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The Presentation Handout

There is a problem with presentations.  Sometimes you just have to get across large numbers of facts or figures.  Sometimes you want people to take away ten idea or ten rules so badly it seems that you just have to put them on a bullet pointed list.  Those web links, or books you want people to remember – they too have to be written down so that people can find them hours or days after the presentation.

The solution – for most people – is the slide deck.  Put your data on the slides, and people can copy down the details.  You might actually decide to make the slides available to your audience for later perusal.  This is not my solution.

I will be addressing the horrors of the slide deck later.  For now, it suffices to say that no hollywood movie tells you the plot by use of bullet points and clip art.  And there is no need – or reason to tell your story this way.  I will also remind you that the job of your presentation is to get your message across.  And every time people are distracted from the message – by stopping to note down things they see on slides, for instance – you are losing your chance to convey the message as effectively as possible.  You are losing the audiences attention.  And you are probably losing the audience.

My solution is the handout.

Early on in your presentation pick up a handful of handouts and wave them at the audience.  Tell them you’ve put down all the key points – and a few you won’t get to – in the handout.  Tell them that every web address, email address and reference is in the handout.  And tell them that you’ll distribute it after the talk.

After?  Yes.  if you hand out the handout during the talk, you’ll find your audience reading it, rather than listening to you.  And if you could best convey your presentation by having it read, what are you doing on stage – a round robin email would have done the job.

So what goes in the handout?

My suggestion is that you take your presentation bullet points – the ones you wrote down in order to generate the challenges for your presentation’s hero and put them on paper.  Then elaborate on them to make the handout readable.

the advantage of the handout is, unlike the presentation, it doesn’t need to tell a story.  It’s a reference document and a reminder.  Quite possibly its main job isn’t even to convey information, but rather to stop your audience from note talking.  It can be dry and uninteresting.  Stick to the facts.  Add in all the information, and lists you think you need.

If you’ve cut any bullet points out of your presentation – because they didn’t fit into the story, or because you didn’t feel you had enough time to squeeze everything in – they can be put in the handout.

Add any diagrams you may need.  Graphs.  Flowcharts.  Though you can probably avoid clip art.

Ensure you include your name and your email address – after all, this is still a self publicity document.  Some people will use it for reference, and if you want those people to get in touch, they have to have the means to contact you – and to remember who you are if they only get around to taking action on your presentation weeks or months after you have presented it.

The handout isn’t meant to be high quality work.  We are not talking about a book here.  It isn’t meant to be a magazine article or a convincing essay.  If it contains enough information to be better than most people’s notes, it has more than served its purpose.  And if it avoids people contacting you to ask for information you have already given them in the presentation, you may well find it saves you some energy later on too.