conference tips – the old-school handout


We’ve all been to that conference session where the presenter puts up a slide with a really complicated table. Or a very dense set of quotations. They don’t do this to deliberately confuse people or give them eye strain – they want to show their evidence. Without this table or set of quotes their argument might not fly.

But a screen filled up with a table in tiny 10 point? A three paragraph quotation?We can barely read what’s on the screen. And we certainly can’t read all of it in the time allowed, make sense of it, and take in what is being said at the same time.

So if you want avoid the cluttered evidence slide, what can you do? Well, there’s one old school-strategy that still works – the conference handout.

Here’s some handout basics.

  • Use a single sheet of A4.

Put the table or complicated quotes onto the sheet together with the title of the presentation and your contact details. You might add a lead to a published paper if the material is already out in the open. But nothing more than these essentials.

Use a largish font. Take some time formatting the handout. Draw attention to the information you want people to focus on– use highlights, circles, annotations – new school capacities now available on every desktop/laptop.

  • Put the handouts on the seats before people come in rather than try to hand them out in the session.

Handing out your sheet wastes time and if you talk as well as hand out people are easily distracted and may not hear what you are saying. That defeats the point of the handout.

The downside of putting the handout out early is that people might read while you are talking – the way to try to avoid this is to announce at the start that you will be referring to the handout later and please don’t read now. You also need to be sufficiently engaging so people want to listen to you rather than read your handout at the wrong time.

  • When it’s time to use the handout, tell people to turn to the page.

Walk the audience through your content making very clear the point you want them to remember.

  • Pick up any handouts at the end of the session so they don’t bother the next presenter – and find the nearest recycling bin.

The downside of handouts is that you may not know how many to print. If you have a packed house you may just not have enough. But sharing is OK. It’s just as likely that you’ll have some left over. And that points to the problem with handouts – they are paper and create waste.

So that’s a very helpful pointer. We all need to think about whether we actually do need that table or complex quote at all. Is there any way you can do without it? If you really really really must have it, then you’ll need to add the paper to your conference carbon footprint.


Ive written a lot about conferences  –  you can find most of them by searching the keyword ‘conference’. Or you might like to check out these particular posts:

Choosing a conference

Conference survival essentials

Should I go to the conference dinner?

Who’s coming to my paper?

 Dealing with ‘post paper’ questions

Post conference follow up


Photo by ål nik on Unsplash


About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, conference, conference presentation, handout and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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