Three good reasons to distribute your handout after the presentation

In my last post on presentation handouts I suggested that it’s best to distribute your handout before your presentation. The comments to that post identified three situations when it makes sense to distribute your handout after the presentation. As not everyone wades through comments I’ve decided to highlight them in this post:

1. Surprise

Mike Slater

Personally I don’t like giving out handouts in presentations as there is usually some element of “surprise”. I “reveal” points during the presentation and if the audience had copies of the slides (or even a more detailed handout) in advance the effect is ruined.

Adam Lawrence

We use surprise as one of our main tools in presentations. With a handout – goodbye surprise and the attention boost it guarantees. Put it like this – would you want the full plot and punchline written on the back of your DVD cover?

2. Brainstorming and discussion

Cathy Moore

I use visual slides to set up a dilemma and then have participants brainstorm how to solve the dilemma. Then I reveal slides that show some solutions, and we discuss how those fit in with the solutions we brainstormed. If participants had the handout at the beginning, the brainstorming about dilemmas would be empty, because all the participants would have to do is look at the next few slides and see the suggested answers.

3. Co-creation of presentation

Adam Lawrence

We try to keep our presentations highly flexible, and to follow up on ideas that come from the dialogue with the audience. Any preprepared handout is dated the moment we start.

Instead, we sit down later to produce a handout that reflects the true content of the session, and the folks ideally get it some days afterwards. The advantages:

  1. It doesn’t get lost in the pile of mostly useless paperwork from that conference day or whatever;
  2. It serves to refresh the memory of the session just at the moment it would otherwise be forgotten (ie a few days later); and
  3. As said, it reflects the true content, not the planned content.

Thank you, Cathy, Mike and Adam for your contribution.

Phil Waknell has written an excellent blog post detailing his reasons for distributing handouts after a presentation (it has also many other excellent tips).

Have you got another good reason for distributing handouts after the presentation? Add it in the comments of this post.

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  1. People usually come ask for it afterwards if you haven’t handed it out before. So you’re actually fulfilling their specific need, giving them a feeling of receiving a customized solution, possibly even perceived as in breach with the actual intended process. Very powerful influencing method that gives the audience, ie the customer a feeling of being special – which makes them happy!

    • Hi Gitta
      That sounds an interesting idea. Do you mean that you intentionally don’t let your audience know about the handout so that they have to ask for it?

      • As always, it depends… When it’s a workshop situation, I usually give out handouts so that participants can scribble comments, thoughts and ideas on it, or even use it as a real working paper to write down results etc. However, when I give a speech, I never hand out my presentation before hand: I want my audience to look at me and listen to what I say and how I say it, not bury their heads in a pile of paper. University lectures are probably somewhere in between those two though, so it is a tough one. Still, I’d eventually go with Adam’s take and not spoil the surprise and the co-creation opportunity…

        • Thanks Gitta for adding that,

  2. Great idea to have a follow-up post Olivia.

    I tend to be like Adam in his argument #3 above, although sometimes business schools prefer to have something in advance so they know what I am going to talk about. Even then, I try not to provide handouts before the talk although for those who like to take notes, I’ll ensure paper is available.

    The best presentations truly engage the audience, rather than being like a simple broadcast. I ask the audience questions, and engage them in exercises. It would be counter-productive if they were to have the answers and debriefs in their handouts – but it would also be counter-productive if they took something home which did not include those details. Providing the handouts at the end allows you to give them all the details and explanations without spoiling the interactive parts of the presentation.

    Rather than put a large spiel in the comments, I’ve put up my own post on this subject at so please take a look.

    • Wow! Great post Phil – I’ve included the link in the body of this post. Thanks for adding to the debate.

  3. Great comments to your post, Olivia.

    Unless it’s a workshop and they need your handouts to ‘work on’, don’t hand them out.

    The audience will read ahead of your presentation. It doesn’t reinforce the message, it confuses.

    Be ‘green’ and send them ‘handouts.

    Here’s my quick post on the subject:

    • Hi Fred
      Yes, this issue does really get a debate started! I think it’s because there is no answer which is really right or wrong. There are situations when it’s best to hand them out first and situations when it’s best to hand them out afterwards.

      I agree with being green and not having huge hard copy handouts.

  4. Olivia

    Your post certainly has generated some good debate. There have been some good comments and I think they illustrate that there isn’t one right answer – it really does depend on the situation and there is often a balance between what will provide the maximum benefit to the audience and the speaker.

    The debate Its made me reflect on my attitude to handouts and whether I give them out before or after a presentation really does depend on the context. There are some situations where I do provide materials in advance, particularly when teaching and training, where we send out course materials several weeks in advance. However, for lectures and business presentations, I prefer to distribute handouts after the presentation.

    One idea that hasn’t been raised so far is that rather than distribute the handout at the meeting I sometimes pass round a sheet to collect e-mail addresses and send it on the next day. I’m sure a lot of handouts get thrown away after presentations (no matter how good and engaging the speaker is). This way the material is targeted to those who really want to read it and I have the benefit of having collected e-mail addresses from new contacts who I can follow up at a later date if appropriate. Again, this won’t be applicable to all cases.

    • Hi Mike
      I think sending the handout later is a great idea – particularly if it can then reflect the content discussed during the presentation.

      This debate has also caused me to be a lot more conscious about handouts!

      And for other readers here’s a link to Mike’s excellent post on the issue:


  5. Hi Olivia,

    I always have a problem with handouts, I just can’t seem to make myself to do it. I know they are a great promotional tool and that I should be handing them over but I simply can’t make myself do it.

    • Hi Theresa
      Might it be that you’re leaving creating the handout till last? And then you either run out of time or if you’ve still got time, you’re kind of tired of your presentation and just want to have a break. Handouts are optional so it’s easy to rationalize not creating the handout if you leave it till the last moment. My advice is to create the handout first – this was suggested by Valary, a commenter on the previous post. This has two benefits:
      1. You can include far more in your handout than in your presentation. Once you’ve got the handout written you can pick out the best bits to put in your presentation. You’re less likely to overload your audience with information.
      2. You get it done!


  6. I have read, and re-read this thread with interest, and have to wonder about our definition of “handout.” If you are really lazy, it is simply a printout of your slides. If you want to keep the suspense, surprise and extraneous noise that some slides offer, as well as add any additional information the participants might want to have “after the fact”, then create a separate document as the “handout” to well, em, hand out at the beginning or sometime during the presentation. If you hand this document or other symbolic summary of the presentation out at the end, that would be a “takeaway”. Either way you look at it, your handout or takeaway should be different from your slideshow!

    • Hi Kristin
      I initially used word “handout” as being anything the audience gets whether it’s distributed before, during or after the presentation. Then the discussion got focused on whether it should be handed out before or after. Another way of framing the discussion would be “Should you give your audience a handout or a takeaway?”

      I totally agree with you that the handout/takeaway should be different to the slides. That’s lazy and usually unhelpful!

  7. Hi,

    This is a late post but I just found the blog. (How’s that for on-going value?).

    I say it depends. For a course I give out slide copies for note taking. But for public presentations (conferences, trade shows), I don’t.

    At the end of the presentation, I’ll ask that anyone who wants a copy, to please leave their business card with me. Then I’ll make up a detailed handout to send to them.

    That way they get the information, they also get a reminder of the presentation, and I get their contact information. Then I send them an email asking for permission to add them to my mailing list.

    • Hi Jim
      Welcome to my blog – and thanks for adding the system you use for handouts. Sounds like you’ve got it well sorted!

  8. Hi,

    I’m not sure if this is still open for discussion, but I have to give a presentation to a 12-member Executive Management Team at a not-for-profit health care company as part of the second round of job interviews (I am the job seeker). I am presenting a real topic (Enhancing Internal Communications). Obviously, they want to see if I can speak well and engage an audience, as well as glean some tips they can use even if I don’t get the job.

    My presentation has no real ‘surprises,’ but it does reveal bullet items individually. I am debating whether or not to distribute handouts before or tell them they are available after (which I’ve never done). I know people love to review things before/during a presentation as I do (and it would keep some of the eyes off me!), but I don’t know what I should do for this specific situation.

    Do you think it is expected that I hand them out before? Do they care that much if it’s a job interview? Will they think ill of me if I don’t?

    Any insights are appreciated! Thanks.


    • Hi Dave
      Whatever you can do in a job interview situation to help you stand out is a good idea, so do go ahead with having a well-laid out and presented handout. I suggest that you hand it out afterwards but let them know at the beginning that you will be distributing a handout.. My reasoning is that in the a job interview it’s critical that they do have their eyes on you, and are not distracted by anything else.
      Go well with your interview.


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