On the rostrum

PUBLISHED: 06:25 18 August 2014

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room.

Picture: James Bass

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

You wouldn’t think it, but I used to be afraid of public speaking due to a morbid fear of forgetting my lines and being laughed at. Hardly the type of personality profile for a job that requires its practitioner to be part mathematician, part ringmaster, part television host and part hard-nosed dealer. Now though, if you venture to one of Durrants’ many auctions, be it property, antiques, or machinery, I am to be found at the heart of the events, and almost always with a gavel to hand.

My auctioneering career started nearly nine years ago, and I can honestly say that since my first heart-pounding, dry-mouthed sale, I’ve been hooked.

There is something captivating about the hush that descends when an auctioneer takes the rostrum. Once the normal sale day announcements have been given, it’s time to offer up our selection of goods to the audience, in the room, on the phone and online. It is a fascinating process, matching buyers to lots – trying to work out who collects what, and of course, interpreting bidding styles. We find that many bidders in the room like to remain incognito to avoid local competition, which results in some interesting methods of bidding.

On one memorable occasion, I was approached by a buyer before a particularly important sale of Lowestoft china, and was informed that I would know when he would be bidding as he would place his pen behind his ear. I was only to stop bidding for him when the pen was removed. This sounds simple enough, but the gentleman had forgotten to remove his hat, thus making it impossible to see the aforementioned pen. Fortunately, I was able to communicate the problem to the buyer without “blowing his cover”.

If there’s one thing you do need as an auctioneer, it is to be good with numbers. Bidding increments vary depending on the current price – £50 per bid below £1000, and £100 per bid above that level, up to a certain point when the auctioneer has to decide what the most appropriate increment is, depending on the interest in the lot and the potential sale price.

There’s no question about it, running an auction is a piece of theatre and you must keep your energy levels high from the moment you start speaking. After all, the vendor of the first lot is depending on you just as much as the vendor of the last. If the auctioneer’s energy levels drop, then so do the prices. But if an auctioneer is on his or her game, they can add another 20pc to the total sale price.

It’s not just the people in the room that we need to play to, but as all our sales are online we have people all over the world waiting to bid and they need to be provided with some visual excitement as well. Every so often, one needs to look into the camera and address the bidders at home directly, while not forgetting everyone in the room.

The biggest skill is persuading people not to drop out – the art is to invite them to stay in the bidding, to have just one more go. This capacity to cajole comes in particularly helpful at the many charity auctions I take part in each year and actually makes you a better auctioneer as it reminds you that you’re not just selling lots, you’re also being a source of entertainment.

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