Stop! Right now! No more handouts. Please!

By April 15, 2011Powerpoint

We often get asked to make sets of handouts for our clients so they can be distributed before they present. When asked ‘why?’, the answer is nearly always ‘so the audience can make notes and refer back to specific slides for the Q&A.’

discarded handout

Does handing out your presentation in this manner help or hinder you when it comes to the actual delivery?

I was going to try to write this post with a balanced and even view, and then draw upon my experience to push the view that one way is better than the other. The problem is that I’m really struggling to find any good reasons to handout before a meeting.

These are the only ones I could think of:

  1. It helps when compiling notes to do it on the relevant slide.
  2. The audience has a copy of the slides that they can review later and remind them of your presentation.
  3. You’re in control of who gets to see your slides.
  4. The audience can ‘read ahead’ and get to the bit that interests them.
  5. It’s what’s always done, the audience expects and asks for it.

Pretty weak reasons if you ask me.

What are the reasons not to give handouts? Let’s counter the five reasons to first and then add a few more to help you decide…

  1. It helps when compiling notes to do it on the relevant slide. Is it really that difficult to take notes on a notebook if you show the slide numbers on the screen? Let’s give people some credit, they wouldn’t be in the audience if they weren’t interested in what you’re saying, and they certainly wouldn’t be making notes, do we really have to treat them like idiots?
  2. The audience has a copy of the slides that they can review later. If you don’t give them a handout, surely this is a chance to make contact after the event, send an email with the slides, or even better a link to the presentation on http://present.me
  3. You’re in control of who gets to see your slides. Come on, the world has changed – get with the millennium! We now share our ideas and give away our knowledge in the hope of reaching a wider audience for our expertise. If what you’re talking about is interesting, go ahead and share it (yep, you guessed it, on http://present.me!)
  4. The audience can ‘read ahead’. Enough said. Do you really want your audience reading what you’re going to say next before you actually say it?
  5. It’s what’s always done. That’s what the Luddites used to say too – it didn’t stop the industrial revolution. I agree there is a level of expectation, and perhaps even annoyance when you don’t give them the handout, but a quick explanation that you’re doing it for the next reason soon shuts everyone up.
  6. The environment. Let’s not pretend that printing 100 copies of a 30 page presentation isn’t a complete waste of paper. Think of the trees!
  7. The cost. Someone has to print them, bind them & distribute them, and someone else probably has to clear them up as most will be left behind. There might not be a direct cost to you, but someone somewhere is paying.
  8. Focus. A great presentation is a dance between the speaker and their graphics. If it’s done really well, you might not even notice the slides, but they will be there doing their job of re-enforcing what the presenter is saying and subconsciously pushing the big messages to the audience. Add in some handouts, and you’ve got the equivalent of someone trying to read a book about a film they’re watching. The result: a confused or lost the audience.

So, what do you think? I know what I advise my clients, what about you? Do you disagree? I’m sure I haven’t though of everything, feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences about this divisive topic. SL

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