Tall centerpieces hurt fundraising auctions

Everyone wants their event to look great. The challenge is to strike a balance between form and function, especially when it comes to the centerpieces.

Even though they are see-through in the middle, the paper planes on these center-pieces are obscuring the podium.

Even though they are see-through in the middle, the paper planes on these center-pieces are obscuring the podium.

As auctioneers, our ability to engage a crowd is dependent upon two things: the crowd’s ability to hear us, and our ability to see them. It isn’t just the bidder’s paddles or numbers that we need to be able to see: we need to be able to look people in the eye, because it reveals a lot about their personality. Do they want to be played with? Do they want recognition? Are they smiling? Do they look to their spouse for the go-ahead between every bid? Are they looking to see who is bidding against them?

There is a lot we need to see from the stage, all of which enables us to raise more money for you in your fundraising auction. Tall, bulky centerpieces that block the line of sight from the stage to attendees’ faces hinder fundraising. They wind up costing you money – usually much more than you paid for them – in lost auction revenue.

If I can’t see the bidder as auctioneer, it means I have to move around on the stage until I can see them. Provided I know they are there, and know that they are trying to bid. But when I’m working around tall centerpieces, I usually just get to see the paddle number, jutting out over a mass of flowers.

If a bidder feels like they aren’t being seen, they either stand up or put their paddle down. Either are sub-optimal ways to get your crowd to engage.

Short, theme-appropriate centerpieces work best. They enable the people in charge of décor to flex their creative muscles without their vision literally getting in the way of raising money. If a designer insists on doing tall centerpieces, make sure they are as transparent as possible.

When in doubt, sit facing the stage at a table and ask yourself, “Could I look the auctioneer (or any other speaker) in the eye?”  If the answer is “no” you have to decide if there is anything you can do about it that night, or if it is an issue you’ll need to address the following year.  Because our goal is to lower barriers to supporting your cause, not build them.