10 Things Leading An Auction Taught Me About Leading Meetings

Andy Warhol's Mao To Be Auctioned At Christies

You may never lead an auction in your life.

But you probably do (or will) lead meetings.

Last Friday night, I took my first turn as an auctioneer (and emcee) at the annual spring fundraiser for my kids’ elementary school.

Now that I’ve run my first auction, it’s became obvious that there are massive parallels between auctions and meetings.

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

  1. Start on time, or you lose credibility. The live auction was scheduled (and publicized) to start at 9 pm. It was preceded by a silent auction, which started at 6:30 pm. For a whole host of reasons, we didn’t start the live auction until 9:30.  By start time, the crowd’s numbers (and sprit) had thinned considerably.
  2. Thank people upfront. The auction committee had spent months planning this event. I was just hosting the auction.  Giving a shout out to the people who do the actual work is a great way to start.
  3. Do your homework. There were six items to be auctioned off, and while I was familiar with four of them, two (entrance to a consignment pre-sale, a ride to school on a fire truck) I needed to know more specific details so I could speak credibly. I sought out members of the auction committee for more detailed info.
  4. Less is more. We only had 6 items on the live auction block. Had we put more on the agenda, it would have become overcomplicated, and people would have tuned out.  (How does your meeting agenda look?)
  5. Get them involved. We started with an energizing icebreaker and having everyone practice bidding (getting hands up in the air). The intention was to transform the audience from passive to active participants.  The goal of the auction wasn’t just to raise money-it was to build community.  (Is the goal of your meetings to check off your agenda items, or to also have team members energized for your team’s mission?)
  6. Grab their attention by leading with your best stuff. Whatever you think will hold interest most—don’t save it for later. There may not be a later.  In the live auction, a very well-known and likable parent (Scott) was auctioning off 6 hours of lawn care.  Scott was in attendance and was a good sport about having some fun with his item and bidding.  Scott was a hit, and that got things rolling.
  7. Cut your losses quickly. Sometimes a dud’s just that: a dud. Remember the item of “ entrance to the consignment pre-sale”?  When I opened the bidding at $50, not only did I not get a bid, the energy sank through the floor.  It was instantly clear this thing was not popular.  I quickly shifted gears, saying (as I mimed an invisible earpiece) “OK, we’ve just got word that tonight, just for you, the consignment pre-sale opening bid has just been reduced…to TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!”  One generous thoughtful woman bid on it, and it was sold (and done) in a flash.
  8. Have fun with others. Make fun of yourself.  An auction (as any meeting) creates many opportunities for improvised humor.  By all means, have fun.  But if you’re going to poke fun at anyone, make sure it’s yourself.    Two good reasons:  1) You’ll never offend anyone. 2) You’ll never run out of material.
  9. SURPRISE! Everyone loves surprises. It turned out that with two items up for bid (the ride on the fire truck, and a pool party with the principal), the donors had offered two gifts (two rides, two pool parties). This was kept a secret until the bidding peaked at its highest, and I (Surprise!) revealed the two gifts, and BOTH top bidders were a winner!
  10. End when it’s over. Sometimes it’s clear that the bidding (or the meeting discussion) is over.  When no one has any more to add, don’t beat the horse.  It’s dead.  On the second item up for bid, I did this poorly, and I saw the eye-rolls and disengagement in real-time.   No need to invent drama for its own sake.

What meeting management lessons have you learned (at auctions or anywhere else)?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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