The fast-talking auctioneer is a staple of pop-culture auctions. In real life, these guys are a bit easier to understand. That said, the mystery of the auction still looms large.
Ever wondered what it actually takes to run an auction? What’s with all those different formats, anyway? As an event organiser, you may be looking to include an auction within your event. Or maybe the auction is the event.
Either way, this guide is for you. Here’s our introduction for those who wish to run an auction. We include a handy checklist for auction newbies, too!
A word on charity auctions
Commonly, auctions are used as fundraisers for charity. Why include a charity auction in your event? In short, because they work! Charity auctions can bring significant funding. Participants tend to enjoy:
- Buying cool stuff
- Feeling good about the destination of their money
- Competitive bidding
Bidding stirs the pot and brings out that good old competitive spirit. Auctions are exciting, and charity auctions can be snugly fit into all kinds of events. Additionally, with the available tools, it’s never been easier to run a charity auction.
Tip: If you’re into the charity thing, check out this list of the pros and cons of charity auctions.
Types of auctions
If you want to run an auction, we’ll have to get down to details. Here are the major auction formats that can be included in your next event.
If you run an auction, it’s probably English. In the English format, participants bid against one another with offerings that increase in value with each bid. Once the bidding stops, the highest bid wins the item.
Pro: Most people are familiar with this type of auction. Everyone knows the basic concept.
Con: Experienced auction goers may be a little bored with the most basic format.
In a Dutch auction, bidding begins at a high asking price. The price gets lower until one participant finally accepts the auctioneer’s latest offer.
Pro: An exciting twist on the traditional format. Participants may be more likely to spring for a higher-than-usual price.
Con: This can be a somewhat frustrating format. It’s a tense wait until someone bids. Then it’s over. And for the seller, it’s not always ideal to move downward in price.
This format includes a minimum bid at which all bidding begins. Usually, this minimum is published in advance so that participants are made aware of it.
Pro: The seller is protected from losing their item at too low a price.
Con: If the minimum is too high, bidders may be discouraged from bidding.
Works with: English or Dutch auctions
This is one of the most exciting auction formats. In an absolute auction, there is no minimum! Buyers may relish the possibility of getting a great deal.
Pro: Because there is no minimum cutoff, buyers know for sure that the item will sell.
Con: The seller may end up losing a valuable item at too low a price.
Works with: English auctions
This is similar to the minimum-bid format. But instead of requiring a minimum, there is an undisclosed “ideal price.” If that reserve price isn’t met during the auction, the seller can decide to reject the highest bid.
Pro: The seller avoids getting ripped off by bids that are too low.
Con: If the high bid is rejected, well, imagine you’re the buyer: “What do you mean I didn’t get it? I won!”
Works with: English auctions
All bids are secret. They are given to an agent and opened at a specific time. The sealed variant can be handy if you’re concerned that participants will be shy.
Pro: If you have reason to think participants might not speak up or don’t have the resources to commit to a traditional live auction, this format can be very convenient.
Con: Where’s the thrill of competition? Where’s the excitement? This may be seen as something of a bloodless auction format.
Works with: English auctions
In this format, you start with a sealed-bid auction. The difference is that the winner will only pay the second-highest bid.
Pro: Per auction theory, this format maximises seller profit while minimising the possibility of overpaying!
Con: As with the sealed-bid format, it loses something of the sensational.
Works with: English and sealed-bid auctions
Auction planning checklist
Now that you have a basic idea of auction styles, here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind as you plan and run your own auction. Other event planning tips apply, but these are some of the steps and ideas particular to auctions.
Advertise your big-ticket items well before the auction takes place. Emails, social media, and websites should all be used to promote cool items for sale.
Tip: Auctions are all about the items. Whip up interest in what you’re selling!
2. Sell tickets
3. Set up displays
This can mean something to keep visual tabs on the high bid. Displays are also helpful for items like land that cannot be present at the auction itself. In general, presentation is everything. Present your items in a visually appealing way with cool displays.
4. Secure your auctioneer
A confident, charismatic public speaker is nothing short of essential for a live auction. They’ll need to know how to cultivate interest in the items and read the audience.
5. Have an agenda
Rigid programmes are great for auctions. Minute-to-minute schedules will keep interest and raise more money than those that run late.
6. Make a catalogue
The participants should be able to pick up a catalogue and preview items before the auction begins. Make sure to list items in chronological order and to thank the sellers or donors.
Charity auctions can benefit from catalogues that list money values and what they can accomplish. For example: “$X will feed X children for X amount of time…”
Tip: Need a little inspiration? Check out these auction catalogue templates.
7. Hire spotters
Spotters are common auction staff who recognise bidders and take payments. You might assign them to certain items or audience sections.
8. Introduce representative bidders
Representative bidders are staff who help an audience warm up to the sale. They can get things moving by throwing out bids, but they need to be ready to pay in case they end up winning!
Have any of your own tips and tricks for auction planning? Share them in the comments below!