Can Printed PowerPoint Slides Kill Your Presentation?

So you’re doing some training or a workshop and you’ve got your PowerPoint presentation perfected. Now the big question: do you print out the slides and give them to your audience? I’m often asked this in my speaking classes and by clients and my answer is typical: it depends. Sometimes it makes sense to provide them to the audience prior to the presentation while other times it’s better to not. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros:

Printing the slides out makes it easy for the audience to follow along and take notes – especially if you leave space for notes on the printout. Also, for people like me who are nearsighted and stubborn about wearing our glasses when not absolutely necessary, we can read the text and see the images.

Also, having the printed slides allows the audience to review some of the presentation points during breaks.

Cons:

In today’s green society, some people frown upon printing out materials unless absolutely necessary. Not to mention, there’s a cost associated with printing them out – especially if they are numerous and in color. And sometimes, the readability of the slides declines when printed because of the smaller size or the lack of full color.

The other issue is that printed slides presents is that you need to print them in advance which presents a challenge if you want to make last minute changes to your presentation. Not to mention, there’s the challenge of making sure you have enough printouts – so you should always bring at least 10% more than your expected audience size to allow for last minute drop-ins.

The last challenge is the potential distraction that they can be. People tend to flip ahead – sometimes to try to figure out how much longer until the session ends (or the next break). Other times, audience members may scan through the material to either determine whether they want to stay for the full presentation or just grab the slides and take off rather than stay for the full presentation. In other words, the printed slides can take the audience’s eyes and attention off of you.

The Verdict:

It depends on the situation. I rarely use printed slides for my workshops – I instead opt for a workbook that supplements the presentation. I also provide a CD with the presentation for some workshops because I include hyperlinks and other media within the presentation.

Obviously, if you’re requested to provide printed slides then that’s what you must do. I recommend either printing six slides per page (unless your slides have a lot of text and small details) or three per page with space on the side for note taking. Another option is to use handouts that summarize the information in the presentation, but don’t give the audience a reason to take their eyes off of you.

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