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Bryan Knox's bid to be the best auctioneer

The part-time preacher won an international auctioneers competition recently – the result of a strong voice, deft chant, and genteel sales style.

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Bryan Knox looks more World Wrestling Federation than salesman. He's 6 feet tall, thick-necked, and weighs 275 pounds. His head is shaved bald. But make no mistake: He is a salesman. Right now he's standing behind a podium, alternately crouching and standing on his toes, holding his palm up like a traffic cop, then flicking his wrist to display numbers with his fingers. He might point and stare intently at a person in the crowd, Crazy Eddie-style.

"Eye contact builds communication," says Mr. Knox. "When that bidder says, 'No, I'm not going to bid again,' that's when my job truly begins."

Knox is an auctioneer. Not just any auctioneer. This summer he won an international championship held by the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). It drew participants from as far away as New Zealand and judged on chant, body language, voice quality, and other elements of the arcane craft. Not bad for a part-time minister who practices auctioneering in his car by taking bids from passing telephone poles.

"With some people, just their voice and their mannerisms get you on edge," says Tommy Williams, president of the NAA. With Knox, "you would enjoy listening to him for two or three hours. Those are God-given talents."

There's no question that auctioneers have to possess a certain P.T. Barnum quality. They have to straddle a fine line between being animated, even a bit flamboyant, without being grating or obnoxious. In working a crowd, Knox tries to be inviting but not stern. "You want to make them feel comfortable and to let them know that one more bid would be in their best interest," he says. Then there is his voice, strong and sonorous, conveying authority – part William Shatner, part Johnny Cash. "I have a very powerful voice by nature," he says.

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