Hand-outs and leave-behinds are a great resource in giving your audience a tangible reminder of you and the company you represent. The problem is that they’re oft-neglected and oft-ignored. So how do we create hand-outs that not only accurately represent our content, but look great and don’t take a fortnight to create?

The problem with hand-outs

Hand-outs pose a number of problems. Firstly, they need to be created. During the hectic preparations for an important presentation, making a handout is usually one of the last things on people’s mind, and often left to the eleventh hour. Secondly, getting the content right is challenging – what’s the right balance between a detailed resource that people will rely on for future reference and a brief overview to jog people’s memory? Finally, distributing it effectively is troublesome – you don’t want your audience reading ahead and ignoring you, but you also don’t want them to spend the entire presentation furiously writing their own notes. You want to ensure that whatever resource you create is used, and is an effective aide-mémoire.

What to leave out and what to add in

You need to begin by thinking exactly what you want your hand-out to be. What are you actually trying to achieve? In truth, no one really wants the audience to remember their presentation; everyone hopes that they remember the content.

But what content exactly? Do you want people to remember the benefits of choosing you as a supplier when they come to make a buying decision? Do you want them to understand the specific process for dealing with a customer request when using a new software system? Are you just hoping they take away an overview of the new strategic direction for the department? Deciding on the level of detail that you want people to take away is a critical first step. Hand-outs can cover both less material than the presentation, and also a lot more – choosing which this will be is vital.

A good way to get going is to think about how the hand-out is likely to be used (and how you would like it to be used). A few options for you to think about:

  • A 1-2 page summary of the most critical points
  • A one-slide-per-page recap of all the content you covered
  • An in-depth exploration of the highlights you covered, plus much more
  • A reference guide covering technical specifications, pricing etc.

Deciding on how your hand-out is likely to be used will inform how you need to edit your content. Start by duplicating the material from your slides and edit it down or add in detail as necessary.

The quick and easy PowerPoint method

If you’re happy to stick with the conventional document-style hand-out (be it printed or pdf), PowerPoint can help you create one quickly using your slides and speaker notes. If you’re in a rush, it’s a really helpful option.

  1. First save a new copy of your presentation.
  2. Then delete out any overlapping visuals that won’t print well.
  3. Next, go to ‘Save As’ and select ‘PDF’ from the drop-down menu.
  4. An ‘Options’ button should appear below – click it.
  5. Under the ‘Publish what’ option, choose ‘Notes pages’ from the drop-down.
  6. Finally, click ‘OK’, then save.

The resulting PDF will feature an image of your slide then the accompanying notes underneath. Needless to say, you need to make sure your presenter notes are ‘audience safe’ before going down this route, but the finished result is cheap ‘n’ cheerful and effective enough.

The next level

The problem with the above method is that your presenter notes quite often aren’t written with the audience in mind – the language might not be quite right, they might not contain the right level of detail. A better approach is to use what you can from your slides but write new notes to accompany them.

Hopefully, your presentation will be visual (if not, check out these three design hacks to help you along). In this case, follow the steps above: create a version of your slides without any animation and delete out any layers that won’t print well. Use these visuals as the starting point – copy and paste them onto a Word document perhaps. Then add a line or two of text summarising the point (for a succinct hand-out), or copy and paste your source material, brochure text or website copy etc. (for a more detailed version).

The trick is to think about the content from the audience’s perspective – what’s the best way for them to understand the information? How can you best jog their memory? A cut and paste job might not be the best solution; you may well have to rework some of your material to make it accessible for an audience looking at it a week or two down the line.

We all have a dire recall rate when it comes to new information (see Ebbinghaus’ 1885 research for just how bad), and audiences are no different. Don’t overestimate how much they’ll remember; make your hand-out self-explanatory, accessible and informative.

Should it be paper?

There’s a sort of unwritten assumption that hand-outs have to be hard copy. That’s not the case, and it’s often not the best method of delivery for follow-up content. Paper has its advantages – it’s simple, easy to distribute and reasonably effective. However it is limiting. There is no opportunity to add in any additional material that was covered during the session (an interesting Q&A or an anecdote shared by one of the audience). Secondly, you have no way to track how many people have actually looked at it, whether it has been passed on, or whether it is being ignored. Also, it doesn’t encourage any ongoing interaction – it is a one-off touch point. Finally, despite your best intent – your piece of paper is just another piece of paper: for the most part, hand-outs are left in a drawer and ignored, recycled or lost.

A powerful alternative to the conventional paper hand-out is to use something like Brainshark – an easy-to-use platform that transforms your presentation content into fully-animated videos, complete with narration. It’s a much more engaging, effective way of refreshing your audience’s memories. You simply send out a link by email or host it on your site. People click through and view the content on their PC, tablet or even smartphone. The beauty of Brainshark is that it sits in the cloud so can easily be updated with new material. Viewing figures can be tracked, and reminders can be sent out for those that haven’t yet watched it.

It’s a change to be sure. And you’ll want to address this change when your audience sits down, eager to take home a couple of sheets of A4. However, the benefits are great: they get a more engaging, helpful resource, and you can track its reach, easily refresh the content and measure its success.

Brainshark is one option – but any trackable multimedia platform is a good method for delivering your hand-out. If however, you find this approach a little too much of a stretch, stick with your paper content, but distribute it in a more powerful, helpful way. Instead of printing and handing out your material, save the trees and save it as a pdf, then use an Email Marketing System like MailChimp to distribute it. You might not be able to see the detailed analytics that something like Brainshark can provide, but you’ll still get useful data on who opened your message, and who showed interest in the material – all helpful stuff.

A final word of warning

If you decide to use the good old-fashioned paper method – there’s one critical mistake I’d encourage you to avoid: don’t distribute your hand-out before you start speaking. It’s one of the most common mistakes we see, and it can really negatively impact the audience’s attention level. If you give your audience something to read, they will naturally start to read it. And from that point on, it becomes a struggle for even the best presenter to command the room’s full attention.

Instead, hold off until the end of the session. What you must do, however, is let everyone know that a full handout will be available; otherwise they will panic and spend the entire session making their own notes. You want them attentive and engaged throughout and a little reassurance at the start goes a long way to help ensure that.

Good luck!

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Written by

Kieran Chadha

Managing consultant

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  1. Image of Sam Sam says:

    Kieran, surprise surprise, someone’s commenting on a three year old article! I agree with all of your comments in relation to a live presentation but do you think they apply equally to an eLearning presentation (not a webinar)?
    For instance, I have sometimes used an on-line workbook/journal to encourage audience reflection/journaling/note-taking which some individuals don’t like. It seems that an ‘off-line’ paper version would benefit those who prefer not to leave the current screen or who distrust digital privacy.
    Do you think this would be distracting or does the fact that the individual could pause (be advised) to pause on-line content whilst writing make the difference?

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