Presentation Handouts – DOs and DON’Ts

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As a presentation skills trainer and public speaking coach, I often get asked about how best to use handouts during a presentation. In this post, I’d like to share my responses to the most common questions my students ask on the topic of presentation handouts.

Should I give out presentation handouts before my talk so that my audience can take notes on it while I speak?


  • Some people (a minority, in my experience) feel reassured when they have the notes beforehand.
  • Some people will tell you that they like to have a copy of the slides so that they can take notes as you go.
  • In a training situation, workbooks may be given out, which, as well as containing course notes, have exercises to complete and places to note down learner observations.


  • You risk losing control of your audience’s attention. A handout is one more thing that competes for their focus, and unless you are an amazingly engaging speaker, they won’t be able to resist the temptation to read.
  • People will be tempted to read ahead so may discover information that you don’t want them to know until the right stage of the presentation.
  • When you ask questions, people may look at your notes for the answers rather than think for themselves.

My Advice: Unless you are running a training course, I recommend that you avoid handing out notes until the end of your presentation, but remember to tell people up front that they will get a handout later.

Tip – If you must give out the notes in advance here’s a great tip for minimising distraction. After distributing your handout, encourage your audience to take a moment to flick through them and to reassure themselves that they contain plenty of information. Finally, ask them to put the notes to one side and listen to you

Should I create custom presentation handouts or should I just print off my slides the way most people do?

It’s tempting to put everything you are going to say onto your slides and then print them off as a handout, but I wouldn’t advise it, and here’s why.

Text-dense slides don’t work well as visual aids in a live presentation

  • The brain processes text differently from pictures. Research clearly shows that audience recall is reduced by almost 30% when wordy slides are used. (Ref Multimedia Learning, Cambridge University Press, Richard E Meyer).
  • You cannot control which points people are paying attention to.
  • You are in competition with your slides for the audience’s attention.

Unless you print off your slides full size, the resulting presentation handouts are often unreadable

  • Many people use a small font size in PowerPoint to enable them to fit more text on their slides. This makes the slides harder to read when projected and often impossible to read when printed out as a handout in a multiple slides to a page format. I recommend using a minimum font size of 24 point to ensure readability both on the screen and on printed copies.

My Advice: Rather than just printing off your slides, create a separate document that summarises your key points and add more supporting information or references if appropriate. This will take a little longer, but you’ll end up with a much more readable document that your audience will appreciate. Handouts of this type can also be branded and have your contact details, making them a useful extension to your marketing materials.

Tip – If you want to include your slides in your notes and still have readable handouts try using the “Notes Page view” function within PowerPoint. It was originally designed for adding speaker notes to your slides but can also be used to create handouts. Notes Page view creates a page for each slide with a small image of your slide at the top of the page and beautifully formatted text notes below.

Conclusion – Have you got any alternative solutions or ideas for the thorny topic of presentation handouts? Share your comments and ideas using the comments box below.

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This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Gavin Meikle – View the original post .


Published On: 7th Jul 2015

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