Handling The Handout

by Stephen Boyd | October 31, 2003

Many meetings include providing handouts during a presentation. How to use them most effectively is a challenge for many speakers. Here are suggestions for making maximum use of handouts.

Ideally, to avoid any distractions to the speaker or the content of the presentation, the handout would be provided at the end of the program, but that is not often practical.

As you are making the materials available to audience members, do not cover critical information in your presentation. The audience will be distracted while passing sheets down the row or around the table and will begin getting acquainted with the outline, thus missing most of what you say during that time. Keep speaking, but include illustrative or aside information so the group will not miss a key point in your presentation. This would be a good time to tell a story or a personal note.

Pass out the handouts on a need-to-know basis. You may want to pass out the workbook in parts as you work through the material in the program. This technique will keep the participants from jumping ahead; this takes more time, however, and can sometimes disrupt the pacing of your program.

Provide specific instructions to the audience on how to view the handout before you pass out the materials. Tell them to go to page three at the blue mark, and possibly even give a reason. That will keep them from browsing through pages one or two. The more specific you are with directions, the quicker the participants will do what you want them to do.

Arrange your handout so that audience members will follow your presentation and the handout simultaneously. One way to accomplish that is to leave blanks in the material for them to fill in. This is especially important if you are providing financial data or statistical information. Let the audience fill in the amounts. Having the blanks will make them curious and want to gain the information to write in the blank. Don’t let the handout dominate your presentation. Include visuals or slides that will require the listener to look up at you or the screen. Use words or phrases in your presentation like "See," "Look with me…," or "Notice on the screen…." These prompts will get audience members out of the handout and back to you, the speaker.

Keeping the attention and interest of the audience is hard enough when there is no handout to distract them. If you incorporate some of these suggestions, your handout can be an effective way for your audience to take you the speaker with them and to remember the key parts of your program months later.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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