It may surprise you, but the topic of handouts can get quite contentious with speakers. Some are all for them. Some are dead set against. Some say to pass them out ahead of time. Others firmly believe they should be distributed after the talk.
What is the real answer to why you should use handouts with your presentations? I hope to lay a lot of this turmoil to rest with this post.
First, not all presentations need handouts. There are plenty of times that a talk can stand on its own without them. Like all parts of your speech, handouts need to be strategic and serve a purpose. Here are reasons why you may choose to include handouts with your presentation:
- You need to reinforce information you’re sharing in your presentation, but won’t have the time to do it
- Your audience needs to interact with your information in some way in order to understand it
- Guided note-taking better serves your topic
- You want to provide additional resources or information that you can’t cover in the presentation
Let me delve a little deeper into these four scenarios.
Reinforce information with handouts
All presentations have a time limit, and some topics are not well served within those constraints. Handouts that audience members can take home and re-read or go over again can help to reinforce your content, keep you top of mind and give your audience a more rich experience.
But be careful. This type of handout needs to be well designed both in content and in visual appeal. The design should entice your audience member to want to engage with the content and the content needs to be presented in a way that is congruent with your presentation and makes your content easily accessible … without you there to answer questions.
This type of handout is usually distributed after your presentation. People who were engaged and interested in your topic and talk will take it home and actually use it (more often than not, there are always exceptions).
Interacting with your information
Sometimes your topic is interactive and a handout can facilitate this interaction. For example, not long ago, I gave a presentation on creating a reader avatar. I distributed a “Creating a Reader Avatar” form and walked the audience through it. This way I was able to explain why each item on the form was there and provide examples of how to complete the form. Audience feedback was very good, they appreciated being able to hold the form in their hands and walk through it with the opportunity to ask questions about it.
Virtual presentations use guided note-taking more than live presentations. What this means is that key points in your presentation are included in the handout with missing information — basically a fill-in-the-blanks form. This can cue your audience to pay attention to these key points and listen out for them.
However, there is a danger with this type of handout, too. People can get so focused on completing the blanks, they aren’t truly engaged with what you are saying. And others can get very frustrated if they, for whatever reason, miss how to complete a blank space.
My personal preference is to not use this type of handout at all. From a user perspective, they are useless if I miss any part of the presentation, and often the format is different from how I would prefer to take notes.
Providing additional resources
If you mention resources that people can check out after the presentation, it is very useful for you to provide a handout that lists them. This helps you and your audience in a number of ways:
- You don’t have to slow down your presentation to allow time for the audience to write down URLs
- You take the pressure off the audience around remembering to look up information later
- You have a natural way to give your audience your contact information along with a call to action or offer along with the additional resources
Types of information that are often included in this type of handout include websites, articles and recommended reading.
As you can see, there is not definitive Yes or No answer to whether or not you should use handouts. The key is to understand your audience’s needs and provide them with the best possible experience. If handouts will help you do that, then hand them out!