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    Calling Bids | Spring 2014 Out Here Magazine

    So you want to be an auctioneer? Here's how.

    a cow being auctioned off
    It’s as important for livestock auctioneers to call clearly as it is for them to call quickly.
    Out Here

    By David Frey

    Photography by Devin Bruce

    Over his lifetime in the trade, cattle auctioneer Max Olvera has probably worn out shoeboxes full of old cassette tapes listening over and over again to the chants of the veteran auctioneers he admired.

    He would listen and try to decipher what they did and how they did it. Then he'd try it out himself, copying their rhythms and styles with a microphone at home.

    It's the same advice he gives to his students today.

    "Keep practicing," he says. "Keep at it."

    Being an auctioneer involves hard work and countless hours of practice and training. It's an art, but like any art, the fundamentals can be taught.

    For many aspiring auctioneers who are considering taking up the microphone, the first step is going back to school — auctioneering school.

    "There's lots of good schools around," says Olvera. He has one of them. Olvera runs the World Championship College of Auctioneering in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., with partners Jim Pennington and Ralph Wade, who, like Olvera, are themselves auctioneer champions.

    Wade is one of those masters that Olvera listened to over and over again to refine his own technique.

    "He makes it look easy," Olvera says. "He's been doing it for 50 years now, and when you listen to him chant, it's just so smooth and effortless."

    Auctioneering schools provide a few days of intensive training designed to help newcomers develop their chants, and to help experienced auctioneers polish theirs. Students come from across the country with their sights on selling livestock, real estate, cars, or hosting charity auctions.

    "The first thing is being clear, being rhythmic. You don't need to go 90 miles an hour, but you have to have a smooth, clear, rhythmic chant," Olvera says. "It's like anything else. You've got to want to do it. If that's your passion, you've got to work at it."

    "I always wondered how do you teach somebody to talk fast? How do you teach somebody to bid call?" Olvera asks.

    His school takes the technique that Wade — a respected Oklahoma bid caller — developed and breaks it down. "You'd be surprised. You can pick up on it quicker than you think."

    Programs may teach a bit about business skills and management, too, but much of it is geared toward the all-important chant, the auctioneer's signature banter that gets bidders to jump into the game and keep jumping as even as the prices climb.

    "The first thing is being clear, being rhythmic. You don't need to go 90 miles an hour, but you have to have a smooth, clear, rhythmic chant," Olvera says. "It's like anything else. You've got to want to do it. If that's your passion, you've got to work at it."

    His school brings in students for four to five days, then sends them home with videos to study so they can keep up the practice at home, just as Olvera did.

    Through the years, he's changed his own style a few times as he learned new tricks from old masters. And even though he's been auctioneering since he was 7 years old, Olvera says he still works on his chant to keep sharp.

    "We're up front with them," Olvera says. "We tell them, 'you're not going to be an auctioneer in four or five days.'"

    Schools can't do everything, Olvera says. The most important part of being an auctioneer can only be gained on the job, and has nothing to do with talking fast or being rhythmic. It's a strong allegiance with his customers, the people who trust him with their livestock, and their livelihood.

    "I would trade my world champion buckle," he says, "if I had to give it up for the respect and trust of the people."

    David Frey writes in Gaithersburg, MD.

     

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