I had a college professor who loved handouts. Everything from the syllabus to the study guides came printed and was delivered at the start of every lesson. By the end of the semester, I had a binder full of handouts that was a nightmare to open, let alone study. I still remember sitting on my dorm room floor with handouts everywhere trying desperately to create a timeline of the class and sort out what information I would need for the final exam. But something interesting happened with that class… I got the highest final exam grade of my entire college career.
It turns out my ability to excel on my final exam after a semester of handouts is far more common than I had thought. In fact, studies show that hand writing increases memory and retention of information and the fill in the blank handouts had forced me to do just that. My professor was on to something, which is why as a presenter we must learn when and how to use handouts to our advantage.
When to use a handout.
Let’s start by tackling the question of when handouts should be used. Not all audiences warrant a handout. For example, if you are speaking to a room full of elementary or middle school students, the less objects of distraction, the better (or you’ll be cleaning paper off the floor for hours!). However, if you’re speaking to a room full of adults, a handout could be just what you need to keep them listening and engaging with what you have to say.
At Ethos3, we recommend using a handout for a heavily data-based presentation. This tool allows your audience to see the key information about the data you are presenting which will help the information stick. We also recommend using handouts when your presentation has clear takeaways and points. Allowing your audience to write down these points will help them retain and implement the ideas later.
How to use a handout.
Now that we’ve talked about when a handout should be used, let’s look at how to use them. There are many different styles of handouts ranging from fill in the blank all the way to strictly information based. Selecting the right style of handout is a vital step in using them effectively. Keep in mind that science shows it’s important to have your audience actually write something down if you want them to have retention; using a fully filled in handout may turn into a paper airplane, so make sure you provide opportunities for the audience to jot down their own notes.
At Ethos3, we recommend the fill-in-the-blank option for presentation handouts. This allows your audience to follow along with your presentation, hand write information for increased retention, and have an understanding of what they deem as important. With this style, you must be strategic with what information you leave blank. Leave too many blank spaces, and your audience won’t be able to follow along; leave too few blank spaces, and they will feel like the handout is not important. We recommend leaving key statistics as well as 2 or 3 words in key points blank to keep your audience engaged and paying attention.
It is important to note that as a presenter, you must acknowledge where the fill ins should go and give your audience time to write them down. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a frustrated crowd who missed more of your information than they gathered.
When I got my final exam grade, I was shocked. I studied the same, got the same amount of sleep, and ate the same breakfast. The only difference was the three-ring binder full of handouts I had taken. Clearly writing information down had made it stick in my mind more than I ever even realized, and the same is true for your next presentation. Leveraging the use of a handout could change the game for your audience and the amount of information they understand and remember.
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