Especially in these times of virtual panels, many panelists want to provide more value to the audience in the form of a handout. That’s what they say, but I’m not so sure that is what they mean.
A handout is printed material that supports the panel discussion. It can be in the form of an agenda, an outline, PowerPoint slide printouts, fact sheets, a list of references, a spreadsheet, or an article handed out prior to or during the panel. It can also include promotional materials about you, your panelists, their organizations, or a specific product or service that would benefit the audience.
Yet many panelists might also prepare a takeaway, which is slightly different.
A takeaway can be the same thing as your handout or some other gift; the only difference is that it’s given to attendees as they leave the meeting.
One reason handouts exist is so that the audience can take notes during the panel discussion. When people write things down, they are also more likely to remember the salient points, even if they never go back and look at their notes again. Handouts also provide audience members with a sense of security, especially during highly technical panel discussions, because they know that detailed information is there to refer to if necessary. As an added benefit to you, should your technology fail, you can always rely on your handouts.
Sounds like you should always have a handout, right? Not so fast; there are two sides to every coin. If you give the audience material to refer to while the panel talks, you run the risk of losing the attention of a large percentage of your audience. They will be looking at and reading the handout rather than listening to the panel. They will also be flipping ahead, trying to figure out what the panel is going to say rather than listening to what they are saying!
There is no “right” or “wrong” answer, but you do have choices when it comes to using handouts:
Figure out your strategy and tell the participants upfront so they can know what to expect. Unless, of course, you want it to be a surprise!