the event. Where each bid assistant will stand is determined long before the auction begins. Which section of the room each ringman is responsible for is planned. Where the bidding will start on the first two or three items is known in advance so they may be shopping for an opening bid before the auctioneer starts the bid call.
- Ringmen work with a seating chart. Most organizations know who their most likely bidders are seated, especially the biggest ones. Ringmen work with a seating chart, with the likely bidders marked.
- They know the details of each live auction. Many times the bidder will want to know if this trip is for one person or two, or how many tickets are included. There is no need to stop the auction as they can answer those questions.
- They will never do something to embarrass the client. They are professionals. Just as they are an extension of the auctioneer, they are an extension of the nonprofit.
- Occasionally, bidders at auctions get caught up in the bidding and bid more than they are actually willing, or able, to pay. When this happens it can turn a fun event into an awkward, uncomfortable thing. Professional ringmen know the graceful solution (I’m keeping that part secret) and know where the backup bidder is.
- There are times, especially during the fund-a-need (paddle raise) that a donor wants to give anonymously. They can’t do that without a bid assistant. Professional ringmen know how to encourage those quiet givers and how to deliver their donation appropriately.
- When the organization needs to communicate something to the auctioneer during the live auction they can give the ringman the information. The ringman knows how to process the info and how and when to get it to the auctioneer.
The reason we price the bid assistants separately is because every event is different and requires a different number, and sometimes different type, of bid assistant. The general rule is one bid assistant for every one hunderd people in the room. We also consider the demographics of your patrons as we choose which ringmen we will include on our team each night. Yes, we charge for each ringman. Yes, they get paid more than you think. Yes, they are absolutely worth it.
When is a bid spotter more than a bid spotter? When it really counts!