The use of handouts during a presentation is a contentious topic. Most people believe handouts can distract audiences. However, there’s research highlighting PowerPoint presentations’ value in encouraging notetaking, while slide handouts are useful for people looking to review content.

One thing you must consider is whether you’re designing handouts for those in attendance, those absent, or both. While it can be tempting to create a single handout for both, doing so has made your presentation (and you as a presenter) redundant.

“Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view… If all you want to do is create a file of fact or figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.” – Seth Godin

Many presenters fall into the trap of simply printing their presentations and speaking notes as is. This can often lead to confusion, particularly for those who didn’t attend the presentation.

When designing a handout for the audience that attended, it should add something new to your presentation while addressing all the key points you discussed. If you’re designing for those who missed your presentation, the content should recap the presentation in a way that’s clear and compelling, particularly without a presenter there to clarify points.

Handouts can be useful for conveying more text and information that couldn’t be shown or explored in detail during your presentation. This is especially useful if your slides are filled with charts and data – audiences may appreciate the opportunity to look at this information further. Remember, stories can add context to your data, so use narrative to reinforce your data and ensure audience retention.

Handouts are also valuable resources during training and education presentations, particularly as PowerPoint’s Notes feature can print out slides with room for notetaking. This space can also be used to share your speaking notes if you want to give the audience a more thorough record of your presentation. Oddly enough, PowerPoint’s Handout feature isn’t as useful as Notes.

PowerPoint Handouts Created in Notes

In your PowerPoint presentation, open your Notes Master. The Notes Master controls global formatting for your Notes Pages the same way Slide Master controls your slides. The Notes Master is similar to the Slide Master in that you can change the font family, colour and size. You can also adjust the size of the slide on the Notes Pages and change page orientation. Although you can visibly add shapes and lines, or remove the slide border in the Notes Master, the changes will not show on your Notes Pages.

Next, enable page numbers if they aren’t already since paper handouts can get mixed up. Your handouts should follow the same structure as your presentation, including the order of slides and the key content. Create clear headings that help audience members relate handouts to your presentation, particularly if you’re providing handouts for those absent.

Now, is the time to refine every slide into a handout page – removing any superfluous content or visual elements, since handouts are more for explanation than demonstration. This means removing any unnecessary imagery or title slides. Click “Close Master” and go to the first slide, then go to View > Notes Page.

Put your speaking notes into each box, writing in a conversational manner that’s accessible for audiences who don’t have you there presenting and guiding them through the content. In this instance (and this one alone) bulletpoints can be useful since people may find content easier to read for themselves. Using speaking notes can be the narrative framework for your handout.

When refining your slides for a print handout, it’s important to consolidate information – particularly as you’ve been designing by the golden rule of ‘one idea per slide’. This design principle works in presentations, but audiences who are reading generally have a longer attention span and can handle more complex/dense information.

Remember, all of the images and annotations you add to the Notes Page will only display in Notes view. Once you’re finished, go to Print > Print to PDF > Print Layout > select Notes Pages.

While this process is more time consuming and difficult than simply printing out your presentation slides, creating handouts this way is more practical and impactful for your audience.

When done correctly and with the right audience in mind, handouts can add value to your presentation and ensure audience members retain the right information. There is no harm in providing your audience with take-away assets that expound on your presentation’s content – however, it’s probably best to save your handouts until after you’ve delivered your presentation.

Handouts can also be a great way to entice post-presentation connection with your audience. For example, if you’re trying to generate leads from your presentation, providing your contact details or a QR code can be a seamless way to get audience members’ contact details in exchange for your handout.

A handout is a perfect way to add more detailed information about your presentation topics, highlighting points that you didn’t have time to cover in detail, and offer information or resources that presentation attendees (and those absent) may find helpful.

Going beyond handouts, designing printed assets in PowerPoint has never been easier. We’ve got templates for magazine mocks available here – and we’ve even got brochure and poster templates here. Don’t waste time formatting and fiddling with PowerPoint’s endless array of features – get designing immediately with ready-made templates designed for your convenience.