Behind the Scenes of the Opening Bell

I’ve had the privilege and honor to be part of several opening bell ceremonies at the NYSE Euronext. Often I’ve been asked to share what it’s like to be part of this ceremony and ultimately ring the ceremonial bell that commences trading. Here is a brief description of the experience.

The NYSE Euronext is a tremendous host and treats guests with a display of history, tradition and hospitality. It begins with a walk down the halls of the NYSE Euronext towards the elevators. These halls, and the halls several levels up, are lined with iconic images of many of the world’s most recognizable personalities and leaders visiting the NYSE. From Ronald Regan to Mikhail Gorbachev one can’t help but to feel humbled by images of the people who have helped make the tradition and brand of the NYSE Euronext known worldwide.

Once through the halls, guests are escorted to a room of enough size to accomodate invited guests. These rooms have held anywhere from a dozen to over 40 guests. Guests are generally served breakfast which ends with an informal ceremony led by the senior NYSE official in attendance. In my experience, the most senior official from the NYSE will say a few words about the listing company or product and then present officials from that company a framed listing certificate. After a few pictures are taken, the group of guests is separated into two different groups — the ones privileged to be on the podium for the bell ringing and the other group who will watch the bell ringing from the floor below the podium. The participants in each group are usually selected ahead of time by the listing company and the number is constrained by the fact that the podium really does not hold many people, perhaps no more than eight comfortably.

Both groups are lead to their respective locations for the opening bell. This is done around five to ten minutes beforehand. The senior NYSE official in attendance on the platform instructs the bell ringer on how to ring the bell. It is a red button, if I remember correct, that you end up pushing and holding down. The podium is probably 20 feet in the air and directly across from it are a variety of mounted cameras and a large digital clock. Thirty seconds before the clock hits 9:30am, the guests on the podium are instructed to begin to applaude. This is apparently to signal the approach of the opening bell and also done in case the television networks cut to the bell ringing early. The applause seems to increase in volume as traders begin to join in during the last 10 seconds before 9:30am. Once that clock hits 9:30am the bell button is pressed and held for about 10 seconds. I can say from experience that the bell is loud, a lot of camera flashes go off and the air on the podium begins to get warm. It is also a bit hard to judge how long to continue to press the button as people are applauding, the bell is thundering and video camera lights are blazing. In fact if you look closely, from time to time you will see a slight nudge by an NYSE official to let go of the bell ringing button. Not that it happened to me of course…

Being a part of the opening bell ceremony at the NYSE Euronext is a great privilege and one that is truly historic in nature. I have been told that over a billion people around the world witness the images of the opening bell each day. The exchange delivers a world class experience that speaks to the premier status it has attained. I am honored to have experienced this unique ceremony and hope this description has conveyed an interesting look behind the scenes of the opening bell.

Christian Magoon rings the opening bell at the NYSE Euronext in 2008.