Handouts of the slides or a packet of information or a set of pictures for the group to look at all seem like such good ideas. You have people looking at something else instead of you. That takes the pressure off. From the perspective of a speaker who would rather not be speaking, this makes sense. But, from the perspective of a speaker who is trying to have an impact on the audience, this is a poor strategy.
Shuffle and Bustle of Handouts
Have you ever received handouts during a presentation or a lecture? Did you put them away and focus only on the speaker? Did you follow along with the speaker carefully, taking notes along the way? Well, maybe you did, but more than likely, you probably received your handout, and then handed the rest to someone else to pass along. Then, you and everyone else proceeded to thumb through it to see what was in it. If it was a packet containing the PowerPoint slides to be shown, you probably looked at the slides to get a sense of how long the presentation was going to last. Or, do I exaggerate?
Let’s say you are that rare individual that actually takes the handout and follows the speaker carefully. Your attention is still split between the handout and the speaker. That means the speaker is now competing with her own materials for your attention. Your attention gets further diminished with each page you turn ahead to. You are further distracted by others flipping through pages of material.
Paying Attention to Her BFF
It’s bad enough that, as a speaker, you have to deal with a host of new distractions for audience members. Text messaging and hand held video games are competition enough. They are small enough not to be a distraction to others, though it’s still very obvious when you hear messages buzzing in every twenty seconds and the distinct, rapid clicking of buttons as thumbs fire off text messages almost as quickly as one could talk.
Don’t give your audience something else to distract them. I know it seems counter-intuitive to you, but you really do want those eyes focused on you. It’s the best way for the audience to receive the message for maximum impact. Handouts would just be one more thing to take away from the message (the message from you, not the text message from their BFF– best friend forever, apparently).
Speak First, Hand Out Later
Hand out handouts after the presentation. The message you bring is the most important thing and must come from you. Anything else (visual aid or handouts) is supplemental information. Handouts are great, but they are just that: supplemental. The speaker will have the greatest impact on the audience; the handouts just help to remind them later of what was discussed.