Inside the art of being an auction Ringman

Ever wanted to work the ring?
Showing up early to an auction and protecting your physical health are two key components to successfully doing so.

By Brittany Lane

Bid spotter. Bidder assistant. Bid chaser. Bid catcher. The person tasked with working a live auction from the floor might be called any one of these names. However, in today’s evolving auctioneering world, Sam “The Hitman” Grasso says the correct title is ringman.

“The bottom line is there is a difference between a bid spotter and a professional ringman,” he says. “Anyone with good vision and the ability to stay awake can be a bid spotter, but not everyone can be a ringman.”

The job is challenging, fast-paced, and requires the right skills. The good news is that today’s successful auction professional knows the value of a professional ringman and might have even started their career working the live auction ring.
Called the “The Hitman” by many in the auction industry for his award-winning ability to “hit the bid” desired, Grasso specializes in heavy equipment sales throughout the U.S. and is a lead ringman for the NAA International Auctioneer Championship Finals. As a graduate of the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering and the Florida Auctioneer Academy “Ringmaster” program, he has years of experience in the ring and believes there is an art and science to finding success as a professional ringman.

Where a bid spotter may just stand on the floor and acknowledge bids by hollering “yep,” a professional ringman is so much more. He or she ensures auctions run smoothly by being the Auctioneer’s connection to the buyers and sellers at a sale.

“If you have a good ringman, they actually start working before the sale even starts,” Grasso says.

The science, Grasso says, is in the preparation.

Working the auction ring: Get to the auction early

Getting to the sale site early is important to developing relationships and working out the details that ensure you get booked repeatedly. The ringman should have time to meet everyone, discuss strategies, establish the layout of the auction, and more all before the auction even begins. Doing so will allow you to know the value of items up for sale, answer questions, and interact with both buyers and sellers.

Also, a ringman should smile and make every bidder feel involved in the auction process. Intermingling can also help a ringman get attuned to buyers and their mannerisms, which helps for catching bids later.

During the auction, ringmen monitor the activity of the room and leverage both the bidder and seller’s interests. They use their bodies and voices to create energy in the ring. There’s an art to encouraging sales through the designated voice and hand signals that relay information between bidder and auctioneer. Fine tuning these skills can take years of auction experience. And, while it works for some, Grasso’s style and advice is to never resort to theatrics, invade a bidder’s personal space, or use aggressive means to get bids.

“You don’t have to be a clown to work the auction ring,” Grasso firmly believes.

Ask the person to bid. What do you want to do? You want back in? Do not beg because it looks desperate and unprofessional. Avoid phrases like: Come on bid one more time. Please bid one more time.

Working the auction ring: Physical health is important

Grasso knows telling ringmen to maintain good physical health may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a message he consistently hits again and again. Auctions often start early and can last eight to ten hours or longer. Therefore, getting enough sleep and eating a good breakfast before an auction will ensure any ringman has an ample supply of energy. Stay hydrated before, during, and after a sale.

“If you’re not in some kind of decent shape, you won’t be able to hang in there,” he says. “You do not want to run out of gas halfway through a sale.”

On top of conserving their physical energy, Grasso encourages ringmen to preserve their voices — something anyone in the auction business knows. Yet, working an auction from the floor is unlike working the stage because ringmen don’t have the help of a microphone to amplify their voices.

“Strains on vocal cords are very easy to do when you’re working the ring. The first two or three pieces can come up and you get excited, then all of a sudden you’re losing your voice,” Grasso says.

Repeated yelling will stress even the best professional’s vocal cords, so it is a necessity for ringmen to learn to project in a moderate tone that both the Auctioneer and crowd can hear. To find your moderate voice, Grasso recommends practicing voice projection in an empty room. Keep working until you identify the voice that’s loud enough without causing strain.

Avoid hot coffee, caffeine, cold drinks, and candy during auctions as they are not good for maintaining the voice. Some ringman might find cough drops, tea, and room temperature water to be voice aids they’ll want to keep on hand. A muscle rub can similarly be useful to a ringman for any soreness that can develop after standing for hours.

“A professional ringman takes care of his body and takes care of his voice, because it’s through his excitement that makes and helps the auction be successful,” Grasso says.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2017 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips on diversity or hear more regarding this topic? Full audio of the presentation is available in the NAA Knowledge Center.