Courtesy of Right Atttitudes

I was having a conversation with a previous presentation skills client about whether or not I used handouts in my presentations. So I thought I would post up some thoughts on this, and would be interested to see what other presentation coaches do.

1. I NEVER give hand outs before my presentation
I have always wondered why people hand out presentations before they speak.
In a world where many presenters already lament on audiences with a low attention span  whether not wanting to be there or distracted by phones, laptops, twitter or whatever why do we want to complicate that by handing out stuff?

Surely if you have been invited to speak or present on a given topic and the audience are going to be engaged by you and the way you convincingly (note that word) put across an argument, sell a product or deliver bad news (!) whacking them a ten or fifteen page handout has never worked for me.

2. My handouts are NEVER simple replications of my slides

This brings me on to my other bug bear.
Why does a presenter think it is just cool to print of PowerPoint (haven’t seen any handouts for a Keynote or Prezi presentation) slides and notes of the presentation they are just about to give? For me I speed read through the document, hope you are good at presenting and if not, switch off or spend the session critiquing your style. (It’s my job!)

3. My handouts are usually after the event

People take their own notes. I am cool with that.
Often when I am speaking I notice people take down notes either visually or by words on a pad or electronic device. There are times that I will advise the audience in advance that feel free to take notes but I won’t be stopping or going over a point just for someone to write it down, and that handouts are available for those who want some.

Now from a purely marketing point of view I either avail people of my email address who want get a copy of a summary of my presentation. From a purely environmental point of view what a waste of trees!!!
I’d rather get the summary over to interested parties via email after event as opposed to just dumping this document into the hands of people to tick a box saying I provided handouts.

4. Having said that……

……I will hasten to add that not many of my presentations are very technical.
Although I am a recovering accountant  I like to keep things simple. Bottom line if you will.

If however you are pitching for investment,  or trying to sell a new product then it would be down to your discretion as to when you want to hand out information. Again I think placing too much information in clients hands before you have presented usually detracts away from you as the presenter and the information you want to present. Given a more technical presentation I would still suggest that you give the best picture possible from your presentation, both vocally and visually, and once this is over by all means give handouts to your audience where applicable. For example in a Q&A if someone wants to question a point of projections, assumptions, etc that you laid out in your presentation.

I should hasten to add that a handout is very different from a prospectus or sales brochure and we should not confuse the two.

Handouts (and yes maybe I should have said this at the beginning but hey I wanted you to read this far) are more a summary of the presentation. Sometimes it might be with a bit more detail to explain some of the more complex points that you don’t want to dump on a slide, but nonetheless should still be a summary.

So this works for me, and for clients I have worked with, what are your thoughts?


  • I agree wholeheartedly with your approach Dave. Bad speakers already make their own competition by filling out slide after slide of Powerpoint with text and graphics, why give an audience more distractions in the form of handouts? I also don’t like people reading ahead of the presentation.

    The only handout I will often use is one page of A4 which has 5 questions based around the presentation. This allows an audience to complete action points as they come up and guides their thinking.

    It also has some subtle marketing, such as my website, newsletter and podcast on it which they are more likely to take away with them if they have written notes.

  • Ah yes.. a subject dear to my heart. I feel I am being paid to engage with my audience/participant group/students to facilitate learning ( often for both of us!) and anything that gets in the way of that engagement is a no no for me. Keep up the good work!

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