The following is an excerpt from my book, Shake the Money Tree: How to Produce a Winning Fundraising Event With a Live and Silent Auction.
I often meet with event organizers two or three weeks before their event to make sure certain things get done. At that meeting I ask that certain tasks be completed that will help achieve The Four Objectives of a Successful Fundraiser. I have found when those objectives are met, itís easier for me, as the Auctioneer, to conduct a successful live auction. If I were to sit down with you and your committee, here is the agenda I would follow:
Depending on how elaborate your printed program is, a good portion of it might already be done by now, and not subject to change. It's been my experience, however, that many organizations can still make suggested modifications even this close to the event. So I address it here.
The person designing your printed program will, no doubt, create the layout under good light, while wearing reading glasses, being completely sober, and having intimate knowledge of each live auction item. Fancy fonts and flowery descriptions might seem tempting. When the reality is, the people who read your program will do so under dim light, having left their reading glasses at home, after having had a few drinks, and without any previous knowledge about the live auction items. Remember, you must write the program for your guests, not you.
I suggest you make it as easy to read as possible and make the item descriptions attention-grabbing. The following recommendations pertain to the description of the live auction items in the printed program.
Make it easy to read. Use a large font size: 12 or 14 points is good. Use an easy-to-read font. I suggest Times New Roman, which is the font newspapers use because it is easiest to read in print form.
Number each live auction item. The numbers should correspond to the order in which the live auction items will be on display and auctioned off.
Use descriptive headings. Each item should have a heading and each heading should describe what the item or package is. For example, use "Spa and Massage" rather than "Ladies night out". Imagine if the headings in this book were not descriptive, forcing you to read all the paragraphs to understand the headings. I think you would lose interest. If your guests are forced to read entire descriptions to understand what each item is about, I doubt they will read every item description in your printed program. The headings should be bold in order to stand out.
Use bullet items to highlight the features. Guests like to see in a glance what the features of the item are. They do not want to have to read the entire description to determine what the item or package is about.
After the bullet items, then expound on the details. You can make the rest of the description just as detailed and fluffy and creative as you like.
Include the retail value. Guests like knowing what the auction item is worth. Don't inflate the value thinking you might get more. People don't mind bidding above retail value when they've been treated right and feel good about spending money with you.
Include the donors. Donors usually want to see their names in print in your program. This recognition is a small price to pay for their generous donations. I like to set their names off in italics to make them stand out a little. After all, without your donors, you wouldn't have items to sell.
Write the bid number on the back of the program. If you are not using bid paddles or bid cards to display bid numbers, the back of the program works pretty well. The color of the back of the program should be white to make the bid numbers easy for the auctioneer to read from a distance. Refer to Using Bid Numbers vs. Not Using Bid Numbers (1.9) for considerations regarding whether or not to use bid numbers.
Make the bid numbers big. The auctioneer needs to be able to see all the bid numbers from the stage. You can use a wide permanent marker to write the bid numbers. Make the bid number 5-inches tall or taller, and wide. If your fist can cover the bid number, then it's way too small.
The printed program is explained in detail along with examples under the task called Design the Printed Program (9.1).
Display all live auction items in one place. Do not scatter the items around the area. Put them in a convenient place where guests can easily look them over during social hour.
Display a large sign that says "Live Auction". There should be no mistaking the live auction items from the silent auction items. The sign will also draw guests over for a peek at the live auction items.
Number each item. Make the number big enough to be easily seen without having to bend over and squint. Then display them in the same order as they are in the printed program.
Display something for each item. Packaging has a lot to do with how much attention a product gets. If you can display the actual item, that's the best. Otherwise, display something that represents it. For example, display a Hawaiian lei, some seashells and a big poster for a trip to Hawaii. Display tees and golf balls for 18 rounds of golf. Don't display a gift certificate. Rather, display something that will catch people's attention.
Display a description of the item. It can be the same description as contained in the printed program. Make it big enough for guests to read without having to bend over.
Move the live auction items to the stage area. This should be done before the live auction begins so the items can be shown during the live auction.
More suggestions can be found under the task called Display of Live Auction Items (12.3).
I like to put show business into the live auction. The more entertaining, interesting and fun the live auction is, the better your chances that your guests will get caught up in the thrill of bidding. When guests get caught up in the thrill of bidding, they tend to be more generous, not to mention stick around longer. The suggestions here are meant to bring a little show-biz into your live auction.
Make sure the sound system is a good one (10.25). I cannot emphasize this enough. You are doomed if you use a poor sound system. Doomed! The extra money spent will be well worth it. You'll need two microphones; one for the auctioneer and one for the Item Describer (introduced below). A wireless microphone will allow the auctioneer to roam around the stage and into the audience, making the auction more entertaining.
Make an "emotional appeal" (1.18). This should take place just before the live auction begins. An emotional appeal can be a short video, PowerPoint presentation, or speech about why it's so important to raise money. You want to get everyone's eyes just a little misty before you launch into the live auction.
Use an Item Describer (12.14). I like to work with a person who describes the items. He or she describes the item and I auction it off. Guests see two different faces, hear two different voices; it makes the auction more interesting. It also gives the auctioneer a needed rest between items, and allows the item describer some time to prepare to announce the next item.
Use an Item Displayer (12.13). An Item Displayer is someone who displays the items or whatever is displayed in place of the items.
Use Bid Spotters (12.16). Bid Spotters are people scattered among the audience and are the eyes of the auctioneer. They help the auctioneer recognize bids by pointing and yelling "YUP!" when someone bids. Good Bid Spotters can also be entertaining. If Bid Spotters do their job, you will make more money. Not because they try to convince people to bid, but the mere pointing and yelling tends to give bidders a moment of attention and that feels good to them. When bidders feel good, they are likely to bid again. Don't discount the importance of good Bid Spotters.