VoiceBox: How auctioneers turn selling into an art form, and a sport
By Alyssa Kapnik
Mar 11, 2014
VoiceBox is a sound-rich exploration of the human voice. In each five-minute episode, host Chloe Veltman, reporter Alyssa Kapnik and sound engineer Seth Samuel explore pitch and harmony, meet shouters, singers, announcers and stutterers, and ponder the meaning and importance of the most primal of musical instruments.
In “Auctioneering,” we meet Colorado Auctioneers Hall of Famer Steve Linnebur and Al Carlson, a long-time auction attendee from Golden, Colorado. We also meet Justin Ochs, an auctioneer from Tennessee.
Live auctions are an ancient art. The form has evolved into a kind of sport, where spectators often show up with a sandwich and a lawn chair just to listen to skilled practitioners using their voices to sell all kinds of goods.
Over the past century, the American live auction has created a new language for selling. Employing "filler words" and a whole variety of rhythms and cadences, the auctioneer's chant has totally changed how we understand auctions.
Want to chant like an auctioneer?
To go all the way, you might just have to go back to school. But here are some exercises to loosen your lips.
Warm up.In order to keep their tongues limber for the fast-talking performances, auctioneers practice with a variety of tongue twisters. In this example from Slate.com, Tim Kruse of the Reppert Auction School practices "a big black bug bit a big black bear."
Speed up. Justin Ochs perfected his art by practicing with the filler words "get to bid" and "get to buy." Ochs repeated the phrases faster and faster until he was able to use them seamlessly between calling out numbers to bidders. To get a sense of what an auctioneer does all day, start out by saying the filler words at a typical speaking pace, and gradually speed up.
Alyssa Kapnik is an independent radio producer and reporter, as well as a photojournalist and portrait photographer.