As the tech revolution took over, many of us
dreamed of the paperless meeting, at which all seminar notes and
speaker information would be distributed electronically. The
reality, of course, is quite different and evident in the piles of
handouts meeting planners still need to leave around for
A prevalent concern when offering seminar notes or printouts of
PowerPoint slides is that people may feel they can forego hearing
the speaker. The other risk is getting people so engrossed in the
handout that they fail to pay attention to the beginning of the
presentation. Still, handouts often are a necessary evil. Here are
suggestions for making maximum use of the paper flood.
Ideally, to avoid distractions and to keep from interrupting the
flow of the presentation, handouts should be provided at the
program’s end, but that is not often practical. To time it right,
think about how the room will be set up and how many people will
attend the seminar.
Coping with a crowd. If the group is large,
you might want to place the outline on each seat before the
participants arrive. This will prevent a line from forming at
tables set up in the back.
If the speaker has a good reason to pass the materials out
during the program, count how many chairs are in each row or how
many chairs are around each table, and collate the papers by those
numbers. Have some assistants from the audience or your
organization ready to pass them out at your signal. Ask the speaker
not to cover any critical information while the materials are in
the process of being distributed.
More intimate settings. For a smaller group or
in a typical classroom setting, handouts can be passed out on a
need-to-know basis as the speaker works through the material. This
technique will keep the participants from jumping ahead; it takes
more time, however, and can sometimes disrupt the pacing of a
Go to page two. Having the presenter provide
specific instructions on how to view the handout keeps attendees
from browsing through the pages. If the speaker finishes using the
handout before the end of the session, have him tell the audience
to put the materials aside.
Information for dummies. Handouts should provide clear
information that is easily absorbed. Material that is complex or
uses a specialized jargon needs to be supplemented by the speaker’s
explanation from the dais.
Go with the flow. Attendees should be able to
follow the handout and the presentation simultaneously. One trick
is to leave spaces in the material for the audience to fill in.
This works well when financial data or statistical information is
involved. Filling in the blanks engages the audience.
Another trick is to print only phrases or key words that the
speaker will explain during the program; the audience will take
notes on the broader explanation and get a better grasp of the
Get them to look up. Make sure the handouts
don’t dominate the presentation. Visuals or slides require the
listener to look up at the presenter or the screen.
Find an editor. Have someone proofread the
handout to avoid grammatical errors and misspellings. Such gaffes
can distract the reader and damage your credibility.
Keeping audience members interested and focused is hard enough
when there is no handout to distract them. By incorporating some of
the above suggestions, the material will help attendees take the
program home with them and remember its key parts months later.