For the last couple of years, from March through to November, I’ve given a weekly soapmaking talk to holidaymakers staying in a local hotel. It’s an opportunity to get paid to rattle on about my favourite subject, and if I’m lucky I’ll sell a few bars as well. Win-win you might think? Well yes, these days I absolutely revel in it, but there’s no denying that the first few times I was really quite nervous. With that in mind I thought it might be helpful to others if I were to note down some of the things I now always do to ensure I give a successful soaping talk.
- The first thing I do on arrival at the venue is set up my display of soaps. A big draw for me of doing a soaping talk is the opportunity to sell as well, so make your display as appealing as possible, with samples available to touch and smell.
- The introduction. You don’t have to go into too much detail. I usually tell them my name, tell them what I do, the name of my business and where I’m based. I then explain that I’m going to talk them through the process of making soap, and I make it clear that questions are welcome at any point. I’ll then draw their attention to soaps I have on display, and let them know that there will be an opportunity for them to buy some at the end of the talk. Even better, ask the host / venue manager to mention to the audience beforehand that there will be an opportunity to buy.
- Let the audience know that they can ask questions at any time. This is a personal preference – I understand that some people would rather not be interrupted – but I really like it when people are engaged enough to want to know more. If it’s something I’m planning on covering a little further on, I’ll say so.
- Take samples of all the different oils and butters you use in your recipes to pass around the room. People love to touch and smell things, and it often gets leads to more questions.
- Take an empty bowl. This is my main prop when talking through the soapmaking process. I explain that while I can’t do a full demonstration, I’ll talk them through the process and ask them to use their imagination.
- Take samples of mica (or whichever colourants you use). I pass these around the room, explaining what it is and how it’s used.
- Take some NaOH in a small SEALED box and explain to them what it is, and precisely why it’s the only item that evening that you WON’T be passing around.
- Take samples of essential oils and/or fragrance oils. Pass them around the room. Explain the differences between them – how they’re made, the pros and cons of each. Make sure that, whichever fragrances you choose to pass around, you have soap available in those fragrances to buy. It really does make a difference to what will sell.
- Take a mould and liner to show them. I use wooden loaf moulds and silicone liners and I talk about how I started out lining with freezer paper, and the difficulty I had getting smooth surfaces and sharp corners and hence why I’m a huge fan of silicone liners.
- If possible, take an unmoulded soap so that you can unmould it in front of them. I’ve now got into the habit of making at least one batch on a Tuesday night specifically to be able to unmould it at my soaping talk on the Thursday night. Unmoulding a batch of soap never fails to elicit an ‘Ooooooohhh’ from the audience.
- This really should be point 10a. If at all possible, take along your soap cutter and cut some of that soap that you’ve just unmoulded. This has major WOW factor and in my experience the audience really enjoys seeing this part of the process.
- While I wear gloves to cut the main batch of soap, when I’ve cut a few bars to show the audience, I’ll take the gloves off and hold the end piece, showing them that by this point (48 hours post pouring) the sodium hydroxide has combined fully with the fats and is no longer caustic.
- I then talk about the curing process – how and why the soap is cured. Often some audience members are keen to feel end piece, and I’m happy to let them do so. I suggest they compare the softness of that piece with the hardness of one of my fully cured bars.
- I then talk about wrapping, labelling, and the legislation related to the selling of soap in the UK/EU.
- Finally I ask whether they have any questions. Often they’ll ask how/why I started making soap, or more general questions about commercial soaps. If none are forthcoming, I’ll often ask whether they know anything about the history of soapmaking (a subject that often comes up at this point) and then talk very briefly about the story (myth?) of the discovery of soap via the sacrificial fires on Mt. Sapo and what we know as fact about soap in ancient history. It’s also an opportunity to talk about the differences between handmade and commercially produced soap.
There are also a few general things I’d recommend to anyone giving a talk, whatever the subject. These might, quite rightly, be considered common sense, so I’m not including them in the ’15’ tips, but I thought it was worth adding them in, as it’s so easy to overlook stuff when you’re feeling nervous:
- Arrive early. Always arrive early. At least when you’re starting out. I know it gives you longer to get worked up and for those butterflies to do their anxiety inducing business, but there’s nothing worse than arriving late to get you flustered. Arrive early, sit down, mentally run through your presentation, have some water and do some deep breathing. These days I can turn up with 5 minutes to spare and be absolutely fine, but I don’t recommend it 🙂
- Wear something comfortable. You need to be relaxed, so don’t be tempted to get all glammed up if you’re generally the casual type. Be neat and tidy of course, but stay true to YOU.
- Make sure you have a glass or bottle of water within arm’s reach. It’s surprising how dry your mouth gets when you do a lot of talking. It’s also really useful, if for example you suddenly lose your train of thought, to be able to pause and take a sip of water. Those few seconds can be all you need to get yourself back on track.
- Try to bring a little humour into your talk. I often talk about the man who came to me wanting advice about making soap from the lard leftover from his fried breakfasts. That always gets a laugh and a few groans 😀
Good luck if you’re giving a presentation anytime soon, and let me know if you found any of this useful!