A presentation without handouts is like a movie without popcorn, or worse, an early staff meeting without bagels and coffee. Why do I compare handouts to food? Because handouts represent that anticipated extra morsel of information audiences have come to expect. Without such a morsel, we often feel the presentation experience is incomplete and unsatisfying.
With the onslaught of electronic media, our appetites for handouts now include materials we can access on our computers, rather than just on paper.
What is an e-handout?
Electronic handouts are electronically submitted collateral pieces of information that support and expand your presentation. They can include e-mailings, CD-ROM programs and Web site materials delivered through the Internet, intranets or extranets. (I have even received audio and videotapes as handouts.) An e-handout can be an elaborate interactive multimedia project or something as simple and inexpensive as an electronic newsletter.
What makes an e-handout good or bad?
The same things that make any handout worthwhile make an e-handout a keeper: simplicity, value and accessibility. E-handouts should be an extension of your presentation not only in content, but in the design elements as well. Don't let your material be seen as junk mail. With all the competing information and entertainment sources out there, e-handouts must be easy to open, to the point, entertaining and clearly of value.
Should you include your entire presentation as part of your e-handout or just key points? Unless your presentation rivals the whimsical fantasy of "The Wizard of Oz," the cult following of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" or the drama of "Gone With the Wind," most of us don't want to see the same movie twice. So don't give recipients the whole presentation again.
Include concise encapsulations of information, concentrating on key points you want to make and containing only the strongest supporting material. And don't forget to include reminders of how to contact your company for further information or to place an order. E-handouts are an opportunity to keep communication lines open and to "speak" with clients beyond the presentation room.
How do I get people to read my e-handouts?
This is a critical question. How do you get people to read your e-handouts after the immediacy of the presentation is gone and everyone has left for home? Promise them a free movie and popcorn? That may help, but the most important and likely way to provide incentive is to make the initial presentation effective in the first place. Handouts, whether delivered electronically or on paper, are not a substitute for an excellent presentation. If you gave your audience information they perceived as valuable during your presentation, they are more apt to anticipate that your e-handouts will also be informative and worthwhile. To satisfy their expectations, take a straightforward approach: Provide information that users will value in an easy-to-access format.
How do I create and distribute e-handouts?
Most current presentation programs, including Astound, Corel Presentations 8, PowerPoint and Freelance Graphics, have easy-to-use features for creating electronic documents, even with graphics, sound and animation. As you create your presentation in one of these programs, you can set up your material so it can be transferred to a floppy or CD-ROM, e-mail or self-running productions that can be opened on the Web. This is typically accomplished with the aid of a "wizard" or through simple menu commands.
When presenters pass out traditional paper handouts, everyone is pretty much on an even playing field. Quality paper handouts, booklets and brochures can be generated on the same affordable presentation software and output in the office, at a local print shop or a service bureau. Whether you are employed by a multinational company or working out of your garage, it's easy to make paper handouts look good.
When you move into the arena of e-handouts, however, cost and production values become crucial. The playback field also is less even, because you can't determine the computer system that will be used to access the handouts. As a result you should look into a variety of options before deciding on the best way to get the e-handouts to your audience — and you must make sure the e-handouts are designed to perform well on a variety of systems, platforms or browsers, as needed.
Your own Web site is a time- and cost-effective way to present follow-up materials to your presentation. Simply give your audience the URL, then post your slides, follow-up notes and even links to related Web sites. If you don't already have a Web site, then it's time to seriously consider creating one. Web sites can be inexpensive to set up, and if you are not comfortable doing it yourself, classes and consultants in every community are available to assist you.
There are two ways to put your handouts on CD — outsource it to a service provider or do it yourself. If you need more than 25 CDs, you'll probably want to outsource the job to a CD duplicator, who'll charge anywhere from $50/CD if your run is small (less than 100) to as low as $1/CD if over 10,000.
If your audience is small, an even better solution is to purchase a CD-Recordable (CD-R) drive or one of the new CD-ReWritable (CD-RW) drives. A low-end CD-R drive, which costs around $300, allows you to "burn" your presentation on a CD (blank CDs cost approximately $6 each). Although CD-R drives are inexpensive, they're slow and, once you record on a CD, it can't be used again. New CD-RW drives cost more but allow you to rewrite a CD several times — as you would a floppy — essentially giving you a tool that can create e-handouts and double as a storage tool for your computer. (See also "Plan, Author, Burn Your First CD Presentation," September 1997.)
Philip Vilar of Schwartz Communications in Waltham, Mass., reports on a new software from Trellix that brings the Web style of presenting and reading into everyday business documents. E-mail messages that are self-executing programs are also featured at www.trellix.com.
One of the simplest, most cost-effective solutions for sharing e-handouts was proposed by Virginia Lawrence, a Webmaster and consultant (email@example.com), who specializes in helping individuals and small businesses go electronic. Here are five simple steps to putting an e-handout on the Internet using your existing e-mail software: Write and edit your handout in your word-processing program.
Highlight all of your text and use the Copy option. Paste the text to an e-mail message in your favorite e-mail program.
Place your own address in the To field of the message.
Listed under the CC field, you'll see the BCC (blind carbon copy) field. In the BCC field, enter each recipient's e-mail address, until your entire list of recipients appears there.
Hit the Send icon, and every address in the BCC field will receive a copy of your information. Because you used the BCC field, though, no one will see anyone else's name or address.
There are many different ways to create e-handouts, some expensive and time-consuming, others quite inexpensive and straightforward. No matter how much time and money you put into presentation follow-up, however, unless the initial presentation was perceived as worthwhile, your e-handouts will be relegated to junk mail status. Quality all along the line, electronic or otherwise, will be the key that ultimately sells you and your product.
Sue Hinkin is a free-lance writer based in Agoura Hills, Calif.