Simulation & Gaming:
An Interdisciplinary Journal
Handy Tips For Effective Handouts: Great Materials Make Audience Members
Remember Your Message
By Marjorie Brody
When the presentation or training session ends, does the learning also have to
end? Absolutely not. Yet often, that can happen.
It is critical that presenters use as many of the following five types of
materials for audience members to take home. These items not only help to
remember the speaker and his or her message, but more importantly aid the
participants in continuing their learning. Studies show that people only
remember 10% of what they've heard after several days. An effective handout can
increase this percentage.
What types of materials can be used?
1) Handouts (or workbooks)
Using handouts that allow the audience members to take notes during the
presentation is a great way for them to capture key ideas. When they take notes
in their own words it's more meaningful. Handouts need to be visually
interesting, but have lots of white space for writing.
According to an article in the February 1999 issue of Presentations magazine,
there are five
follow for improving your handouts:
Stay focused on your goal -- always customize your handout around what you are
trying to accomplish.
Avoid an information glut -- avoid the temptation to overload audience members
with information simply because it's possible. As with the presentation itself,
your handout should not include any "data dumps." Delete any material that
does not directly support your message.
Use graphics whenever possible -- any time you can put a graphic in a handout
vs. text do it. People will study a chart or diagram to learn information, but
may skip a detailed explanation of the same data.
Don't be afraid of white space -- wide margins and lots of room for taking
notes is advisable. A good guideline to follow is to fill no more than 2/3 of
the page with words or graphics.
Make sure it looks good -- the appearance of your handout is vital. When
people pick it up, the handout should feel good (paper quality) and look good
(printing or copying quality). A handout can't salvage a horrible presentation,
but a well designed and planned handout can make the difference between a good
presentation and a great one.
2) Laminated book marks or wallet cards (also for use in Day Timers)
These book marks or cards can have key ideas from the program as a reminder for
participants. Be sure to include your name, phone number and other contact
information. Recently I used a series of five small brightly colored cards. Each
had a letter of the alphabet on them -- A through E. On the back of each was
"quick tip" information and bulleted points. On one card I listed my e-mail and
web site addresses.
3) Small gifts or trinkets that are somehow a reminder of the topic.
Giving away a ruler, for example, can remind you of personal growth. A packet of
seeds can be used to convey the thought of seeds for success. I give people a
small candle to remind them of their own star power so they will let their light
shine. Be careful, however, you don't want to go overboard with this sort of
reminder. Any small gifts that you do use should have all your information
listed -- name, phone numbers, address,
4) Books, booklets, audio and videotapes, and software packages are excellent
These learning tools can be a reminder of the information given in your
presentation -- especially if you authored them! Obviously these books, tapes,
etc., can also help promote your services and product sales. Another idea is to
mail these types of learning tools out regularly -- perhaps once a month -- to
audience members so there's continued learning.
5) Newsletters, reminder letters and more tip sheets
Each participant of a Brody Communications Ltd. training program gets our
quarterly newsletter inserted into their manual. Each issue contains an article
written by me that has practical application in the workplace. Presenters also
can use these types of materials by having audience members sign up for a
mailing list and then regularly mailing letters and newsletters to participants
Article copyright© Brody Communications Ltd. 1999
copyright © 2004-2007 by Mary
Bucholtz, University of California, Santa Barbara
Handouts are crucial in linguistic research, so it's important that you master
this discourse genre. Here are some basic guidelines for creating an effective
handout for sociocultural linguistics.
Make people pay attention to the content of the handout, not its appearance
Use only white paper.
Use a readable, ordinary font like Times or Courier. Don't vary fonts (or
font styles or sizes) for design purposes; you may alternate between a text
font and a transcript font, or you may put headings in a different
font/size/style, but make the text as uniform as possible. And bear in mind
that most academics have poor eyesight; use at least 12 point font. If you
want to shrink two portrait pages to fit one landscape page to save space,
enlarge your font accordingly so that the handout text is the equivalent of
Use white space judiciously; don't cram more than you can fit into each
page, and don't leave gaping blank spots. Never double-space a handout.
Make the handout easy to navigate.
Match the handout order to the presentation order. Don't make audience
members flip back and forth between pages (or between handouts; you should
have only one handout for your presentation). If a large transcript or table
won't fit where you want to put it, reduce its size, break it into pieces,
leave white space, or restructure your presentation order. If you have an
extremely long transcript that you are analyzing in detail, you may include
the whole thing in an appendix, but you must repeat the excerpts you analyze
within the main text of the handout.
Double-sided handouts are highly recommended (they're lighter weight and
Always staple multipage handouts, preferably only once, in the upper left
Include page numbers!
During your presentation, guide people through the handout. You may
optionally refer to page/section numbers, but you absolutely must refer to
example numbers, and to line numbers when used.
During your presentation, give people time to digest examples. Ideally play
at least one or two of your examples and read the rest. If you don't have
time to play or read the whole example, try to at least read a piece of it
or mention the key part of it (e.g., "In example (4), first-person pronouns
occur in lines 4 and 19.")
Elements of the handout
This occurs at the top of page 1 (and nowhere else; don't have a header with the
title on every page). This section includes more than the title. You should have
the following information, typically in this order, typically centered (i.e.,
model it on the manuscript of the article that this presentation will eventually
become): title of paper, your name, (your university affiliation and perhaps
department: for conferences, job talks, etc.), your email address. It's a marker
of a newbie to put too much information in the title section; if you want to
include the presentation location (e.g., the conference acronym, such as AAA or
LSA) and date, you can add it in the first page header or below your email
address, but don't list the session title, organizer, etc.
This can vary quite a bit, depending on the nature of your presentation. You can
structure the body using headings and/or an outline format, or if your
presentation is primarily data-driven, you can simply allow readers to follow
along using the example numbers. Don't overstructure your handout; one or two
heading levels is the most you should use.
You can include quotes from other researchers if relevant, but you should not
number them. Cite the author, date, and page number parenthetically, and then
add the full reference in your reference section at the end of the handout.
All data examples should be numbered. Tables and figures should be numbered
separately from data examples. That is, if you have a table that occurs after
data example (4), call it Table 1 and follow it with data example (5). Number
all examples, tables, and figures using Arabic numbers only. By convention, data
examples are usually numbered in parentheses above the data: (1), (2). Don't
write "example" before the example number.
Keep their design simple, and use them only for the presentation of material
that won't work better in a data example or a graphic of some kind (e.g., lists
of discourse markers and their function in the discourse work well in a table;
simple statistics may be best presented in a table, but often a graphic is
better for this purpose). Transcripts should almost never be in tables. All
tables should have clear and informative captions: not "Table 1: Codeswitching"
but "Table 1: Percentage of codeswitching in narrative, by gender." Look at
examples of published tables to find an effective format. Tables are harder to
design than you might think.
Figures include charts and graphics. If you have graphics, make sure they're
clearly visible on the handout. Color graphics are pretty but expensive; a clear
black and white photocopy is usually fine. Like tables, figures should also have
Provide line numbers for transcripts of more than a few lines (typically 5 or so).
Line numbers should be Arabic numbers with no parentheses or periods. Try to
format your numbering so that long lines don't run into the numbering column or
the speaker name column.
1 A: blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah
2 B: blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah.
1 A: blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah
2 B: blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblah.
Include only the text that you absolutely need to make your argument and use
ellipses to mark omitted text; if you need to use a long transcript, highlight
the material under discussion (e.g., underline or boldface, arrow in the margin).
You should list all the transcription conventions you use in the handout, and
only those. To save space, you can simply cite your source for transcription
conventions, if you're using a widely known system like Jefferson's or Du
List only the references mentioned in the presentation (orally or on the handout).
These are usually no more than five or ten for a short talk, or a page for a
13 Best Practice Tips for Effective Presentation Handouts
Your presentation handout is the lasting concrete manifestation of your
presentation. It’s an important part of the total experience for the audience:
But most of us focus on preparing what happens during the
presentation, not what happens afterwards.
Here are the benefits of having handouts:
Benefits for the presenter
They allow you to cut down on the amount of material you cover in your
presentation and so not commit information
They allow you to stop worrying about forgetting
what you want to say.
Audience members will have a concrete reminder making your presentation more
Audience members can easily contact you later.
Benefits for audience members
They allow audience members to relax about having to note down what you’re
If they like taking notes, they’ve got a place to do it.
If they’re inspired by your topic, they’ve got more information on it.
If they want to refresh themselves later on what you covered they’ve got a
place to go.
Tips for Presentation Handouts
1. Prepare your handouts in plenty of time
Don’t leave it till the last moment to create your handout. I’ve been guilty
of this. We’re most concerned about the actual presentation and not
making a fool of ourselves up
on the stage so you work on what you’re going to say and the slides, and then
30 mins before your presentation you realise you should have a handout and
hurriedly put something together. Handouts are much too important to be
relegated to an afterthought.
2. Don’t just print out your slides
This is lazy and not effective. If your slides are bullet-point
slides (not recommended) then
they will often be cut-down sentences which will no longer make sense to the
reader a week later. And if they are visual
slides (recommended) then
they’re also unlikely to make sense without additional text. If you’re
presenting with visual PowerPoint slides, one of the easiest ways of creating
a handout is to type the text of the handout in the “Notes” pane of the
PowerPoint edit screen. Then print your slides as “Notes”. You’ll have an
3. Ensure your handout reflects your presentation
An audience member should be able to relate the handout to the presentation
they’ve just attended. If you use the Notes pane of PowerPoint as I’ve
suggested above this will happen naturally as you’ll be guided by the visuals
you’re using in the presentation. You handout should have the same title
as your presentation and should
follow the samestructure so
that audience members can easily find the information they want.
4. Add more information
Presentations are not a
good format for transferring
a lot of information. However, they are good for inspiring people to find
out more about a topic. That extra information can be in the handout. And if
you’re the sort of person who wants to tell the audience everything you know
about the topic… you can put it in the handout.
5. Include references
If you’re citing research do include the references in the handout. For most
presentations (scientific presentations to a scientific audience would be an
exception), don’t clutter up your presentation or your slides with references.
But do be able to say: “The reference for this research is in your handout.”
Let your audience know where they can find out more: books, websites, blogs
6. Consider creating an action sheet
Handouts are a great place to help people put ideas from your presentation
into action. You could either list a series of actions that people can take,
or provide a worksheet that people fill in on what actions they will take as a
result of your presentation. Have people fill in the action sheet near the end
of your presentation.
7. Make your handout stand-alone
The handout may be passed onto people who were not at your presentation. Or an
audience member may look at it a year from now when they’ve forgotten most of
your presentation. Make sure that it will make sense to them. For people who
weren’t present include brief credibility-establishing information about you.
8. Provide white space
Some people like to take notes during a presentation. Provide plenty of white
space (or even some blank pages at the back) so that they can take notes on
the handout and so keep all the information related to your presentation in
9. Make your handout look professional
The handout is the concrete reminder of your presentation. It may also get
passed onto other people who were not at your presentation. So it should
enhance the perception people have of you:
Have someone proofread it
Create a consistent look and feel with your brand (this may include a logo
10. Consider what additional resources you can provide for your audience
You’re not limited to paper. My bioethics teacher friend who presents at
bioethics and education conferences across the globe provides each of her
attendees with a DVD with lesson plans and resources.
11. Consider creating a webpage
Cliff Atkinson suggests creating a “home page” for your presentation in his
Backchannel. If you don’t have a website, you could create a squidoo
lens or a Facebook
Fan page. Or if you’d like to do more than that, create a wiki website (try pbworks orwikispaces)
or use blog software.
Both of these can be done for free and just a little technical courage (techphobics
shouldn’t try this). All of these options allow readers to comment on what
you’ve written, so it’s a great way of continuing the conversation with
audience members. For instance, audience members can ask you questions they
weren’t able to ask at the time.
If you decide to go the web way, you can cut down the hard copy handout to one
page with the most important points from your presentation, your contact
details and the web address.
12. Distribute the handout at the beginning of your presentation
This is a perennial topic of debate amongst presenters. Some people
are concerned that if they distribute the handout first, people will stop
listening and start leafing through it. The problem here is not the handout,
it’s that your presentation
is not engaging enough.
Not distributing it till after the presentation suggests that you
think you know best how people should pay attention to your information. Let
your audience decide for themselves.
Recent research suggests
that providing handouts to university students before the lecture does not
harm their learning.
Update: In the comments to
this post, Cathy
Slater and Adam
Lawrencehave identified three good reasons for distributing your handout
after your presentation. I’ve highlighted these reasons in a new post: Three
good reasons to distribute your handout after your presentation.
13. Do tell people if it’s not in the handout
Finally, if you go off on a tangent in reply to a question, do let them know
that the answer is not in the handout.