Focus on handouts.

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People attending a presentation usually come with the expectation of walking away with something in their hands. From a marketing point of view, the speaker must provide the audience with relevant material while interest is high, i.e., before, during or at the end of the presentation.

If the speaker reaches 100% of the people present by providing them with a handout or a worksheet there and then, the majority of them will have a second look at the material at some later point. If the speaker refers them to a site where they can access or download the material at a later stage, only a few dedicated ones will invest in the extra time and effort required. If you ask them to email you requesting the handout or the worksheet, chances are that no one will.

Two important questions arise: How many copies do you prepare and who bears the cost? Unless this is a closed meeting with a highly specified audience there is no way of telling how many you need. Furthermore, it is easy to ask the organizers to bear the cost; however, this may seem unprofessional on your part in a business setting.

Since most people today carry either a smartphone or a tablet, and venues offer WiFi internet access, the solution is a halfway house between a hard copy and a digital version. Ask those in the audience who can, to download the file from the designated location while you distribute hard copies to those who cannot (or do not want to!).

There are specific advantages to providing your audience with a digital copy of your handout but this must be planned meticulously and with great caution. Most importantly, as with all things digital, there should always be a Plan B. More on that later.

Why do we produce additional materials for your audience?

In this day and age, we need to satisfy the following needs:

  • Address specific learning modalities: i.e., offer opportunities for practice that are suitable for a variety of learning styles and intelligences.
  • Complement the source material and aims: i.e., move from the general to the specific, from a global to a local setting and context.
  • Introduce variety and creativity: i.e., combat boredom that comes from repetition and predictability, and enhance motivation in all stakeholders.
  • Adapt content and specifications to audience requirements, which, in turn, leads to personalization of communication, i.e., make the message relevant and accessible.

Any one of the reasons above, or any combination of these reasons, describe handouts or worksheets that match the following characteristics: suitability, localization, motivation, relevance, accessibility, participation.

Audience and worksheet relations revisited.

Once the characteristics of worksheets have been reaffirmed, we need to consider the key relation between the listener and the material itself, in the sense that it is unique and exclusive. The specific material is aimed at the specific audience. This realization helps the members in your audience to assume ownership of the message communicated; it puts them in the driver’s seat. Although mass personalisation is a much broader concept, it revolves around three key components [1]:

  • Effective Presentation and Engagement Strategies: How and when are individual needs taken into consideration? How and when are presenters and listeners made aware of them?
  • Content Entitlement and Choice: How does the goal of the particular worksheet or handout relate to the set of goals set by the presenter? How does the particular worksheet or handout relate to the expectations of the audience?
  • Help and Guidance: How do handouts facilitate comprehension and progression? How do handouts enhance the presentation experience?


We need to remind ourselves and our audiences of the practical aims of worksheets. Specifically [2], handouts are commonly used to:

  • Remind: provide an outline or a transcript of a particular presentation.
  • Review and revise: provide an opportunity for interaction between the audience and the content, the audience and the presenter or between groups of members in the audience.
  • Practice and consolidate: provide additional comprehension opportunities of a personalized nature to individual members or groups of members in the audience, depending on their priorities or needs.
  • Supplement: provide additional materials either expanding on what your listeners are initially exposed to, or offering further guidelines for information that may interest the individual, etc.
  • Reflect: extend what has been presented by guiding or enabling the listeners to revisit specific areas of interest.
  • Visualise information: provide systematic suggestions on how any given piece of information can be presented for the benefit of individual members of the audience.
  • Guide: provide a plan of what our listeners are to expect during the presentation and how they can approach each step effectively.
  • Lead and control: model the presentation process by indicating what skills and strategies are needed, where and when they need to be applied, etc.
  • Record, transform and modify information: provide a framework that will help your audience to realize the aim of a particular presentation stage; how it relates to other stages they have been exposed to, etc.

Important implications.

A handout prepared to be used during a presentation must reflect the goal, structure and content of that talk. In addition it must have a clear aim which is easily identifiable:

  • To help the listener keep notes;
  • To provide information that will not be mentioned during the talk;
  • To provide the input of group discussion;
  • To provide an outline of the talk so participants can keep notes;
  • To provide reference points.

Speakers must take into consideration the information and experience derived from handout use. Feedback should be encouraged by the presenter so that a handout provides learning opportunities for all stakeholders. This can be achieved during the question and answer phase of your talk, through a short questionnaire, or during interaction between the speaker and audience at the end of the presentation.

It is also important to remember that in addition to the theoretical constructs that can be used in the design and development of a worksheet and the aims that underlie its production, appearance should not be neglected. As a rule of thumb, the following points are applicable in most cases [3]:

  1. Accuracy: Check your facts. Worksheets, whether electronic or printed, reflect the care and dedication that the author has put into them.
  2. Brevity: Include only essential details. Remember the reasons why this handout is introduced and make the aim immediately identifiable.
  3. Clarity: Make certain that the information in the worksheet is easily understood. Handouts are there to assist in the process, not to confuse the user.
  4. Emphasis: Handouts are an extension of the presentation experience. They are not an end in themselves. They serve a purpose and this purpose should never be forgotten. They complement the process; they are not a substitute.
  5. Feedback: Encourage feedback about worksheets and handouts from the users. Talk with them about their effectiveness, their layout, their content. This can be an explicit or implicit procedure. You can ask a direct question or you can move about among your audience and observe how much care and engagement they afford them.


As the use of presentation software becomes more widespread, electronic worksheets start replacing hard copies. This fact allows for two possibilities: they can be distributed and changed faster than ever before and members of the audience and presenters can create and access them from almost any point inside or outside the room, at any given time on a number of devices, e.g., a Laptop, a Tablet or a Smartphone.

Users can personalize them with equal ease and speed to match their particular needs before, during or after the presentation. A worksheet can be made available to participants beforehand so they prepare for the presentation. During a presentation, participants can use their device to keep notes, highlight or modify the handout as they see fit. After the presentation they can use the handout to provide the presenter with comments and suggestions about the content and the effectiveness of the presentation itself.

In practical terms, worksheets and handouts – whatever their form – are still subject to the three P’s: Plan, Prepare and Present. In particular, we need to remind ourselves – and our audience – of the following principles [4]:

[1] A National Conversation about Personalised Learning, 2004, Department for Education and Skills, Available from:, [Accessed December 12, 2011]

[2] Hayes, T. and Pugsley, L. How to Design and Develop Handouts, University of Cardiff, Wales College of Medicine, Available from:, [Accessed December 19, 2011]

[3] Adapted from McShane, D. 2009 Presenting Information Visually, Westminster Exchange, University of Westminster, [Accessed October 12, 2012]

[4] Adapted from Teaching Effectiveness Program, Teaching and Learning Center, Available from, [Accessed November 28, 2011]