Surviving Handout Hell with Rick Altman

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Have you ever fallen prey to the conventional wisdom of printing slides to create a handout. Then this lively and interactive webinar with presentation specialist and author, Rick Altman is for you!

If the most annoying trait of all PowerPoint users is placing too much text on a slide (and it is), the leading cause of this offense is the printout. If you harbor the belief that you can create a slide that will be effective as your live visual and as your printed handout, this session attempts to disabuse you of that misguided notion. Responsible presentation designers must separate the tasks of creating visuals for their live presentation and creating printed handouts. In so doing, they distinguish themselves from 99% of everyone creating slides today.

Highlights include:

  •  How to move away from the Print button
  • Did you know that PowerPoint has a Handout master?
  • Too bad it’s useless for this purpose Learn how to create two documents within one PowerPoint file




He is one of the most prominent commentators in the presentation community today. Rick is the author of 15 books. He is the host of the Presentation Summit, the internationally-acclaimed learning event for presentation professionals.  An avid sportsman, he was not a good enough tennis player to make it onto the professional tour. All the rest of this has been his Plan B.

The Secrets to Great PowerPoint Handouts

PowerPoint handouts help people to remember a presentation. But too often, presenters distribute handouts that are totally useless. Here’s how to change that.

Traditionally, handouts were printed from the Handout View in PowerPoint and looked like this:

Boring handout

This layout allows the audience to write notes for each slide. The little slide icons help people to remember the presentation. But these kind of handouts pose a big problem for presenters.

The Biggest Problem With Handouts

The biggest problem with handouts is that they’re often distributed before presentations. You might think that you’re doing your audience a favor by giving them something to write on, but you’re actually helping to distract them. People probably won’t be using your handouts to write one note at a time per slide. Instead, they’ll be flipping forward and backward, reading upcoming slides and referring to ones you’ve already shown.

They’ll be critiquing your designs while you’re talking and they’ll be reading any slides with complicated tables, graphs, or dense blocks of text. In short, you’re setting yourself up to be ignored.

The Second Biggest Problem with Handouts

If you’re creating the kind of theatrical PowerPoint presentations that use lots of full-screen images, animations, videos, and transitions your deck could contain lots of slides. That makes for a giant handout, much of which will be useless for note-taking because some slides only appear for a few seconds or contain videos.

Plus, slides with lots of animation don’t make good icons, since the animated elements look like they’re on top of each other. Sounds like a huge waste of paper to me.

Handouts as References, Not Notepaper

Because presentations are an experience, an intangible thing, they fade from memory over time. Handouts are a great way for people to remember what was said and can be referred to time and time again. We need to look at handouts differently and stop using the traditional format.

Believe it or not, people are still capable of taking notes during a presentation, whether it’s on paper or using a laptop. They don’t necessarily need a picture of your slide to remind them of what you were talking about. If they do, more often than not they’ll just snap one using their smartphones.

Increasing Audience Participation: Encourage the audience to take notes

This might be a novel thing for younger people or those who are used to receiving handouts as they enter the room. You should assure your audience that handouts will be provided that contain all sorts of information, including details about your presentation, ways to contact you, any websites you may have talked about, etc. Also mention that people might remember things better if they’re written in their own words.

During your presentation, choose one or more points that you want to emphasize, and ask your audience specifically to write it down. By stopping your presentation and asking people to take notes, you’ll get their attention and focus them on what you’re saying.

Change Your Handout Format

The most effective way for you to control your message after your presentation is to create handouts that reinforce it. So make sure that your Speaker Notes are detailed and contain all of the information you want people to remember, because you’ll need them to create your handouts. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click on the File tab. Click on Save & Send, select “Create Handouts” (the last entry in the Save & Send column), then click on the Create Handouts button in the next column.Save & Send screen
  2. In the next window that appears, select “Notes below slides” then click OK.
    Notes below slides window
  3. Watch in amazement as Word automatically launches and formats your handouts! Here’s an example from the previous presentation:great handout

The best part about creating handouts this way is that now you have a Word document that you can edit as you like. You can delete slides that work for the presentation but don’t work for print, edit images and text, add hyperlinks or QR codes, etc. Do whatever you think will help your audience remember your message and make it easy to connect with you!

When you’re done editing your handout, go to File > Save & Send > Create PDF/XPS Document to publish your handouts as a PDF file.

Distribute Handouts After Your Presentation

After you wrap up your presentations, you should make your handouts available to your audience. But should you print them out or go paperless? You’ll need to determine which format is right for you. Here are a few pros and cons of each method.

Hard-Copy Handout

Bring a stack of hard-copy handouts to your presentation then hand them out at the end. On the plus side, your audience receives them right away and you get a good idea of how thoroughly they’ve been distributed. But they can be expensive to print and people might not take them, leaving you with a big pile of paper to get rid of.

Electronic Handout

Before your presentation, post your handout PDFs on your own website or using a cloud service such as Dropbox. Include a link to the file on your final slide so that people can download your handout. There are several advantages to providing electronic handouts: For one, they’re free! It’s possible to distribute a limitless number of handouts electronically.

PDF files are searchable and can contain interactive elements. and electronic handouts are “green” because you aren’t printing something that may end up in a landfill. On the other hand the audience may not take the extra step of downloading your handouts.

About the Author:

Laura Foley is a graphic designer and creative thinker who enables her clients to communicate effectively with their presentations. She specializes in Cheating Death by PowerPoint, transforming PowerPoint decks into dynamic marketing tools through training, consulting, and presentation design. Laura has helped people in organizations in a wide variety of fields, from high-tech to consumer products to higher education. For more information, visit

13 Best Practice Tips for 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 only on preparing what happens during the presentation, not what happens afterwards.

Here are some tips for creating good 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 we work on what we’re going to say and the slides, and then 30 minutes 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 effective handout.

3) Ensure Your Handout Reflects Your Presentation

Audience members 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. Your handout should have the same title as your presentation and should follow the same structure 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 etc.

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 Hand-Out 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 some 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 one place.

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 and colors)


10) Consider What Additional Resources You Can Provide 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 featuring lesson plans and resources.

11) Consider Creating a Web Page

Cliff Atkinson suggests creating a “home page” for your presentation in his book The 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 or wikispaces) 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 until 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.

Note: Readers have since pointed out three 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.

About the Author:

Olivia Mitchell is a presentation skills trainer and blogger. Visit her blog Speaking about Presenting for many more valuable presentation tips.

Solving the Handout Dilemma

Most of you know the dilemma. You’re trying to save time by creating PowerPoint slides that also double as handouts for your audience. But the problem is the best presentation visuals usually make the worst handouts, since they use short, pithy bullet points that serve as memory prompts, not as teleprompter text. Such slides don’t have sufficient detail to make for good audience take-aways.

But there is a solution — the Notes Master in PowerPoint. In his webinar last month for PresentationXpert readers, titled Survival Skills for Overcoming Death by PowerPoint, presentation skill trainer Rick Altman demonstrated how you can use the Notes feature as a shortcut for creating quality handouts, saving time and ensuring you create two distinct documents. For more detail on the approach, click here to view Rick’s recorded webinar.

Viewing your projected content and your printed or “leave behind” content as two different animals will ensure you meet audience needs on two distinct but equally important levels.

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