There are two critical things you need to know about handouts. Or maybe I should say, there are two criticial DON’Ts:
- DON’Tpass them out while you’re speaking. It will distract audience members and, since speakers generally speak while passing out these materials, it means that you’ll lose minutes of time and may not get focus back for some time. In other words, your message will be lost.
- DON’T pass them out before you’re speaking either, because your audience members will read the materials while you are talking. (And usually faster than you can talk). And that’s no good either. You might as well hand out a newspaper to read and get back to them when they’re done.
So…what’s a person to do?
Leave ‘em reading when you go
Handouts should be “leave behinds.” By “leave behinds” I mean just that. When you’re done, leave them behind and let them look it over after you’re done. The purpose of this is twofold:
- To provide your audience a resource they can take home with them (at no extra cost)
- For your own marketing purposes/so they can reach you
The only exception to this rule is when you need your audience to review a form or other type of document or when you are having them perform an exercise. In these instances, have the materials (upside down, so they’ll ignore them) on their tables prior to their arrival. If they get curious and start to snoop, instruct them to leave them alone until you’re ready. They’ll happily comply.
What if you can’t place these materials there in advance? Have somebody distribute them before you start (again, face down on the table) and tell the audience to leave them alone until you’re ready. That will keep the focus where it belongs — on you and your presentation.
When you need them, tell the audience to finally pick them up and review them along with you. The key is to always tell your audience what to do and when so they aren’t uncomfortable or confused.
Last words on handouts
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you have an assistant handing out the materials that you can have it done in the middle of your presentation. The same distraction (switching their focus from you to the handout) will occur no matter who hands it out.
Finally, never use a single handout for your audience to pass around and review. What I mean by that is, it is critical that you do not give your audience one item (or even a few) to pass around amongst themselves to examine. It will sloooowly move around the room and, by the time everyone else has seen it, you’ll likely be in your car on the way home.
Last-last word: If you need a visual aid: use one. Although I’m usually not a fan of PowerPoint, this is the time that a PowerPoint slide (or other projected image) can be used effectively.