Let's be frank. How many of you have given handouts to your presentation audience that consist of nothing more than three of your slides printed on a page or photocopies of a few relevant magazine articles or old course outlines? Or, even worse, not offered any handouts at all?
So what's the big deal, you ask? You've never received a negative comment about your handouts and everyone else seems to do the same thing.
There are three reasons handouts are important:
1. Handouts can add value to your presentation.
They allow you to provide more in-depth information than can be put on a slide, helping you communicate your message more effectively. The best handouts seize the opportunity to communicate additional information beyond the broad, bulleted topics projected on slides. You can include information you may not have had time to cover, or review salient points in the presentation that weren't covered on the slides. References, resources, articles, interesting sidebars or even a case study to further illustrate the point being addressed all can be helpful.
For example, if you don't have time during your presentation to discuss the finer points of a research study, you can refer participants to a handout on which you've provided a summary of the study and highlighted points to ponder. You also may want to list additional references or sources of information about a topic or include a magazine report of the study. But be careful. Include only information that your clients will find interesting and want to know. Don't pad your handouts with marginally relevant material just to create a fat packet of pages.
2. The audience appreciates them.
Audience members like handouts because they provide something tangible, a piece of your presentation. They add a sense of concrete reality to the words and images you use during your presentation. In fact, the audience feels cheated if they don't receive them. If they take notes on the handouts, as most do, they feel a sense of personal investment in the material. People will use well-designed handouts as a review tool, going back to refresh their memory on your topic long after the presentation has concluded.
3. Your handouts reflect you.
How your handouts look gives a non-verbal message about you, your company and your corporate values. Did you photocopy your handouts from a light green original so all the black-and-white copies have a dirty gray background? If so, you may appear muddled to your audience. Was your original a bit slanted in the copier so all the handouts are sloped to the right? You're looking disorganized. Are you still using the same master document you typed on an IBM Selectric 10 years ago? Your company and products may be perceived as dated. Were there two or three typos corrected with a fine-line marker? Perhaps you're not too concerned about the details, like shipping your product on time or providing good customer service.
On the other hand, handouts can impress. Good handouts identify an organized, competent individual who works at a top-notch organization. They're simply another element that adds to your overall image, and we all know how crucial image is to the success of your presentation.
Additional handout tips
Although effective handouts can be produced using just about any software with a page-layout or word-processing component, it's easier to use your presentation software to do the job. PowerPoint, Freelance Graphics, Persuasion and similar software programs are designed to help you create handouts that tie in smoothly with the actual presentation.
Most offer a variety of handout printing options under the File pull-down menu. Experiment with different options to find the one that's best for you. Printing the slides themselves can be a valuable guide to the audience, but again, you should avoid the urge to just reproduce the slides with room for taking notes and nothing else. That ignores the opportunity to add depth to your presentation and polish your image in the audience's eyes.
If you distribute your supporting pages before the presentation, be sure the audience has ample time to browse through the material before you begin. Otherwise, after the lights go down, they'll be so busy checking out your packet they won't pay adequate attention during the first part of your presentation. If the handouts are structured so the audience turns pages and takes notes along with the slides, all the better.
Never structure the handouts so that when the slide changes, the viewer is struggling down a page that doesn't follow along with the projected image, trying to read small type in a darkened room. Keep your handouts organized and make sure they flow easily with the slides. Practice your presentation with a friend who's using your handouts to be sure this is the case.
Always make certain you give participants enough space for note-taking. Don't force them to scribble along narrow margins.
Color-coding pages also may be helpful if the speaker is going to refer to specific pages. A pink or blue page often is easier to find at a glance than page numbers, headlines or titles.
If you are going to pass out summary booklets or packets after the program, tell the audience early on. Knowing they will receive material at the conclusion will affect how they structure their own note-taking during the presentation.