Questions about presentation handouts

As a presentation skills trainer and public speaking coach, I often get asked about how best to use handouts during a presentation. In this post, I’d like to share my responses to the most common questions my students ask on the topic of presentation handouts.


Should I give out presentation handouts, before my talk so that my audience can take notes on it while I speak?


  • Some people (a minority in my experience) feel reassured when they have the notes beforehand.
  • Some people will tell you that they like to have a copy of the slides so that they can take notes as you go.
  • In a training situation, presenters often issue workbooks which, as well as containing course notes, contain exercises to complete and places to note down learner observations.


  • You risk losing control of your audience’s  attention. A handout is one more thing that competes for their focus, and unless you are an amazingly engaging speaker, they won’t be able to resist the temptation to read.
  • People will be tempted to read ahead and so may discover information that you don’t want them to know until later in the presentation.
  • When you ask questions, people may look at your notes for the answers rather than think for themselves

My Advice: Unless you are running a training course, I recommend that you avoid handing out notes until the end of your presentation, but remember to tell people up front that they will get a handout later.

Tip – If you must give out the notes in advance here’s a great tip for minimising distraction. After distributing your handout, encourage your audience to take a moment to flick through them and to reassure themselves that they contain plenty of
information. Finally, ask them to put the notes to one side and listen to you

Should I create custom presentation handouts or should I just print off my slides the way most people do?

It’s tempting to put everything you are going to say onto your slides and then print them off as a handout, but I wouldn’t advise it, and here’s why.

Text-dense slides don’t work well as visual aids in a live presentation

  • The brain processes text differently to pictures.  Research shows that audiences remember almost 30% less when you use wordy slides. (Ref  Multimedia Learning, Cambridge University Press, Richard E Meyer)
  • You cannot control which points people are paying attention to
  • You are in competition with your slides for the audience’s attention

Unless you print off your slides full size, the resulting presentation handouts are often unreadable

  • Many people use a small font size in PowerPoint to enable them to fit more text on their slides.  Small font sizes make your slides harder to read when projected, and often impossible to read when printed out as a handout. I recommend using a minimum font size of 24 point to ensure readability both on the screen and on printed copies.

My Advice: Rather than just printing off your slides, create a separate document that summarises your key points and adds more supporting information or references if appropriate. Preparing handouts in this way will take a little longer, but you’ll end up with a much more useful document that your audience will appreciate. Notes produced like this can also be branded and include your contact details, making them a useful extension to your marketing materials.

Tip – If you want to show a copy of your slides in your notes and still have readable handouts try using the “Notes Page view” function within PowerPoint. This feature was originally designed to allow presenters to add speaker notes to your slides, but can also be used to create handouts.  Notes Page view creates a page for each slide with a small image of your slide at the top of the page and beautifully formatted text notes below.

What can you add to this article?

Have you got any alternative solutions or ideas for the thorny topic of presentation handouts?  Share your comments and ideas using the comments box below.



  1. free iwatch on 07/03/2016 at 03:34

    I do believe all of the concepts you’ve introduced in your post.
    They’re very convincing aand can definitely work.

    Nonetheless, the posts are very short for beginners.
    Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

  2. Ellen Finkelstein on 31/07/2015 at 22:41

    I agree with your points about handouts. I also use the Notes pane to create handouts. Just to be more specific, you then print Notes Pages rather than slides when you go to print. And you can also print to a PDF driver. Another option is the Send to Word option, which lets you print slides and notes or slides and lines for taking notes. It’s nice because it creates a Word document that you can modify in any way you want.

    • Gavin Meikle on 01/08/2015 at 11:23

      Thanks for adding value to this post Ellen.

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