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How to Create an Effective Presentation Handout [Template]

The Sinister Role of the Presentation Handout

Here's a bold statement: I believe that the printable presentation handout is the root cause of why audiences around the world are falling asleep during presentation meetings.

Don't believe me? Consider the following:

During my signature presentation myth-busting keynote, “Get Their Attention”, I expose my audience to the “One Idea Per Slide” philosophy used by renowned presentation experts such as Garr Reynolds, Nancy Duarte, and Guy Kawasaki. The purpose of this is to break the common pattern of packing slides with bullet points.

Why? Because during a live presentation, the human brain is only able to comprehend one idea at a time and quickly loses attention when barraged with tons of bullet points. This inevitably leads to a slide deck that is much more effective for a live presentation, but also, much longer.

There is one question I am reliably asked where I know my response will raise eyebrows:

How do you handle presentation handouts? I can’t send out a 120-slide deck with one word per slide as a presentation handout for the people who weren’t there…”

And they're right. I understand the pain and suffering behind this question all too well. And this question represents a key link in the chain of presentation abuse I've observed working in corporate organizations for over ten years.

Consequently, my audience is never quite ready for my answer, which is:

Lea Pica - Presentation Handouts - Scared Woman

I never, ever distribute my live presentation slides as a handout after a presentation. EVER.

Cue confused / perturbed stares / pitchforks.

Yes, I know. There are people that didn’t attend the meeting that need to know what went down. And there were people at the meeting who want to review what they learned. You have to send something after the meeting.

I don’t disagree. I just don’t send my live slides as a presentation handout.  I can explain with a brief story.

An Unexpected Presentation Handout Lesson from Seth Godin

When you’re a digital marketer and presentation junkie, watching Seth Godin present to an intimate audience of 100 is as close to a professional religious experience as you can get.

I was gifted such a privilege while attending the 2013 ClickTale Forum. Amongst a stellar speaker lineup, it was Godin the Great who truly stole the show with his musings on the death of mass marketing and the birth of the individualized tribe.

As the iridescent gold dust settled from his talk, I was shocked when they opened it for Q&A. I could not conceive of an elevated enough question to ask this god of the stage.

Someone else believed they did. A young gentleman in the front excitedly raised his hand, summoned the attention of Lord Godin and queried,

“Will you send us your presentation slides?”

Plates crashed, cars screeched to a halt. A nervous titter ran through the audience, and I observed Seth’s curious expression and pregnant pause. He may as well have asked Seth to please pass the jelly.

It was not an unusual question; it’s been asked in every meeting, conference presentation, workshop, and webinar I’ve ever attended.

But I knew in that moment his question had broken The First Rule of Slide Club: You Don’t Ask Seth Godin to Send You His Slides.

Seth’s response was so spot-on that it became a teachable moment for all in the audience. He said something to the effect of, “I don’t send people my slides. Without me, you wouldn’t have any idea what they mean. I am your guide.”


[box type=”download”] Don't forget to download my free Practical + Perfect Presentation Handout Template at the end of this post![/box]

Why I Avoid Emailing My Presentation Slides

Here’s the rationale behind our presentation handout philosophy, pure and simple: when you create one document to serve both your live attendees and your email recipients, you underserve both audiences.

A well-designed live presentation deck needs you to guide the audience through your narrative. But the better you’ve designed your live slides, the less sense they will make to an offline audience.

On the flipside, an overcrowded, text-heavy presentation handout will lose your audience’s attention and sacrifice their live experience.

And for me, the priority is on the live presentation because that is where you truly get to shine as a partner with your teams and clients.

Unfortunately, we, as a (busy / overworked / over capacity) collective corporate community have succumbed to sending a rushed copy of text-heavy presentation slides as standard practice.

This middle-of-the-road report is what presentation deity Garr Reynolds has coined “The Slideument”. He explains in his ground-breaking presentation bible, Presentation Zen:

“Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing…the slideument isn’t effective, and it isn’t efficient, and it isn’t pretty. Attempting to have slides serve as both projected visuals and as stand-alone handouts makes for bad visuals and bad documentation.”

~ Garr Reynolds

And here is his rationale for the dual-document doctrine:

“If you create a proper handout as a leave-behind for your presentation during the preparation phase, then you will not feel compelled to say everything about your topic in your talk. Preparing a proper document…frees you to focus on what is most important for your particular audience on your particular day.”

~ Garr Reynolds

Fellow presentation guru Nancy Duarte of Duarte agrees eloquently in her incredible book slide:ology:

“The audience will either read your slides or listen to you. They will not do both. So ask yourself this: is it more effective if they listen, or more effective if they read?”

~ Nancy Duarte

In fact, Nancy quotes Seth Godin in her book on the peril of presenting slideuments to a live audience:

Lea Pica - Presentation Handouts - Seth Godin Quote
“Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view…if all you want to do is create a file of fact or figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.” ~ Seth Godin

And there it comes full circle. And it is for these reasons why I send two documents: one tailored for my live show, and one for my no-shows.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

Lea Pica - Presentation Handouts - Ain't Nobody Got Time For That

I know you're buried in mountains of number crunching and unreasonable deadlines. But fear not young grasshopper; I wouldn’t drop this conventional-busting philosophy on you without a practical solution.

By carving out just 30 – 45 minutes of your time to create both deliverables well, your hard work will make inroads in your career path you wouldn’t see otherwise.

Thus, what follows is my step-by-step, unpatented, top-secret, have-to-kill-you-now blueprint for creating a separate presentation handout with less than an hour of rework in PowerPoint.

The Practical Presentation Handout Solution

I know you’re balking at the idea of creating two separate documents. But, I never said you were creating them both from scratch.

That’s why I decided to create a technique for creating both from the same live presentation document.

This approach leverages a technique I use well before the presentation, during the brainstorming and design process. When I’m laying out my content flow in Google Slides (after first brainstorming on Post-It notes), I dictate my talking points into the Notes box of each PowerPoint slide.

I dictate my speaking points in a professional yet approachable manner, like a conversation instead of an academic lecture. Which…is how I like to speak to my audiences, large or small.

I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software to do this (an INSANELY useful application). But, I also use the microphone on my Evernote app to dictate notes as well.

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Dictate Speaking Notes into Evernote

You can also simply type your speaking notes into each box; just make sure to use a conversational manner. These notes come in very handy when rehearsing my presentation, and for guiding me during my live show if I’m able to use Presenter View.

But the cherry on top is that once I’ve delivered the presentation, my live speaking notes become the narrative guide for my handout recipients.

This is one example of how there’s no wasted work in my process; how I craft my live story in the very beginning becomes the story for those who couldn’t be there. It is an efficient technique that saves me loads of time while walking the two document line.

P.S. – This technique leverages the Notes View of PowerPoint. DO NOT use the Handouts view. The Handouts view is so lousy for handouts, it should be sent to the corner.

Ready? Let’s go!

How To Create The Perfect Presentation Handout

In your PowerPoint presentation, open your Notes Master. The Notes Master controls global formatting for your Notes Pages the same way the Slide Master controls your slides.

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Notes Master

The Notes Master is similar to the Slide Master (your time-saving best friend) in that you can change the font family, color and size. You can also adjust the size of the slide on the Notes Pages and change page orientation. 

Here is also where you can add your company logo to every slide to comply with corporate information distribution policies. Here, and only here (NOT on your live slides, please).

However, the Notes Master is quite unlike the Slide Master in that you have few formatting options outside of what I've mentioned. Although you can visibly add shapes and lines, or remove the slide border in the Notes Master, the changes will not show on your Notes Pages. A bit of false advertising, but you can always add those elements to the individual Notes Pages.

Next, enable page numbers if they aren't already. Only in the case of handouts and phone-only presentations do I recommend page numbers.

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Customize Notes Master

Now, we’re going to refine every slide into a handout page. Click “Close Master” and go to the first slide, then go to View → Notes Page.

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Customize Notes Page

For every slide, format the notes you wrote using bold, numbered lists, and here, bullet points are ok. Make it narrative, for the readers' benefit. Remember, you are not there to guide them, so write your notes in a professional yet conversational manner.

Feel free to remove some slides (like section headers) if a separate printed page won’t provide any value.

Consolidate some slides if you feel a single idea is too sparse for one slide. Let's say you have three slides using the same chart because you have three separate insights to present. Remember, you want to pace your live audience one idea at a time. Example below:

Lea Pica - Practical Perfect Presentation Handouts - One Idea Per Slide

For the handout, I can consolidate and add number annotations to take them through corresponding points in my notes without using up 3 whole pages. See the Notes Pages view below:

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Annotate Notes View

Note: all of the extra images and annotations you add to the Notes Page will only display in Notes view.

When you’re finished, go to Print → Print to PDF → Print Layout → select Notes Pages.

Lea Pica - Perfect Presentation Handouts - Printing Notes View

You're done! It will take a few tries to get the final product right, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never sweat the handout request again!

Download Your Free Presentation Handout Template

Because you're the bees knees, I'm giving you my free Practical + Perfect Presentation Handout Template which will walk you through all of these steps.

Click the image below to grab your copy:

Download a Free Presentation Handout Template Example - Lea Pica

Final Thoughts on Presentation Handouts

I hope this post provided just one solution to this age-old dilemma. I’m by no means saying it’s THE best way; this process is not set-it-and-forget-it and does require some extra time and thought.

But it is a practical, repeatable method that takes advantage of several built-in steps in my trusted presentation handout process.

I’ve experienced excellent results using this method with my clients and teams who were unable to join, without sacrificing the live concert experience for those who were. I've also used this to create conference presentation handouts for session attendees to great effect.

This post was inspired by a recent post on presentation handout philosophy by my friend Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic of Storytelling With Data, where she shares some helpful tips for creating a presentation handout.

And considering how pervasive this dilemma is for practitioners and professional speakers, it is most definitely time for that.

Will you try creating a separate presentation handout?

Photo Credits:
Seth Godin

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