Handouts & Slides – Different on Purpose

A client recently asked 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. My comments:

  • Effective speaker support slides have specific design requirements in order to add value to the audience and the message. Effective handouts also have specific but different design requirements for them to play their role – for audience note-taking, sharing with those who didn’t attend or downstream content review. 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. Hard copies of slides so designed would have little value for content review. 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. They don’t need white space for note taking, only for eye-appealing layout.
  • You’ve probably seen handouts with two columns of three or four reduced slides – where you can’t read the slides or make out the charts – and adjacent lines for notes That feature was designed for creating speaker notes, NOT audience handouts. Speakers didn’t need to be able to read the reduced slides because they already knew what was on them. The space for notes was for their talking points that went along with each slide, not for the audience.
  • 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.

Consider investing the extra time and effort to create properly designed – and different – audience-centric tools – you’ll earn an excellent ROI with your audience and your presentations will be more successful.