How to Handle ‘Handouts’ So That Your Audience Stays Engaged and Doesn’t Get Derailed

How to avoid the handout TrapI once had attended an event where there was this speaker who was introduced to deliver a speech and then about one minute into his 20 minute presentation he starts to talk about a popular sports magazine that he had been profiled in. The magazine had written an article where  a famous athlete was teaching an amateur the “art of the game.”  The game happened to be golf, the athlete happened to be Tiger Woods , and this amateur happened to be the speaker at our event.

The speaker jump-started his story about the article he was in, by first saying to his audience “and by the way this has nothing to do with my speech today, I just thought that it would be an interesting thing to mention”, and then he took the actual magazine of the article and started to pass it around to the 40 people that were in his audience.

When I saw him give the magazine to the person sitting on the table beside him, everything inside me wanted to yell, “No  Don’t  Do it!”,   because I knew right then that his speech would be doomed from the start.

What would you have done?

If you were in that audience and the magazine with the interesting article about the speaker being profiled in a major magazine about himself and  a pro-golfer  was  handed to you, what would you do? Would you rather continue listening to the speaker and pass the article to the person next to you, or would you stop and read the article?

If you are like most people, you’d probably stop and read.  As human beings we all know that curiosity can get the best of us and that’s exactly what it did with the audience that morning.  In fact, some people were so absorbed in the article, that they read the entire two pages before handing it over to the person sitting next to them.

The problem in perspective

Do you see what’s wrong with this situation?  When an audience gets handouts – especially with handouts that are absolutely not relevant to the speech, they get distracted and begin to tune out the speaker.  And with the  speaker at our event, that’s exactly what had happened. Some people had  even taken the entire 2 minutes or so to finish the article.

If the speaker looses each person in his audience for at least 1 minute, that also means that for every minute of his speech, 1 person did not tune in for a  1-2 minute slice of his speech. Which also means that everyone tuned out at a different segments of time. It’s bad enough when your audience as a whole  gets distracted by one  segment of your speech all at once,  but when their minds are scattered at different intervals, the problem is even worse.  At this point there is absolutely no synergy with the speaker.

And unfortunately, because we are living today in an ADD world where stimulation is the name of the game, If you are not  keeping constant engagement with your audience, you will end up losing them. It’s so easy these days for people in your audience to simply  pull out their smart phones and check their email, surf the net, or check their latest facebook news feed, that once you lose them, it will be very difficult to re-engage them.

How to NOT fall into the “handout trap”

Here are some guidelines to make sure that what you give  out  to your audience will  not detract and only enhance your presentation.

1. If it’s not relevant don’t give it out

The speaker that was at that event handed out the magazine article which had absolutely nothing to do with his talk that morning.  If he  was trying to build credibility by  bragging about himself being together with a pro-golfer, not only did it not build his credibility, but it ruined his speech.  If for example,  I’m brought in  to  talk to an audience about the ‘art of speaking’  and I begin by sharing my  accomplishments in martial arts, it won’t build credibility and it will come off as bragging. In fact, even when sharing your successes that are relevant it also needs to be communicated to the audience in a way that makes it  ‘you focused.’

2. Don’t hand out a brain dump of your presentation.

Most speakers give their audience handouts that are simply a brain dump of their content – and this is wrong.   If you are going to give this kind of content out it should be only done at the end of your presentation.  It will only serve as a distraction by handing it out in the beginning and during your presentation.   

I’m sure you’ve  seen speakers handout all kinds of material before a presentation such as colorful brochures,  manuals, white papers, and a carbon copy of their slide presentation.  And while their audience is supposed to be listening to the speaker, they are instead busy rummaging through all the material that was handed to them.  This splits them and  distracts your audience  from being focused on the speaker.  An audience  should  not have to split themselves by reading what you gave them and watching you at the same time.

3.  Only create handouts that get them to think and reflect

The best kind of handouts to give your audience are ones that get your audience involved, engaged and allows them to reflect.

For example  in  one of my handouts  on marketing,  I  pose the following  question to the audience;

What’s  the top selling word in the marketing tool box?                                     

If you notice, I insert a blank space for them to fill in.  The purpose of this is to actively engage them and allow them to think, reflect, and come up with the answer as I am speaking.

In that same handout,  I also give my audience the following tool(a book) to anchor what I had discussed in my speech.

Pickup  this book  by Frank Bettger  ” How I raised myself from failure to success  in selling”

And then I pose the following  question;

What question do you think  Frank Bettger  asked  when seeing his customer for the first  that  sparked  2 hours of conversation? ”                                                   

Again, this question allows my audience to think and reflect off of the content that I am giving them in my speech.  Handouts  that cause your audience to ‘think and reflect’  are an  excellent way to involve your audience – especially when you’re doing a longer workshop.  

And by-the -way, if you’re wondering what the answer is to the above question about Frank Bettger, it’s “How did you get started in this business?” That 1 simple question had sparked 2 hours of conversation with what turned to be his client. Behind every successful business man or women there’s a great story. It just takes asking the right  kind of question to get them started. 

Final thoughts                                                                                                                                   

Don’t fall into the trap that most speakers make by handing out material that unwittingly causes the audience to get distracted from the speaker. When you are up there speaking, you and your message should be the focal point and the only thing that stimulates and engages your audience.

Don’t compete with yourself for the attention of your audience by distracting them with something that you are handing out to them that’s not relevant to your speech.  And if it is relevant, craft it in a way that gets your audience engaged,  involved and allows them to think and reflect.

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