Add Value to Your Presentations with Audience Handouts

By Robert W. Bly

When speaking to a group, must you have a leave-behind handout? For a keynote to a large audience at a conference or meeting, a handout could be considered optional, although I would opt for having one.

In virtually every other speaking situation, a handout is highly recommended if not absolutely mandatory. At some conferences, the sponsor actually requires speakers to use PowerPoint and supply their slides as an electronic file audience members can download from the conference website.

What Format Is Best?

The leave-behind can take one of several formats. It can be hard copy of the PowerPoint slides, brochures, article reprints, or reprints of the typed text of a speech.

The handout can contain the full text of your talk, an outline, just the visuals, or a report or article on a subject that is either related to the presentation topic or expands on one of the subtopics you touched on briefly in the talk. If you use PowerPoint, you can just print out your PowerPoint presentation and use that as the handout.

Every handout should contain your company name, address, phone, email address, and website URL, and if possible a full resource box with a brief summary of who you are and what you do, as should every marketing document you produce.

If the handout is the full text of your talk or a set of fairly comprehensive notes, tell the audience before starting, “There’s no need to take notes. We have hard copies of this presentation for you to take home.” This relieves listeners of the burden of note taking, freeing them to concentrate on your talk.

Handouts such as transcripts of a speech, articles, reports, or other materials with lots of copy should be handed out after the talk, not before. If you hand them out before you step up to the podium, the audience will read the printed materials and ignore you. Handouts that are outlines, visuals only, or slides with just a few bullet points on each can be distributed to the audience in advance, so attendees can write notes directly on them.

Why You MUST Have Handouts

Why do you need handouts? They enhance learning. But the main reason to give handouts is to ensure that every attendee (at least some of whom are potential customers, or you wouldn’t be addressing the group) walks away with a piece of paper containing information on what you offer and how to contact you.

That way, when the person goes to work the next morning and thinks, “That was an interesting talk; maybe I should contact that speaker to talk about how his firm can help us,” he or she has your phone number in hand.

Without a handout, response to your talk will be diminished; most people are too busy, lazy, or indifferent to start tracking you down if they don’t have immediate access to your contact information.

Handouts Are for Attendees

Another reason to provide a handout is to further ensure attendee satisfaction. Even with a great seminar, attendees feel they get more value when they walk away with some hard copy reference materials they can share with their team when they get back to work.

It’s important to give a useful, interesting, information-packed talk that convinces prospects you know what you are talking about and makes them want to speak with you about doing work for them.

But without the contact information immediately in hand, the prospect’s interest and curiosity quickly evaporate. Because you cannot tell in advance who in the audience will want to follow up with you, your goal is to get everybody or as many people as possible to pick up and take home your handout material.

Best Way to Distribute Your Handouts

There are several ways to distribute handouts at your talk. The most common is to leave the materials on a table, either in the back of the room or at the registration table where people sign in for the meeting or your session.

But this is not effective. Most people will walk right by the table without picking up the material. Many won’t even notice the table or stack of handouts.

Even if you point out the table and say that reprints are available, many won’t take one. And you might feel embarrassed at the silence that follows your announcement; it makes you seem less authoritative, more of a promoter.

Another technique is to put a copy of your handout on each seat in the room about a half hour before the start of your presentation. Most people will pick it up, look at it; about one-quarter to one-half will take it with them when they leave, and half or more will leave it on the chair.

Disadvantages? People may read the handout and not pay attention to your presentation. Also, some people resent this approach, seeing it as being too pushy and too salesy, especially if your handout material includes an order form for your products or a brochure about your company and your services.


About the Author

Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter with almost 4 decades of experience in business and direct response marketing. He has given dozens of talks and seminars to numerous organizations including the U.S. Army, Arco Chemical, IBM, and General Electric. He is the author of more than 90 books including How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit (Quill Driver Books). He has put together a special program to help you create and deliver better presentations HERE.

MaryEllen About MaryEllen

MaryEllen Tribby has helped thousands of people start a new business or grow their existing ones. MaryEllen is the Founder and CEO of, the world’s leading newsletter and website for the empowerment of the working mom. Prior to founding WMO, MaryEllen was Publisher & CEO of Early to Rise and President of Weiss Research where she added millions to their bottom lines in just a few months. She also ran divisions at Forbes, Times Mirror Magazines, and Crain’s New York Business. MaryEllen is the best-selling author of Reinventing the Entrepreneur: Turning Your Dream Business into a Reality and co-author (with Michael Masterson) of Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions For Your Business.