How are they used most effectively?

Most people assume that every presentation needs to have handouts. There are several flaws to always using handouts and giving them to your audience ahead of time.

  1. If given a handout, your client or audience will prefer to read versus listen. This means you have just shortened the attention span of your audience, their ability to capture your information, and their ability to recall it in time of need. In sales, this means you’ve just brought yourself down to the same level as all of your competition. In a session with a large audience, this means you’ve just given them permission to take the presentation into their hands and out of yours.
  2. Handouts should supplement what you are saying and be of value to the audience. Therefore, your handouts should not just be a copy of your PowerPoint slides. They should be something that the audience will want to refer to again and again.
  3. If your handouts are reference material, you should say, “At the end of my presentation, I will be handing out to you some reference materials for your use. They will contain much of the information we’re covering today.” This will allow you to put detailed information in your handouts without allowing anyone to read ahead of your delivery. For a very analytical person this will give them comfort that they won’t miss any of your information.
  4. In a sales call, you want to actually hold onto the materials as you go through them with the prospect and say, “I will leave all of these materials with you so that you can to go through them at your leisure. Today what I will do is just highlight for you some of the key things.” Then do not let them hold onto any of your materials; instead, just move each piece of handout to a stack on your right hand side so they maintain eye contact with you throughout your presentation.

Never forget that your visuals are there to supplement what you talk about; they are not the presentation in itself. If you use them as though they are the entire presentation, you are telling the audience that you did no customization for them, and they are locked into a preset agenda that you determined. This doesn’t leave a warm fuzzy feeling of “You’re here just for me.