Presentation Handouts – Three Ways They Can Kill Your Presentation

Every audience expects presentation handouts, and your presentation should include them. But these three common mistakes will make your handouts a liability to your presentation instead of an asset.

1. Handing them out at the wrong time

It’s not always necessary or appropriate to hand out materials at the beginning of your presentation. That’s the usual way it’s done, but it has one major drawback: people will read through the whole set of handouts and you’ll lose their attention as you begin your presentation. It’s very difficult to bring them back, and when they do give you their attention again they probably have some ideas in their heads that you’re not yet ready to present to them. Either way, you’ve lost control.

This is particularly so when the handout is a workbook or even a multi-page document. For example, if you hand out a complete set of financial statements to accountants, they will want to look through them carefully right away. Getting them to focus on what you want to say at any given time is almost impossible.

The solution is to hand out each piece of material at the time you are going to address it in your presentation. Don’t give them the whole financial set; give them the Profit and Loss Statement when you’re going to discuss it, the Balance Sheet when you’re ready for it, and so on with the other pieces. That way, control of the presentation will be in your hands, not those of the audience.

2. Making them simply a copy of your slides

People like to use paper copies of your slides to make their notes, but that carries the same problem as the first mistake. Instead, create your own note pages.

About two-thirds of the page from the left-hand edge of the paper should contain BRIEF statements relating to each topic. They could be extracts from your slides, or summaries of your points. Include as much detail as you think appropriate. Then on the remaining one-third on the right side of the page, leave a column headed “Notes” or “How can I use this?”, depending on the type of presentation.

If you must provide a copy of the slides, do it after your presentation is over.

3. Not having enough information on the handouts

The main purpose of a handout is for future reference, so this is your opportunity to provide as much information as your audience needs or wants, even if you have handed it out one page at a time.

You don’t want them focusing on handouts containing complicated charts, graphs and tables while you are speaking, but such material makes excellent handouts for later study.

Another advantage of detailed handouts is that if someone asks for, say, the complete architectural plans, before you are ready, you can tell them that they will receive the complete set of detailed plans at the end, but for now you’d like to focus on the drawings on the screen. The fact that they know they’ll receive everything at the end gives them the comfort they need to concentrate on your presentation.

Used thoughtlessly or automatically, handouts can kill your presentation; used correctly they can provide another tool to ensure that the audience receives the most value from your presentation.