Create better meeting handouts

By Annette Marquis, TRIAD Consulting

How many times have you referred to handouts that you received at a presentation, only to find that they didn't contain enough detail for you to recall what the speaker said? This is a typical experience when the handouts consist only of pictures of Microsoft Office PowerPoint slides with bullet points.

For a handout to be useful when the presentation is but a distant memory, the handout must contain enough detail for it to stand on its own. Let that sink in for a minute: The handout should stand on its own. For this to happen, you must augment the PowerPoint slides with additional supporting material (assuming that every word of your presentation does not appear on the slides to start with — which is not ideal).

The purpose of a PowerPoint presentation is to provide the audience with visual cues to help them digest and recall the key points of your verbal presentation. The purpose of the handouts, then, is to provide the audience with the additional materials that they need to support and act on the key points of your verbal presentation.

What should handouts consist of?

Although the exact content of handouts varies with the type and purpose of the presentation, you can follow these general guidelines for most presentations:

  • The length of the handouts should match the length and complexity of the presentation. A short presentation of 10 to 15 minutes may require only one to three pages of handout material. Longer presentations of an hour or more may call for four to six pages or more of handout material.
  • Handouts should be attractive, easy to read, and comprehensive.
  • At a minimum, handouts should contain the following information:
    • Speaker's name, title, and organization
    • Title and date of the presentation
    • Speaker's contact information, including phone numbers, business address, and e-mail address
    • Outline of the presentation, including key concepts
    • Background information, documents, spreadsheets, and so on, to support the speaker's assertions
    • List of recommendations, if applicable
    • Statement about what the speaker expects the audience to do as a result of the presentation
  • In addition, handouts may contain:
    • The full text of the presentation.
    • Resource material.
    • A list of references.
    • Stories.
    • Quotations.
    • Other relevant material.

Default handouts in PowerPoint

PowerPoint has built-in tools to create handouts from the presentation's slides. You can choose to print from one to nine slides per page. Only the layout with three slides per page includes blank lines for handwritten notes next to each slide.

If you choose to print slides, include them as part of a packet that also includes the other supportive materials described in the preceding list.

More powerful PowerPoint handouts

PowerPoint has two options that give you more flexibility to include additional supportive material:

  • Notes pages
  • Exporting to Microsoft Office Word

Creating and printing notes pages

The first option involves not printing handouts at all but instead printing notes pages. With notes pages, you can include all of your supporting documentation, references, and additional materials with the PowerPoint presentation. For more information about using notes pages, see the other articles in this practice.

Although you can enter as much text as you want in the notes pane, limit yourself to about 40 lines so that a picture of the slide and its corresponding notes will fit on one page:

By entering notes in the notes pane, you can print handouts that contain a picture of the slide and the corresponding notes.

Notes page with slide and lines of text in notes pane

Sending handouts to Word

To have the ultimate in flexibility with your handouts, export the PowerPoint slides to Word and then modify the Word document as much or as little as you want. The following example shows an attractive Word document that includes pictures of each of the PowerPoint slides.

With a little modification, you can create great-looking handouts of your PowerPoint presentations in Word.

Handout example in Microsoft Word

If you want to create a Word document from your PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Create the presentation in PowerPoint.
  2. Add notes in the notes pane. If you prefer, you can add notes after you export the slides to Word.
  3. When you have the presentation in final form, point to Send To on the File menu, and then click Microsoft Office Word.
  4. Select the page layout that you want. For the most flexibility when adding your own text to the document, click Notes below slides.

Send to Microsoft Word

  1. Click OK. PowerPoint sends the slides and notes to Word and creates a document that contains a picture of each slide followed by its corresponding notes.
  2. Save the Word document.

You now have a handout that is completely customizable. You can add headers and footers, resize the graphics, add additional graphics, insert page numbers, add additional text, and include whatever other content you want to supplement the presentation.

Whichever method you choose to create your handouts, think about your audience members first. When they refer to your handouts a month after the presentation, will the answers they need be at their fingertips? If the answer is no, it's time to put more effort into your handouts so that they can truly stand on their own.

About the author     Annette Marquis is a partner of TRIAD Consulting, the premier Microsoft Office System training firm for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).

Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003, Word 2003