Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Fundamentals: Remarkable Handouts

Welcome to Friday Fundamentals, where we present tips and tools to help your communications achieve maximum impact.  Today we're handing out ideas about meeting handouts.

In Bel Kaufman's 1964 novel  Up The Down Staircase, the opening chapter finds the protagonist, new high school teacher Sylvia Barrett, distributing materials to her first class of students.  She starts to announce, "I'm passing out..." but gets no further as a class comic shouts "She's passing out!  Give her air!"

For a teacher, trainer, speaker, or other event communicator, the stress of producing and passing out effective participant handouts is real.  The whole situation can be enough to make any live presenter faint.

Why are handouts so problematic?  Because they:

  • load an extra layer of complexity onto any live presentation project; 
  • are a pain to print, copy and ship;
  • balloon an event's budget (for the above printing, copying and/or shipping, plus storage fees in some cases);
  • need an accurate audience count to avoid producing too many or too little;
  • tend to cause delivery angst -- such as when you're minutes away from start time and your UPS tracking report still says "on truck;"
  • often require time-consuming collating and staging at the venue;
  • are cumbersome for recipients to handle as they pile up on laps or under seats;
  • present difficulties if users must write on flimsy pages without desks or tables to lean on.
For all these reasons and more, handouts are usually the source of eleventh-hour issues which you, as a content creator or event producer, would much rather avoid.  That's why lots of people skip handouts altogether.  Others contract with print on demand services to produce them, but this can be extremely pricey.  I've staged events where the print-on-demand handbooks cost significantly more than each person's catered dinner.

For many projects, fluidity is an added issue.  It seems that event organizers always feel that they can keep adding to or changing their presentation right up until show time -- and then they want the handouts to be revised, too.  This means they can't be finalized until right before the event.  Sometimes,even when you hold off production till the last minute, your handouts still turn out to be outdated and inaccurate in some embarrassing fashion.  Once, at a national manager training conference, I sat in a hotel storeroom and clipped out the full-page bio of the CFO from a couple of hundred staple-bound booklets -- he had mysteriously left the company the day before.

So I want to present my preferred method of handout production, which mitigates some of these issues and eliminates others altogether.  

The Pocket Packet

Solution # 1: Pre-stage the folder.  If you invest in a large-quantity purchase of two-pocket folders, you can produce professional-looking handouts quickly and flexibly.  A folder is easy to stuff, convenient to carry, makes a strong impression, provides a sturdy surface for writing, and is much less likely to be thrown out or left behind -- meaning it will automatically strengthen your presentation's effectiveness simply because your recipient will keep the material.  To go the folder route:

a. Shop the office supply websites for good deals ahead of time.  If you have no budget to speak of, just choose the cheapest two-pocket folder you can buy and order it as-is.  Try to share costs with another colleague within your organization who also has a handouts-inclusive project.  Or get a donor to buy the folders as a sponsor, and promise that you'll include the donor organization's logo or promotional flyer in the finished packet.
b. If you have the budget for it, you can have folders custom printed with your own organizational logo.  Don't print anything event-specific on the folder, though -- you want to be able to use your extras for other projects once your presentation is over.   
c. You can customize plain folders with your own own labels, produced with Microsoft Word's Labels function (found on the Mailings tab in Word 2010), Avery precut labels, and your own printer.

Solution # 2: Separate the elements production.  Now that you have a vehicle in which to house your handouts, you can put each one on a separate production schedule as necessary.  

a. If you have many contributors to your event's materials, you can simply make each originator responsible to get you their finished material by a comfortable deadline, in appropriate quantities.  This removes you from the crisis-crunch of last-minute revisions.  Your contributors now have that hassle, not you.
b. If you will be the one supplying the content, you can plan to subdivide it according to relative time sensitivity.  This means that you can hold off printing anything that is not yet finalized, but reduce costs by printing ahead of time any elements that are approved and ready to go. No more holding up the works because you have one blank spot that still needs to be filled in. 

Solution # 3: Use "pick and pack your own packet" distribution.  Depending on your event, you can often stage your handouts so that recipients pick them up and put them together as they enter the room.  

a. Start the ball rolling at the reception desk, where you hand each person a folder when they register.  Then direct them to a table by the room entrance where your produced pages are set out in stacks, buffet-style.
b.  The folder holders go down the line, stuffing their own materials.  Surprisingly, no one ever complains about this do it yourself approach. You save time, and your audience gets a bit of a teaser about the presentation as they look over the handouts prior to start time. 
c.  If you don't want to reveal some handout contents until later, give the folder first, then do a pass-around for each insert at the appropriate point in the presentation. 
d.  If different subgroups need different sets of handouts, you can set up your pick-up point with signs to guide recipients to the exact complement of pages targeted for them.  This beats trying to create different subsets of materials ahead of time in sufficient quantities for each audience type.
e.  If the handouts are better distributed after the presentation, place the folders and contents on a table by the exit during the event, so they're ready for recipients to grab on their way out.  Tip:  You can still organize them buffet-style and have people stuff their own folders, but you might want to have personnel standing by to remind tired event-goers to take all the sheets that are coming to them.

Solution #4:  Use email as an easy remedy for materials shortages.  If the quantity was underestimated and you run out of some materials, circulate a sign-in page so that people can request emailed copies.  Since your materials are only pages for insertion -- not printed booklets -- they can easily be emailed as attachments.

Handouts are sometimes vital, and even when they're not, they enhance live presentations in so many ways that they are worth the time and effort to produce.  With  the Pocket Packet system, you can create customized handouts that look great, fit everyone's needs -- and never cause you to faint.  Remarkable!

Do you have other handout solutions that you love?  Share them!  Leave a comment below.  

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