November 28, 2019

Use Handouts to Support and Enhance Your Presentation

Got your next presentation to customers or colleagues just around the corner and thinking about including a handout? Great idea! Although many people associate handouts with lectures, they are a tried and tested tool in the corporate environment, allowing your audience a deeper and more lasting understanding of your presentation. Whether it’s a business meeting or a training course, a handout will underscore your points and support your presentation when done right.  It can be tricky, though, to decide on what to include, the format, how to structure a handout and at what point of the presentation to distribute it. This blog post aims to bring light into the darkness; we will dissect what makes a really good handout and how to confidently create your own.

What is a Handout?

As the name suggests, a handout is any type of document that a speaker hands out to participants during a lecture, presentation, conference or meeting. It allows your audience to get a clear overview of the main points, or to sum up what they have heard afterwards.

A handout isn’t just a summary of slide titles; it can be much more detailed, summing up each individual topic and serving as a reference for core concepts and central insights.

What is the Essential Point of a Handout?

In a nutshell, your handout must provide added value. It combines the most important aspects of your presentation in handy text form. It can not only summarise your arguments, but can relieve pressure on your slides:  dense facts and figures can be sidelined to the handout, allowing your PowerPoint presentation to be slick and professional. Handouts offer three main advantages to your audience, depending on when they’re given out:

  • participants can follow what is said during the presentation
  • listeners can add their own notes
  • your audience gets a broad outline of your ideas

A handout not only means that you can create a clean and uncluttered presentation, but allows your audience to understand your points better and remember them afterwards.  It’s also very useful for conveying your arguments to anyone who may have missed the actual presentation.

Creating an Effective Handout

It’s obvious, then, that a handout can be very useful for your audience, your presentation and yourself. Once you know what to do, they can be relatively straightforward to produce.  Of course, this still takes time, and you need to allow for this. Cobbling together a handout at the last moment is not only stressful, it can be counterproductive, as it undermines your professionalism and never goes unnoticed.

TIP: For a change, why not start your presentation with a handout? By getting the essentials out of the way first, you can then develop your presentation step by step using the handout as a basis. The advantages of this are that your audience has a firm grasp of your arguments and detailed text to refer to, and you can deliver a crisp and professional presentation.

Clear and Concise: How to Structure a Handout

As with most things concerning design, the motto “less is more” applies very effectively to handouts. In concrete terms, this means: do without whole sentences and make use of key points, abbreviations, arrows and symbols. Ideally, your handout should not consist of more than two A4 pages.

In addition to important information from your presentation, a handout needs to include the following:

  • basic information, probably in the upper left corner of the handout, such as the location of the presentation and the speaker’s name and title
  • the date, probably in the upper right corner
  • a concise heading – preferably the title of your presentation – centered
  • page numbers in the footer
  • a clear structure, based on the individual headings of the presentation
  • a consistent page layout using a standard font such as Arial or Times New Roman

The structure of your handout should follow the structure of your presentation, especially if you give out the handout during your presentation. It is best to limit your points to those which support your main argument. Keep the sub-items on the handout as simple as possible and don’t go into too much detail. To make your handout visually appealing, it helps to think about the font. In addition to using clear, standard fonts, as mentioned above, try to keep the font size in the headers and footers uniform and smaller than in the main part.

TIP: Create an area for your audience to make their own notes on your handout. Either make the right margin wider or leave a few lines of space under your last point.

Contents of the Handout – Short and to the Point

You’ve decided the layout of your handout, entered the key points and created a rough outline. Now it’s time to expand on individual points and create the main content of your handout. Before doing so, focus on your target audience: how much background knowledge can you assume they have on the topic of your presentation?  Keeping your audience in mind means you tailor the handout to their level, avoiding technical terms where they would distract from your point, including them when you are faced with an audience knowledgeable in a particular discipline,  It is very important to condense the core statements of your presentation into key points, rather than including a distracting stream of text. This way, you retain your audience’s full attention.

TIP: To arouse your audience’s curiosity right at the beginning of your presentation, you could include an upbeat quote, a proverb or a question (which you could choose to make somewhat provocative) as an introduction – this can form the first paragraph of your handout.

Although the main thing about handouts is that they should be short and concise, they should still be understandable when read outside the context of your presentation.  If this is forgotten, they can’t act as an aid to your audience’s memory afterwards.

Additional Information on Your Handout

The main elements of a handout, as covered above, can be supplemented by additional information as you choose. This can even include pictures or graphics. Depending on the topic, a visual element can really clarify and supplement your main argument and tie things together. As a rule, however, it pays to keep pictures and graphics on your presentation slides because they take up too much space on the handout. The costs and benefits need to be weighed up in each individual case.

It is also a good idea to include contact information on the handout; an e-mail address is the minimum. Depending on the type and purpose of the presentation, you can also provide your business address and telephone number. If your handout consists of several pages, it helps to put your contact details in the header so that they appear on every page. It can be useful to include a short bibliography in your handout if you’re using quotes or information from other sources. This way you can also link to relevant websites or further reading on your topic that may be interesting for your audience.

TIP: At the end of your handouts you can include questions or food for thought to stimulate discussion. This is particularly useful if you wish to conduct a question and answer session after your presentation.

Simple and Fast: Creating a Handout with PowerPoint

When time is of the essence, PowerPoint has a feature that allows you to create a handout in minutes. Using the “Create handout” function, you can transfer a PowerPoint presentation to Microsoft Word, adapt it there and optimize it for printing. With just a few clicks you can choose which presentation slides should appear on the handout. The number of slides can also be easily adjusted and you can cut text or expand it as necessary. You can also decide whether the handout should include a note margin, a header and/or a footer. Your PowerPoint presentation remains untouched during this whole process. In addition to the option of printing the handout, you can also save it directly in Word as a Word or PDF document – a simple way to make the handout digitally available to your audience.

When is the Best Time to Distribute Your Handout?

There is no such thing as the perfect time. To help you decide the timing for your particular presentation, it helps to understand how timings influence your audience:

  • Handout before presentation: In this case, you have to expect at least some of your audience to have leafed through the handout and read ahead, meaning that at any point they know what’s next. This can sometimes mean that your audience’s concentration is divided, so you need to consider carefully whether this option is appropriate.
  • Handout during presentation: Distribute your handout at the point when it is useful as support, either in terms of visual illustration or as a means to emphasize your argument.
  • Handout after presentation: If you choose this option, don’t forget to include your contact details. If you’re sending a handout electronically, PDF is a good choice. Depending on the situation and recipient, it might be advisable to add the copyright in the footer.

Whichever timing you decide upon, a well-prepared handout can be an effective tool to support your presentation, acting as a guide and memory aid for both you and your audience. Used properly, they can increase the interest and attention of your audience, and allow you to give a clear and professional presentation.

Need some help creating a great handout or indeed a presentation? We’d be more than happy to help, using our long experience as a presentation agency. We’re always happy to support you!

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