PowerPoint can be an excellent tool for keeping your presentation interesting, but it can’t replace the good old standby of handouts. Here’s why you should continue using handouts and a surprising tip about the best time to distribute them to your audience.
Many of us remember insomnia-curing corporate training sessions that engaged in overkill while presenting information to department heads or other groups. The organization’s leader, or sometimes a guest consultant, would show a massively detailed outline on overhead slides, distribute a lengthy handout with the identical information, and then read the material aloud practically word for word. Not surprisingly, audience members doodled (this was before they could text), read irrelevant materials, dozed, and daydreamed. Both attention and retention suffered.
Now we have PowerPoint, which–used skillfully–brings much stronger visual appeal, and even welcomed humor through snazzy photos or clip art. Also, a majority of presenters have moved away from reading verbatim, toward adapting a more casual, even conversational speaking style. A few made that switch because of Speech Coaching, and others because they found audiences preferred a less stilted session.
These questions remain: Are handouts still helpful? If so, when do we distribute them?
Yes, handouts remain effective for several reasons:
- Participants get a take-home or take-to-the-office summary of the major points, which serves as a learning and memory prompter.
- If your presentation included calls for action, attendees will have a concrete reminder of exactly what you expect them to do.
- When your message confuses a listener, the handout brings clarification.
- Expecting a handout, the listener doesn’t have to depend on meticulous, distracting note-taking to absorb the information.
- Audience members have easy access to Web sites, books, videos, and other resources you mentioned, including contact information for guest presenters.
- You have shared a record of what you said, which could become useful if a listener claims you had proposed another plan.
- A handout assures the listener that you studied your topic thoroughly, rather than wasting the group’s time with spontaneous random remarks.
As for when we distribute the handouts, the traditional method of giving them to audience members as they enter the room has a major drawback–the absence of suspense. If your listeners can see everything you’re going to say, you have surrendered the advantage of surprise. Plus, when they observe how much more material you still have to cover, attention will wander.
So how do you distribute the handouts afterward? Either you can use the traditional hard copy or you can say, “When you return to your office today, click on our company’s Web site and you’ll find our presenter’s one-page handout that contains the key topics covered in our half-day seminar.”
A final caution: When you speak at a conference or convention, your meeting planner may request your handout ahead of time, to include in a printed booklet or to display online. You will want to comply with the request, although you could still protect your surprise advantage by not referring to your illustrations, stories, and supporting materials.