(Originally published in the September 1996 issue of Presentations magazine.)
6 tips to successful handouts
Even after a stellar presentation, your audience may feel short-changed without information to take with them. Handouts have become a standard part of business presentations because they keep material at the client's fingertips long after the conference or meeting is over. Follow these six guidelines in preparing handouts to ensure their success.
1. Offer concise information.
As in any presentation element, whether it's a slide or a handout, keep your information simple and to the point. Handouts can go several steps beyond a slide that bullets or diagrams only main topics. They should fill in with more specific information than was covered in the presentation and offer additional references. You do not, however, want to leave your audience with a hefty tome. Make it organized and streamlined -- or they'll quickly put your material aside for something more manageable.
2. Make good photocopies.
Make clear copies of your support material. It's surprising how many poor, off-center, gray, smudged and faint copies are circulated. This does not entice your client to read about and respect the quality of what you have to offer.
3. Use white space as a design element.
Have plenty of white space in the margins and between sentences or paragraphs so the eye can comfortably pause and the hand can take notes. Resist the urge to pack many words onto the page. Your handout should not look like a manuscript page from a novel or the disclaimer on the back of your auto insurance policy.
4. Choose simple, readable type.
Nothing thwarts your message getting across like an unreadable font. Fonts add a great deal to your design, but the wrong font destroys it. Choose an uncluttered, serif font like Times for best results. Make sure the point size is at least 12 or higher. If readers have to struggle with small, difficult-to-read specialty typefaces, you'll lose their interest immediately.
5. Use graphical elements.
Organize dense information into illustrations, charts and diagrams whenever possible. Since we've become an info-graphic society, you should use these to help tell your story. If you don't have a computer program to help create and output these types of images, get one. PowerPoint, Persuasion and other presentation software have features for creating useful visual elements.
6. Make charts and diagrams colorful, but be careful.
Color can be an excellent way to highlight your presentation handouts, but don't go overboard. Color should never be used on body type the audience won't be able to read it. Keep type primarily black against white. Instead, use color to highlight graphs and charts or for design elements like bars across the top of the page or to draw attention to headings or sidebars. Be sure your colors print out cleanly they often look different on paper compared to what you see on the monitor. Muddy, low-contrast colors add little impact to your visuals.