Presentation Skills:
Effective Use of the Hand Out



Using handouts effectively is one of the presentation skills you should not miss…

Have you ever missed the first few minutes of a speaker's presentation because you were occupied with looking through her handout? That's a typical problem that many of us have experienced. For many presenters the handout is essential for audience understanding, yet it is also one of the biggest sources of distraction during the presentation. How can we use handouts effectively in a presentation?

Ideally, tell your listeners at the beginning of the presentation that they will receive a complete handout on the presentation, product, or idea at the end of the speech and follow through with that plan. Realistically, this often can’t happen because the reason for the handout is to assist the audience in understanding the content of your presentation! They may need it while you are speaking. Assuming this is the case, here are some tips on how to best use the handout during the presentation so there is minimum distraction.

Only distribute materials that are needed at a given place in the speech. Handing out materials in sections will limit the audience from perusing parts of the handout that do not relate to what you are discussing. This method can also help in keeping the audience listening to you instead of daydreaming or thinking of their own plans after the speech.

Color-code materials which you want the audience to examine. Tell them to go immediately to the part underlined in blue, for example, possibly identifying the coded material by page number. Usually audience members will do what the speaker tells them, especially if the directions are very specific and prescriptive.

Include in the handout blanks for audience members to complete. We like to fill in blanks. Jeopardy! is one of the longest running television shows because audience members like to fill in the blanks as the contestants answer questions. If we see a blank on a handout we will listen so we can write in the answer or the appropriate statistic. If your presentation includes the cost of something, leave that amount blank and share it only when you want the audience to know what it is. They will listen for it because of their curiosity. Curiosity about the missing information will overcome a lot of the distractions handouts can cause when audience members have them during the presentation.

Whatever methods you use, be sure to have others pass the materials to the audience for you. Have them collated by table or row to insure easy and smooth distribution.

Handouts can be an aid and not a distraction when handled well.

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About the author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or visit http://www.sboyd.com.


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