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            Good Handouts - Bad Handouts

Too many presenters treat handouts like an afterthought or even forget them altogether, justifying their action with "They will just get trashed anyway."  That kind of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When handouts are not designed well, they do get trashed. By contrast, quality handouts are used and ensure that your presentation is remembered favorably.

Why Good Handouts Stay out of the Trash
People tend to forget almost 90% of everything that is said to them in 24 hours. Handouts help people to recall and apply the details that tend to ebb away with time. The scenario plays out like this. "The speaker said xxx could be done but I forgot how." To the rescue, a laminated job aid passed out as handout.
The mind processes new information at different speeds depending on the medium.
Speakers speak at 120 - 180 wpm
Readers read at 250 - 1,000 wpm
People think at 1,200 - 18,000 wpm

Some ask why bother to speak at all when people can read so much faster? The answer is that presenters convey much more than words when they speak and more readily connect emotionally with an audience than via writing. The spoken word makes a connection and tells a story. Text supports and expands ideas with details and applications. Graphics (charts, tables, diagrams, maps) complement both your presentations and handouts because they format information for rapid assimilation.

Why poor handouts get tossed.

They fail to:
Support the purpose of the presentation (to persuade, inform, enable or entertain).
Be an integral part of the presentation.
Look inviting (cheap paper, shoddy reproduction, cluttered).
Support the audience's future use of the presentation.
Package the information from the perspective of the audience or user.
Sift and focus the information.

Basic principles of good handout design
Plan your handout as you plan your presentation.

Keep main ideas, metaphors and summary information in the presentation. Add details, complexity, explanations and applications in the handout.

Make them aesthetically pleasing and practical.

Tad Simons gives a handy tip in Presentations magazine (Feb. 99, p. 47): distribute the handout in a pre-labeled file folder ready to file in the appropriate file drawer.

Design to support the purpose of your presentation and the audience.

The one exception is the entertaining speech which usually do not require handouts. If you do use them, use them to add to the humor.

Avoid rehashing your presentation verbatim, with the exception of testifying before a government agency or presenting a scientific paper, when you do want to make available an exact transcript of your remarks.

Handout formats fall into two categories. Pick the type that best supports your objective.
Reiterative (know more)
Fact or data sheet
Report or white paper
Biographical sketch of presenter
Case study
Copy of the visuals used
Interactive (do more)
Job aids
Pathfinders and guides
Decision trees
Flow charts
Diagram and tables
Action plans
Annotated list of pertinent Web sites

Design features to make handouts useful
Strong title
Clear uncluttered layout
Inviting graphics
Bullets rather than narrative sentences
Graphics instead of words to simplify
No more than two fonts in a document
Bold, italics or underlining to focus attention But never all three at once
White space to help the eye to search for and find information
A logo or a "look" to connect the document with the presentation
Your name and the date to provide attribution
Color to increase willingness to read as much as 80%
Graphics go above the text as the eye is drawn naturally to visuals first
Readers tend not read the text above graphics.

Examples of handouts to accompany different types of presentations.
Speech to inform the audience of a proposed major change in the tax law.
Handout options include:

Outline of content
Relevant text of key provisions of the proposed law
Detailed comparison with existing law
Chart showing economic/demographic impact
Pro and con articles
Bibliography of where to obtain more information
Who to contact to voice your support or opposition.

Speech to persuade the audience to sign up for seminar on the new tax law.
Handout options include:

Self administered quiz to assess present level of knowledge
Testimonials from prior trainees
Data sheet and statistics
Highlights of specific topics to be covered
Schedule of seminars
Sign up form
Fact sheet on training time, place, and directions
Qualifications of the trainer(s).

Speech to enable (train) the audience to advise clients on the new tax law.
Handout options include:

Job aids
Decision tree
Glossary of new tax terms
Conversion tables
Chronology of effective dates
List of hard copy and electronic research resources
Directory of pertinent related personnel.

Handouts enable presenters to
Create a positive impression before the presentation begins
Ensure that the audience takes away the key ideas as intended
Engage people at a deeper level as they interact with the handout
Keep the audience's attention focused on the subject
Satisfy the needs of visual learners
Introduce experiential material for kinesthetic learners
Present information at both novice and expert levels
Simplify and navigate complex information
Establish credibility
Present more information than can be covered in the presentation
Summarize and review.

Handouts enable the audience to
Concentrate on the ideas without having to take notes
Capture any non-verbal data accurately
Personalize the presentation with notes of their own ideas
Hear, see and apply the presentation
Increase their speed of comprehension
Retain new ideas longer
Apply the information to specific tasks
Find the information when they need it at a later date.

Hand out the handouts as the audience arrives to
Let the audience know what is in it for them
Overcome participant skepticism
Encourage audience to think about the topic
Let them know your agenda
Stimulate trust
Give the early birds a preview of the worm.

If you catch yourself saying "I don't want to distribute my handout in advance of my presentation because the audience will be reading ahead of what I am saying," go back to the drawing board. Something is wrong with the design of your presentation or handouts. A good handout makes the audience want to pay attention to the speaker.


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