Handouts vs. Slides

A client recently asked me for some advice about a common practice with handouts. He noted that presenters often give audience members hard copies of their slides so they can take notes or use as a handout. Excerpts from my response:

  • Effective speaker support slides have specific design requirements so they can add value to the audience and the message. Effective handouts also have specific design requirements for them to play their role – for audience note-taking, sharing with those who didn’t attend or downstream content review. They’re both important but are very different tools. The problem is that some presenters try to use one tool for both purposes and fail at both.
  • Effective slides should be simple, clear and relevant with more pictures than bullets and a minimal amount of text. Handouts for audience note-taking should have topic headings and white space for notes. Those used to share with others or for downstream review can be simple expanded full sentence outlines or bulleted paragraph documents.
  • You’ve probably seen lots of handouts with two columns of three or four reduced slides each – where you can’t read the slides or make out the charts – and adjacent lines for notes. That feature was initially designed for creating speaker notes, NOT audience handouts. Speakers didn’t need to be able to read the reduced slide content because they already knew what was on them. The space for notes was for their talking points that went along with each slide.
  • So why do we see so many speakers using that feature for handouts or otherwise creating ineffective ones? Because they can! They’re very busy or lazy or don’t care enough to create excellent slides that are different from excellent handouts. And the audience can usually tell … and pays the price.

That said, consider investing a little extra time and effort to create appropriate – and different – audience-centric tools. You’ll earn an excellent ROI with your audience and your presentations will be more successful.


  1. tiny.cc
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting
    for your further posts. Thank you once again.

    • Phil Stella
      Posted June 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Lacy, thanks for your kind words. Good to know you’re looking forward to more content. Expect the July eLetter by 7/9. Regards … Phil Stella