Silent Auction Vs. Live Auction

What is the key to any successful benefit auction? How can you entertain your guests, direct their attention, raise the awareness of your cause, lavish them with dinner, music, dancing, and libations. Then on top of all that, find room to squeeze in an auction? Most event organizers would suggest conducting a silent auction. Tables and booths set up in the lobby or entrance. It is easy, low maintenance and can raise some money. The tables are far away from the dining hall or stage yet have plenty of foot traffic. An interested party can casually and freely write their name next to a dollar amount and walk away with the comfort that they put forth an effort but don’t really care if they win or not, because if they have the winning bid they are pleasantly surprised. If they don’t win they are happy as well because they had the time to determine what their spending cap was and not exceed it. The event organizers and charity group are happy because the donated item gained roughly the retail value and its all profit to them.

However this does not answer the original question: what is the key to any successful benefit auction? The key is harmony. Harmony is defined as a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity. Where is the harmony in taking a valued item and brushing it aside? Where is the harmony and logic in spending thousands of dollars and working hundreds of man hours in arranging an event and having your entities for profit be second fiddle to the stand-up comedian you hired? Why isn’t the spotlight on the items that will raise money and awareness for your cause?

Every event has a flow whether it is a concert, a movie, a conference or wedding. Every plot has a beginning middle and end and every story can be entertaining. It is a live auctioneer’s profession to create that flow. To be the conductor of that harmony, to raise your event to that pinnacle moment of climatic excitement while at the same time raising the awareness, the profits and the entertainment value of your event. The auctioneer is your spearhead for proceeds and revenue. It boggles the mind when an event spends copious amounts of money on a dining hall, band, DJ, dinners, drinks, décor, celebrity guests and center pieces. Then the most valuable and piece of the puzzle: the one person that has the sole designated purpose to RAISE money is the chairman’s former brother in law who did Community Theater in high school.

By only having a silent auction you are not only losing dollars you are selling yourself short on entertainment. There is nothing more enrapturing to a captive audience then the thrill of witnessing the very heartbeat of capitalism, the most interactive, fast paced impulsive heart pounding and engaging white hot method of selling than that of a live auction. Those bearing witness to an auction can’t help but get a twitch to raise their bidder number and make out like a bandit. But they also want the recognition of being publicly applauded for their efforts in supporting your cause, especially when they over paid. A live auction tends to let reason and prudent spending take a back seat to ego, energy and the thrill of pursuit. By putting a spotlight on the item itself and in turn recognizing those who are bidding for it will always garnish more money than if that item sat woefully and listless  on a table in the corner with a piece of paper and a pen beside it.

Silent auctions have a place and can be a valuable tool to raise money. Especially if the particular donated item would be better served on display or not have the monetary value worthy of being a live auction item i.e. a wine basket vs. a vacation to Honolulu. The main issue with a silent auction vs. a live auction is not the item itself; it is the mind set of your potential bidder. For some reason seeing $200 printed on a piece of paper is much more intimidating than hearing it fly by via microphone. At a silent auction a potential bidder can stand at that table and think, “How much do I have to spend? How much is this item truly worth? How many people have bid on it already? What are my chances of actually winning it? Do I really want/need this? There are other things I can use this money for.” They deliberate and second guess. The numbers on the paper set a psychological spending cap and they will cut themselves off at a certain dollar amount much lower than they usually would especially when no one is selling them, wining and dining them, and without the tangible competition of a demand from others.

The mindset of that same person bidding on that same item during a live auction is: “I want it! I don’t want him to out bid me in public! I can swing that. What did the auctioneer say? I can get this item cheap if no one else bids, so I will bid and hope no one else does. My friends are edging me on to bid again. People are cheering for me! The clock is running out. The auctioneer said “going once…going twice.” I have to bid or someone else will. I am the center of attention. I can’t be embarrassed.  I want to win! I have to win! It’s between me and that guy at table 7. I can beat him!

(Pretty soon it is not even about the item. That is why they call it a “bidding war.”)

“Not only will I beat the guy at table 7, but I will have the trip to Cabo, and the recognition of being a generous philanthropic supporter of the cause. I am a pillar of the community. I am good person with a good heart. I will be cheered and praised by my peers. Wow that was a rush! What is the next item?”

It is much easier to raise your hand than to write your signature.

The cost of an auctioneer becomes pennies on the dollar to the additional capital raised from the items sold. Did you know all records for every item sold in the history of the modern world were all set at auctions? Whether it was a car, a house, land, horses, cattle, tractors, watercraft, vacations, dinner for two, jewelry, coins, sports memorabilia and even complete junk.  And I believe it! Just last week I saw an auctioneer sell a glass of tap water for $550 dollars. A quilt sold for $7,000 and a $50 bill sold for $225. How does an auctioneer do it? They control the harmony. The speed up the tempo and rhythm, emphasizing the importance, they make the audience laugh as they are whipped them into a frenzy. Plus any audience member can be a part of the show by simply raising their hand. An auctioneer talks fast mainly to gain and keep the audience’s attention. The crowd must listen or get lost and they can look at an auctioneer and wonder, “how they do it?” Some people bid simply to know exactly what denomination the auctioneer is at. And every auction I have ever conducted or attended there has always been someone who arrives, doesn’t register for the auction because they think they don’t want to participate. Then half way through the auction they go back to lobby and 2 minutes later they are raising their hands and bidding.

It is my hope to raise the profile of your organization and the good work you do for all its merits and worthiness. It is my hope to maximize the monetary success of your event and for that money to go towards a good cause. It is my hope to give you value and not a price. I want to give you and your guests and your event the harmony it deserves. I am Zack Krone, Professional Auctioneer and on behalf of California Coast Auctions with my utmost sincerity and respect: Thank you.