The Trouble with Presentation Handouts

Almost every time you present, you will be expected to provide a “handout” or you will be asked for “a copy of your presentation.”  This usually means a paper copy of your slides.

Here’s the trouble with this kind of handout:

  • If you have created a well-designed presentation, a copy of your slides will not be a useful handout since the slides will be fairly meaningless without your narration. Remember, for a good presentation, the presenter delivers the message, not the slides.
  • The need for a handout may tempt you to create a “deck” that can be used for both presentation and handout – this will always result in a bad presentation or a bad handout or both. This, in fact, may be the hidden cause for a lot of bad presentations.

I suspect that the handout request/requirement is often just a formality and that the handouts become corporate sediment, never to see the light of day again.  However, since there is a slight chance that your handout will be used for individual review or recall, internal discussions, “re-presenting” or distribution to others not attending the original presentation, maybe you should give the handout some attention.

Here are some ideas on dealing with the handout request:

  • Prepare a well-written and -designed companion document that parallels the slides and captures the messages you have delivered in the live presentation. This is a good answer but involves about as much effort as the original PowerPoint presentation. This may only be justified for repeated or important situations like sales calls or investor/analyst briefings.
  • If you are very lucky, you may be able to use your company’s sales collateral to meet the handout request for your sales presentation. For some reason, this is not the usual case – disconnect between marketing and sales, I wager.
  • Use the “Speaker Notes” PowerPoint feature as a framework for the companion document. The format includes the slide image so that the narrative is tied to the slides and can refer to graphics elements. This can be “printed” as a PDF for sharing.
  • Create a highly annotated/static version of the presentation. Since this is designed to be individually read you can use a lot of text in smaller font sizes. Eliminate animations and re-design for a static format.This is a reasonable solution for the conference situation where (clueless) conference organizers want to print and bind the conference presentations together. Just make sure that the two versions don’t get confused.
  • Enter the 21st century and create a “kiosk version” that can be published on your website or any of the several sharing sites. This is intended to be read (like the static version above) but is viewed at the reader’s pace and can include animations and on-screen navigation (if allowed by the sharing site or video converter). Provide your audience with a link to the web presentation – no dead trees.
  • Record your narration of the original presentation and add as an audio track; convert to video for sharing.
  • Record your presentation as a video; publish on your website or a sharing site.

You can limit access to specified users when you share any of these versions.

Nearly all presentations are customized to some extent; that is, the presentation contains material exclusively for the particular audience/situation. This is generally good practice even though it complicates the handout. You may need to touch up your companion document or provide a supplement.

Occasionally, someone may want a “copy of your presentation” in order to present it to someone else. In sales, for example, your “champion” may want to present your proposal to his management. Although you might suggest that one of the variations above (e.g., the kiosk version) be used rather than “re- presentation,” you have will probably have no choice but to provide your PowerPoint file although you may want to edit for the particular situation or to accommodate the presenter. I hope you will be able to coach your “champion!”

A final dire warning: NEVER provide a handout to your audience before your presentation. Since it is inevitable that someone will read ahead, this is a sure way to distract your audience and kill any story line you have developed. Repeat, NEVER.

(This post was inspired by Ellen Finklestein’s post here.)

3 Responses to “The Trouble with Presentation Handouts”

  1. 1 Ellen Finkelstein March 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I’m glad I was able to inspire such a great blog post. It has specific suggestions for how to get around that advance request for the “deck.” Presenters need to stand up against that request.

  2. 2 Andrew Greaves October 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    On occasion I have produced handouts which combine the depth of content necessary for a document but with the image of the relevant slide at the top of the slide. The easy way to do this is use the “save as png” option which saves every slide as a separate png image.This helps remind the delegates of the slide/narration at the time but means it still works for anyone given the handout who did not attend.

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