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What’s In Your Handout?

IMG_0200I’m just back from speaking at two conferences and getting ready to teach at another–and I’m Program chair for the APTinternational Conference this summer. The topic of making handouts valuable to participants is near and dear to my current life.

Part of my viewpoint comes from my methods of running sessions. I’m strongly opposed to “death by PowerPoint,” trying to convey information through dense text on slides that is better conveyed via other mediums. So my slides highlight main points, use images to convey ideas, state key quotes, and occasionally provide specific directions for group activities. A handout of my slide deck isn’t all that useful if you weren’t in the room. So I don’t provide it.

If you aren’t sure what great slides look like, check out the samples at Presentation Zen and at educator  Bill Ferriter’s site. Yes, sometimes slides need words, but if your audience is reading, they aren’t listening to what you’re saying. And if you’re simply reading your slides what’s the point of presenting? Just give them the handout!

If you aren’t aware of the true dangers of conveying too much information through slides, check out an analysis of how this behavior fed into (note I didn’t say cause…) the space shuttle Columbia disaster (I wish it weren’t so…)

What I often provide is a summary of my main teachings and the instructions for at least one activity so that participants can try it with their own teams. Sometimes, there’s a chart or a few slides containing key data. Occasionally, I’ll include images of five or six  slides rather than duplicate the information in another way. These handouts are pretty much what used to refer to as “proceedings.” I still have books of proceedings from conferences I attended in the 1990’s–before the widespread abuse of PowerPoint–and they’re USEFUL. People wrote actual papers worthy of reading. If you missed a session, you could read the proceedings to understand the main points of the session.

If you’re presenting at a conference, try it. Upload a handout that people can use whether they’re in the room or not. Of course, these tie best to presentations that actively involve the audience. I can generally tell people, “Ignore the handout for now, but all the key information is captured in it. You don’t really have to take notes, other than jotting down questions, connections, what-if’s, aha’s, or “yeah, but….””

Can you abandon printouts of slides and instead provide something that allows your audience to revisit and perhaps pass on the learning experience your session creates?

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Great article, Jane. I am trying to get away from providing copies of my presentation slides as a handout. My new challenge is participants who ask me to wait as they take photos of individual slides with their phones!

    1. Funny, Keely! In a recent evaluation, someone complimented me for having my slides up long enough–guess that’s why! I will say that when I tell them that all the key ideas and instructions can be downloaded (if we didn’t print handouts), people enjoy putting their note-taking method away and simply engaging.

  2. Hi Jane,
    Tim Andrews from Strechlearning ( showed me some time ago simple and engaging way to make good handouts – just type your core message from your presentation and than delete some words, leave empty spaces for ‘ideation’, put some Bill’s ‘ZEN like’ inspirational pictures/ parts of pictures. Usually I provide not more than 3-4 p. per 2h presentation.

    1. Great idea, Przemek. That provides the key idea outline and space for those notes. And hopefully by including those images you’ll be reminding people of how effective your presentation slides were, encouraging them to improve their own.

  3. For those of us who were in the room, however, a handout copy of the slides can be a great memory jogger and a wonderful place to take notes.

    1. Hi Vicki. Slides certainly can serve that purpose, but will they be the best way? Sometimes yes, but I’m asking people to consider alternatives before printing the slides.

      I often mix in a few key slides or images with depth information that I hope will be far more helpful. And obviously, the quality of the slide deck is key. Too often what I see is word-dense slides from which presenters read, turned into handouts where there is little need to take notes–or to have attended the presentation…

  4. Great points, Jane. Meaningful engagement is the point, not the simple transfer of data or info. I’m going to check out your links. The larger the group, the trickier the task of engagement becomes.

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