How Speakers Should Handle Handouts

Handout are handy, but when should you give them out?
Handout are handy, but when should you give them
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As a speaker the one thing that we want to accomplish during every speech that we give is to make an impression on our audience. We’d like to be able to convince them of the importance of public speaking and share with them some ideas that they can take with them and use even after our speech is over and done with. In order to make this happen we sometimes provide our audience with a handout. This is where things can start to get very confusing very quickly…

Are Handouts Good Or Bad?

Among speakers there are differing opinions regarding handouts. The biggest problem seems to be the fact that if you hand your audience something to look at besides looking at you, they just might spend the rest of your speech reading the handout and not listening to you!

There are speakers who simply take the PowerPoint or Keynote slides that they are presenting, print them out, and then hand them out to their audience before their speech. I think that this is a bad idea – why should I listen to you if I have a copy of everything that you are going to be telling me. Yes, you might add some detail, but probably not enough to really matter – I can now skip your speech and go do something else without having to worry about missing anything important.

What we all need to keep in mind for any presentation is that the most powerful visual aid that we have available is ourselves. This means that the one thing that we don’t want to have happen is to provide our audience with an opportunity to keep their heads down during our speech. There is a good chance that given the opportunity, the audience will be racing ahead of us a couple of slides in the handout no matter how fast we talk!

How Best To Hand Out Handouts

Ok, so if just giving your audience a copy of all of your slides is the wrong thing to do, what is the right thing to do? How about if you go through the deck of slides that you’ll be presenting and find the ones that have the most information on them. These are often flow charts or checklists. Print out the 4 or 5 slides that will provide real value to your audience and make these the handouts that are given to the audience.

Instead of handing your audience the entire set of handouts before you start to speak, enlist a helper and when you get to a point in your speech where a handout will be helpful, have your assistant distribute it then. This way you’ll prevent your audience from spending their time reading ahead.

Finally, the one thing that you don’t want have happen is for your handouts to give away all of your secrets. Instead, remove valuable information from your handouts and leave blank spaces there. Then when you are speaking, provide the information that goes into those spaces. Your audience will pay attention to you and then they’ll write it down in order to capture your words. What a great way to learn!

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers we want to change the world with every speech that we give — this is one of the benefits of public speaking. In order to make this happen, we need to provide our audiences with information that they can remember and start to use. Providing them with a handout might do the trick, but it comes with its own set of hazards.

One of the problems with handouts is that it can cause your audience to spend time reading the handouts and not paying attention to your speech. You can solve this by limiting the number of handouts that you provide and leaving important information off of them so that they will have to listen to you to get what they need.

I believe that a handout is a great idea. This way your audience doesn’t have to be scrambling for a scrap of paper to write your best ideas down on. However, you need to think about how your handouts are going to be used and make sure that they are a tool that will help you in your goal of keeping your audience’s attention for your entire speech.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the maximum number of handouts that you should provide to an audience is?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In order to make sure that your next speech has as much impact on your audience as is possible, it turns out that there is one more thing that you need to be thinking about: seating. I realize that all too often we speakers show up to deliver our speech and we discover a room that has already been set up – despite the importance of public speaking, we don’t have any say in the matter. Guess what – how the room is set up matters and so you need to start to speak up early in order to make sure that the room is not working against you!