Archive | October 2012

Zen and the Art of Sugarcraft Demonstrating

I have attended quite a few Days of Sharing and cake club meetings. I had a media coordinator for one of the large groups write and ask if I would tackle the dos and don’ts of demonstrating. I read her notes and thought about how right she is! As sugar artists, we rarely have trained for doing presentations before a group. There are definite things that must be taken into consideration and those things differ depending on whether the demonstration is being shown on a big screen or not.

Just as being a talented decorator does not mean you can teach, being a talented artist does not mean you have the gift for live presentations. I am lucky because my drama training, disc jockey days and courtroom experience give me a comfort level in front of crowds that others might not have. I hope that sharing my tips with you will make you more inclined to demo for your next event OR will make you a stronger, more confident demonstrator.

Be Prepared.
Know what you are going to present. Have handouts for the attendees. Be rested. Be dressed professionally. Be early for your presentation.

Involve the Audience.
Confucius said it best. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. “. Whenever possible, have items to pass around the room. If people touch the thickness of the gum paste, they will better understand how thin to roll it. Let them handle as much as possible. They will be able to take close up photos and to really “get” what you are showing them.

Be Ready for Questions.
I will promise you right now that people will want to ask you questions. The questions may not be on the subject you are demonstrating! That happens all the time. Be ready to share your knowledge as time allows.

Be Honest with the Audience.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Someone else in the audience may know the answer. This happened to me at the Houston Weekend of Sharing. I didn’t know the answer, but another demonstrator did and we all gained by me being honest.

Don’t just be an Advertisement.
Even if you are promoting or sharing a product, you don’t want your demo to feel like an infomercial. I may prefer a certain gum paste or fondant, and I may tell you what I am using. I will also tell you what you need to do to work with other brands. People turn off if they feel like you are just trying to make a sale. You are there to show how to do a project or a technique. Never forget that your motivation should be inspiration and education, not commerce.

Know the Pitfalls.
You need to have enough experience with your demo subject that you can tell or warn them about common errors and explain how to avoid them. Sharing your stories or those of others makes the subject relatable and helps them recognize when something is going wrong.

Don’t Overwhelm the Audience.
Some people feel the need to explain every little thing and, in some respects, show how knowledgable they are about a subject. If you get into technical properties, you may start losing people – not because it is over their head, but because it is not what they came for. When you test drive a car, you want to see how it handles. You learn how to program the radio and what tire pressure you need on your own time. You cannot show how easy your project is if you make it seem complicated or intimidating.

Share Stories and Be Spontaneous.
Do NOT read from a script. Do not speak in a monotone. Be excited about your product or technique and plan to share your enthusiasm. If you are by nature funny, be funny. If you are goofy, be goofy. Be yourself – that is who was asked to demo…not a robotic, serious version of you! Women mostly drive by landmarks and they retain knowledge by the stories that explain what you are doing more than by a dry reading of steps to follow. When someone is at home later, they will remember that story or joke that explained a step and will more likely be successful in their attempt to recreate your item.

Be Ready for Your Closeup.
If there is a camera shooting your demo for display on the big screen, you must demo to the camera. Allow me to repeat, demo to the camera, not to the audience. Keep your hands and your work in a tight zone so that it can be seen on the big screen. Explain your step, do that step, pause and let the camera focus on that step. Do not raise the item up trying to show the audience. The only ones who can see that are possibly the people on the front row, and even then, they might not really see it well. The camera is there to be their eyes. Use it. It may be on your left side or right side. Adapt your presentation so that your hands get out of the way as much as possible.

Work Bigger.
It is incredibly hard for most of the cameras to pick up the really small things. Sometimes the camera is just set at a certain place and no one is running it. If it cannot zoom in to show your work, you need to create bigger pieces, if possible so that the camera can pick it up. For instance, if I am showing how to make fingers on a hand for a small figurine, I generally make a ginormous hand so that each of the steps is easier to see.

Work Bolder.
I know that traditional royal icing work is white on white. I understand that you might like working in pastels. Here is the problem: the camera has trouble showing those subtle color differences. A friend of mine was demonstrating something white against a very pale background. It was all a white blur on camera. For demonstrating, you need to put aside personal preferences and go bold so that the camera can pick up what you are doing. I was teaching dusting recently and selected bold lily colors so that the audience could see them, but I forgot that because my petal was white and I was dusting on a white napkin, they could not see how I started each time. Luckily, someone got me a dark surface to work on so that the beginning stages could be seen.

Think About Your Outfit on Camera.
Have you ever watched a newscast and had the tie on the anchor make you dizzy? Some patterns wreak havoc with a camera. Some color tones are too deep and pull the camera focus. A mid range color is great, with a larger pattern accents if you want those.

No Camera? No Problem.
Some groups are smaller and they do not have a camera setup. You need to think about how you can show people in the back of the room what you are doing. For these demos, I generally stand. If you cannot see the audience, there is no way they can see what you are doing. Even if I am doing a flower, I will roll it out on the table, then lift it and show each stage to the audience. I try to have enough stages of my project pre made so that as I finish each one, I pass that stage around the room.

Demo Out.
Some people are amazing at what they do, but they work tightly to themselves and no one can see what they do. You have to train yourself to do your project in an open fashion so that people can see. I spoke to someone who watched a demo where the lady almost turned her body to hide what she was doing, then would show the finished step and say, “then do this”. Really? I often joke that I am better doing figures upside down and backwards than I am with them facing me. It is true. I often forget when working alone that I can actually look at what I am doing! If I am teaching piping, I am on the floor at the front of the table so that everyone can see around my head and hands to learn the motion.

Leave Them With a Great Story(board).
If your project allows it, have a display prepared that shows all the parts (like for a flower), or shows each major stage (like for a figurine). This way, the audience can come up and capture your presentation in one easy shot.

The single biggest piece of advice that I can give you is to believe in yourself and your role as a demonstrator. You were chosen because people want to learn from you. You are good enough. Demonstrating and sharing is vital for our industry. I attend as many Days of Sharing or cake club meetings as I can. I feel it is my duty to give back, but it also renews my love for sugarart. I feed off of the group’s energy and receive just as much as I give. It is one of the great joys of my life!

Crooked Brook Sweatshirt Giveaway 1

Happy Wednesday!  This is my third giveaway for this week.

Although hoodies are very popular, they are not for everybody. Some people prefer crewneck sweatshirts, so here is Custom Sweatshirt Giveaway 1.

Like the hoodie giveaways, these sweatshirts are first quality from Crooked Brook’s inventory. The brand and color of the
sweatshirt will be determined by what they have in stock at the time the winner is announced. Crooked Brook will try their best to send winner’s a sweatshirt as close to their request as possible.

The winner has the option of getting the sweatshirt blank or with their business name embroidered large on the back and small on the left front chest with any one of the sugar arts-pastry-cake embroideries at the top of Crooked Brooks embroidery designs page.

 

PLEASE NOTE:  This giveaway is for a REGULAR sweatshirt, not the hoodie pictured below!  The picture is just to show embroidery!

Hoodies or hooded sweatshirts are another great wearable promotional item although they are more expensive than t-shirts. Custom embroidered hoodies with the logo or name of your business is a way to identify employees and when given as gifts or giveaways they are great way to get your name out there and tell the world about your goods or services.

Therefore, Crooked Brook and I would like to announce  Sweatshirt Giveaway 1.
These giveaways are first quality, hooded sweatshirts from Crooked Brook’s inventory. The brand and color of the sweatshirt will be determined by what they have in stock at the time the winner is announced. Crooked Brook will try their best to send winner’s a sweatshirt as close to their request as possible.
The winner has the option of getting the sweatshirt blank or with their business name embroidered large on the back and small on the left front chest with any one of the sugar arts-pastry-cake embroideries at the top of Crooked Brooks embroidery designs page.

If the winner would prefer to have their logo embroidered instead, that would have to be discussed with Crooked Brook.
The winner will be chosen randomly, from those who post a comment with an answer to this question;

What color, gender and size sweatshirt would you like to win?

You must be 18 years or older to enter. Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 10/31/12. Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email. Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen. Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end. Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

To enter, please leave a comment below.

The winner will be chosen randomly…

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to enter.

Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 10/31/12.

Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email.

Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.

Winner’s artwork must meet requirements for Crooked Brooks DTG printing.

Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end.

Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Crooked Brook Fleece Blanket Giveaway 2

Happy Wednesday everyone!   I love having throws and blankets around when it gets cool.  With the cold front that just dropped our temperatures 30 degrees here in OKC, I thought it was time to offer a blanket again.  I hope you enjoy this giveaway!  Oh!  Check out the new cake designs in their embroidery designs section on the Crooked Brook web page.  They have some really cool new designs!!

Another option for promoting your business is personalized fleece blankets. Fleece blankets make perfect gifts or promotional products because you don’t have to worry about getting the correct size and embroidered with your logo or your customer’s special occasion; they are great way to say thank you for your order.

Many people get cakes for the same reason they get fleece blankets; to celebrate an important occasion or a milestone.

Take a look at the examples on Crooked Brooks fleece blanket page or the categories of fleece blankets in the sidebar;

Weddings

Anniversary

Mothers Day

Birth of a baby

Birthday

Graduation

Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Team Year

Tournament Championship

MVP

When a customer drops a considerable amount of cash, a unique and personal way to say “as token of my appreciation for your business, I would like to give you a little something to commemorate your special occasion” is to give them a fleece blanket embroidered with your logo in one corner and their special occasion in the other.  Or, for a general give away, a fleece blanket with your logo embroidered in the corner.

We don’t suggest that you do this for every customer, but for those special customers, and for that reason Crooked Brook and I would like to announce Custom Fleece Blanket Giveaway 1.

The prize is a first quality, 50” x 60”, 100% polyester fleece blanket in the winner’s choice of color from Crooked Brook’s wholesale fleece blanket inventory.

The winner has the option of getting the fleece blanket blank or with their business name embroidered in the corner, with or without the cupcake or cake. If the winner would prefer to have their logo embroidered instead, that would have to be discussed with Crooked Brook.

To enter, visit Crooked Brook’s fleece blanket page to see what color fleece blankets they offer and leave a comment here with the color fleece blanket would you like to win.

The winner will be chosen randomly.

You must be 18 years or older to enter. Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 10/31/12. Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email. Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen. Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end. Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Crooked Brook T Shirt Giveaway 7

Happy Thursday everyone!  Halloween is fast approaching and a cold front just swept through OKC.  It has me ready for fall!  And another round of giveaways!   Crooked Brook does custom printed tshirts in addition to all the great chef coats.  Crooked Brook wants to give one of you one of these, too!!  The picture below is the blog logo, but this will have YOUR logo on it!  Isn’t that exciting?

Custom t-shirts are one of the most inexpensive yet cost effective marketing tools available. One of the advantages they have over other promotional products is that wherever people wearing t-shirts with your logo on it go; your brand goes. It is a great way to convey your business image and build brand awareness.

In response to this, I have teamed up with my friends at Crooked Brook to sponsor another custom t-shirt giveaway.

The prize is a White, Gildan, G200 6.1 oz. Ultra Cotton® T-Shirt made in 100% preshrunk cotton, with the image of the winners logo printed on the front or back.

Although the most popular method of printing t-shirts is screen printing; Crooked Brook t-shirts are printed using Direct to Garment Printing (DTG printing or digital garment printing) which is the process of using inkjet printers to print an image directly onto a t-shirt without the use of screens like with silk screening or screen printing. DTG technology uses eco-friendly, water soluble ink, unlike some screen printing methods that layer Plastisol (a suspension of PVC particles in a plasticizer) on top of the t-shirt. The only thing DTG printing requires is for the image to be high resolution resulting in photograph quality printing with no setup fee or minimums for custom t-shirts.

To enter, please leave a comment below.

The winner will be chosen randomly…

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to enter.

Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 10/31/12.

Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email.

Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen.

Winner’s artwork must meet requirements for Crooked Brooks DTG printing.

Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end.

Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Crooked Brook Prize Patrol – New Winners Announced

Happy Thursday!  I am excited to announce the winners on 3 giveaways today.  I have been on the road so much lately and my internet capabilities suffer when I am out of the country.  I am finally catching my breath and getting back on my blog duties!  Don’t give up on me…I am always planning blogs even when they don’t go up.

Now for the winners:

Robyn Stokes for the T Shirt 6…. Darlene Celso for the Chef Coat 11…… and Ramona Flowers for Embroidered Jacket 1 giveaways.  I love the days when I get to tell people they won something!   Thank you again to Crooked Brook for these incredibly generous giveaways.   I will be sending an email to each winner shortly with instructions on how to have the items mailed to them.  Thank you to all who commented on these posts.  Don’t forget to check in each week to see what the next prize is!

 

Ruth

TOTM

When I first opened my shop, I took every order I could get. I was scared to say no and thought I was supposed to please everyone else. I was working over 80 hours a week, 7 days a week and was at a dead run every day. One day, as I met with a bride and her mother, they asked about the shop. I told them how busy we were and how long the hours were. At the same time, the shouted out “TOTM!!”

I am sure I looked at them like they were crazy. I asked what they were saying to me. They laughed and said “Think Of The Money”.

After they left, I made a sign to put on my bulletin board with those four letters. At 2 am on those long cake nights, I would replay their words and I took heart that my work was not in vain. Without the money, there was no business. I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem like the money is worth it, but remember that those busy weekends or months pay for the ones that are slow. You work harder and do more some weeks to afford the luxury of taking no orders to go on vacation or to a cake show.

I hope on your next all nighter, when you are close to tears because you are just THAT tired, you will hear me whispering in your ear, TOTM, and that you will remember it is good to be busy sometimes.

MisDelivery

I read a post by a friend the other day, who was upset to learn that her team had delivered a cake to the wrong wedding and she found out too late to fix it. If she didn’t believe my post about caketasrophes before, I am sure she does now! It got me thinking of other stories I had heard and a few of mine. By now you all know that I am far from perfect and that I try to admit when I make mistakes. Maybe one of you will learn a tip from these stories. Maybe you will just get a laugh and maybe you will just feel better the next time things aren’t perfect.

When I was first starting out, there were only 2 of us at my shop and we had 13 weddings one weekend. (No, I had not learned to say no yet). My husband and my assistant Andrea’s sister-in-law were drafted to deliver for us as we continued to decorate the rest of the cakes. I told my husband to take one cake to the Hilton by the Borders bookstore. They did, and returned to help. They asked where the next one went and I said it went to the Marriott by the Borders. Rob said “We were just there….we have another one there?” Oh, the panic that welled in my heart and throat! No, I said, you were supposed to go to the Hilton. One is to the right of the bookstore and the other to the left. He just assumed I meant the Marriott, even though I said the Hilton.

After I caught my breath, I told him he had to go get that cake and take it to the right place. He took off in a rush. When he got to the Marriott, the bride at that wedding and her family were taking the pre wedding pictures with the WRONG cake in the background. Oh dear Lord. They scooped up the cake and got it to the right place in time. I delivered the correct cake to the bride at the Marriott. All was well, but that was probably the first coronary I had as a decorator.

One time, Rob, my friend Debbie and I were doing our delivery runs together. The last one went to a steak restaurant. We showed up and asked the employees where the reception was. They told me the party was upstairs. We carry the cake up only to find the ugliest room I had been in. The stairs were rickety, the carpet was threadbare, there were no table cloths and pop was lined up along the bar. We asked three different employees if this was right and they kept saying that this was where the party was. So we set the cake and did our best to make things look nice. As we left the restaurant, I noticed their sign that said they did off premise catering. I commented that I wish this girl had done that. For some reason, I pulled the bridal sheet and double checked the delivery location. It was that steak restaurant, but at their brand new facility in a nearby suburb! We had all assumed it was the original one because we did not even know there was a new one! We failed to read our own paperwork!

We took those stairs two at a time and rushed up to get the cake. The three of us passed no employees on our way in. We grabbed the cake and ran it out to the van, again never seeing anyone. We got to the correct, and so much prettier location just in time with the cake. We wonder to this day what the employees at the first place thought when they went back upstairs and the cake was gone!

My final story takes me back to my grocery store days. Andrea and I were the decorators and had to deliver in the large cargo van owned by the IGA. We were taking a cake to a neighborhood clubhouse. We followed the directions, which led us onto a cul-de-sac and a very steep driveway on the left side of the club house. It looked like we had arrived at the back side of the house, so we drove to the next street over to access the front. Nope, no road to the front side. So we decided that we needed to go up that steep drive, which appeared to curve around to the front of the house.

Up we went and as we got to the top and around the tree, we were suddenly, …wait for it…on a bike path in the middle of their neighborhood park!!! Oh yes, there we were in the giant awkward van, driving along this sidewalk, whacking every newly planted tree that overhung the sidewalk. The path did a huge oval, but we could not bear the thought of circling the entire park like that, nor were we skilled enough at that time to back the van all the way back and down the hill. So we did what anyone good at improvising would have done. We diverted from the bike path as we got close to the road and we jumped the van down off the curb. I kept picturing the neighborhood busy-body looking out the window to see a van driving on the path, her telling her hubby and him being sure she was going senile!

We went back to the cul-de-sac, walked the tiers up the hill and got the cake safely delivered. Oh! And no trees were injured in our expedition.

I have one friend who delivered to the wrong town…like across the state wrong town. Both towns had similar names. I had an employee taking a cake to the historical Hefner Mansion. She let her GPS take her and found herself outside the Hefner Mansion Assisted Living Center! I have shown up several times at a facility that can have up to 4 weddings going at a time, only to find someone else’s cake in my room instead of where it should be. Things happen. Life is messy and you cannot always have a perfect day. I do have to say that my real mistakes above came when I was newer to the field and when I was ridiculously tired and overworked. The more tired we are, the more mistakes we are prone to make.

Feel better about yourself now? Do any of you have a Mis-delivery story you would like to share?