Make Your Handout a Keeper

By Heather Baldwin

When you provide a handout to your audience, what do you give them? No, wait – let us guess. You give a copy of your PowerPoint slides, right? No, we’re not psychic. We just know that even though a copy of your slides is about the most boring and least effective handout you can give your audience, the vast majority of sales reps do it anyway. Get out of that rut, advises Dave Arch, senior vice president at The Bob Pike Group ( and author of Red Hot Handouts: Taking the HO HUM Out of Handouts (Pfeiffer, 1999). For handouts your prospects will remember, keep and refer to again and again, try these ideas from Arch.

1. Partial Handouts. When you provide complete handouts – be they copies of slides, white papers, completed outlines of a presentation or anything else that doesn’t require audience members to write anything – you’re essentially telling people they can sit back and watch the presentation. Then we wonder why they’re not involved.

“If we hand people something that’s too complete, they tend to tune us out,” explains Arch. “But if we provide something that’s only partially complete we spark their curiosity and inspire them to get involved with the presentation.” For example, if you want to provide copies of your most important slides, remove key words or phrases to tap into your audience’s natural curiosity. They’ll pay attention, fill in the blanks and thus be more likely to remember what you said. Or you might include a page listing the top 10 questions you get from your audiences – again, with important words omitted and some blanks for questions the audience raises that aren’t on the list.

2. Post-It Questions. Arch often includes a section in his handouts called, Things We Want to Know. In this section he includes a blank Post-It Note and asks audience members to write down any questions they want to be sure he answers during his presentation. Arch then sticks all the Post-It Note questions on an easel and pulls them off as he addresses each one during his presentation. This technique accomplishes three things: it communicates at the outset of the presentation that the presenter is genuinely concerned with meeting the audience’s needs, it gives audience members a visual cue that their questions are being addressed and it eliminates a lot of hand-raising during the presentation. In addition, Arch can answer the questions where they most make sense in the presentation, which ultimately makes for a stronger presentation.

3. Optical Illusions. When he was writing Red Hot Handouts, Arch says he went looking for things he could include on handouts that would not only induce people to keep the handouts, but to show them to other people. His discovery: optical illusions. “When I include optical illusions,” he says, “audiences are holding up the paper, bringing it in close, turning it and saying: I need to bring this home to show my wife!” One of his favorite illusions shows a car driving towards a big gap in a bridge. As you move the paper toward your face the gap appears to close, saving the car from destruction. “It makes a great closing,” says Arch. Your audience has been wondering what the picture of the bridge is doing on your handout. Conclude by saying something such as: We’re here to close the gap in your production line…. Then show them how the illusion works. You’ll see a surge of energy in the room – and they’ll remember what you had to say. Click Here to see a sample.

4. Jigsaw Handouts. Who ever said handouts need to be in one piece? Arch suggests giving audience members envelopes that contain four or five puzzle pieces that each contain information on one of the topics in your presentation. Then, after they have assembled the pieces during your presentation, when they turn over the completed puzzle they see a picture that summarizes your presentation. “If you want to give them a whole copy at the end, fine,” says Arch. “But they’ll remember your presentation because you got them involved in the handout.”

When you get beyond thinking about a handout as a complete piece of 8.5 x 11 paper, the possibilities are endless.