Going once! Auctioneers compete for title of top talker

Can I get a winner?

That’s exactly what happened at the National Auctioneers Association International Auctioneer Championship, where fast talkers from around the country gathered to see who was the best seller. Ninety-two participants battled for top honors in the men’s and women’s divisions, a $10,000 prize and a championship ring.

After a day of competition and judging that stretched into the wee hours of Saturday, Johnna Wells, 27, of Portland, Ore., and Cary Aaness, 46, of Dalton, Minn., came out on top of the women’s and men’s divisions, respectively.

The contestants were judged on poise, voice control, clarity, rhythm, eye contact, body language and persuasive sales ability.

“The idea is to be clear and efficient, not necessarily fast,” said Bill Sheridan, the president-elect of the 6,200-member National Auctioneers Association. “Some think you have to go at 90 mph, but that isn’t the case. The winners create the momentum, excitement and electricity required to establish a fair market value.”

Many are educated at auctioneering schools and full-time auctioneers can make anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000 a year, according to those in the business.

Sure, auctioneers still call cattle auctions, but many work at art, antiques and real estate auctions, Wells said. She, for example, primarily works at benefit auctions for nonprofit organizations.

Aaness, meanwhile, got his start by attending many auctions while growing up on a farm in western Minnesota. He’s been calling for 20 years.

According to the auctioneers association, $217.2 billion worth of items were sold at live auctions in 2004.

Aside from the vocal skills required, some callers have found it helpful to be bilingual.

Roy J. Brewer Jr., of Fort White, Fla., his state’s 2004 bid-calling champion, calls bids in both English and Spanish.

Willis E. Yoder, an auctioneer in Indiana state’s Amish country, calls in German and English.

Ninety-three percent of all auctioneers are men, but Wells said there’s a growing group of women getting involved.

The event was being held as part of the Kansas-based National Auctioneers Association’s annual conference, which attracted about 1,800 auctioneers. The association has about 6,500 members worldwide.