Hold the Handouts

hold the handouts bluefeet blog Lilli Cloud

Mindful Meetings Part I

I was standing at the front of a room full of board members, doing my best to hold their attention with my dazzling facilitation when one of the members jumps up to take a phone call – in the room.

The front of the room, where everyone could both see and hear him. Participants were stuck moving back and forth between me and the distraction, getting little out of either experience.

There was no way this was happening on my watch – because I know it’s impossible for our brains to do more than one thing at a time.

Fortunately, about the time I walked over to him, a handler jumped up and moved the chatty exec to another room.


When you’re leading a meeting, not everything is within your control. But some things are and one is the handouts. Everyone gives the handouts too soon, me included, and I’m always sorry when I do.

It’s like the time Phoebe’s mom gave her the puppy on an episode of Friends, and then tried to have a serious conversation with her.

As soon as someone gets a piece of paper, they’re reading it, which means they’re not listening. And yet I keep talking.

If I give the front of the room handouts to pass along, everyone stops listening and focuses on the paper. The meeting is now officially not functioning. Only paper-passing is functioning. And yet I keep talking.

Here are some ways you can help people be more present by avoiding the distraction of the handouts. Is this subtle? Yes, but subtle is significant.

Have you been successful in your career without this subtlety? Yes – but have you reached your potential? Or are you just successful?

When it comes to focus, it doesn’t take much to break it.

1) Green Meeting Option I

Don’t have handouts at all!

Will anyone ever look at them, or are you just sharing because you think you’re supposed to have handouts?

I attend committee meetings regularly where people print out agendas for everyone. Good to know there is an agenda, but I do not need a copy right in front of me. Why not write it on the white board for all to see?

2) Green Meeting Option II

Send the handouts in advance and let people decide if they prefer to print them or view them on a laptop or tablet.

I have one colleague who is very tactile. He prints everything because he processes through sight and touch. We should honor that learning style, but not all of us need or want paper.

For those who prefer reading on an electronic device, you have to set ground rules: devices are to be used strictly for the purpose of the meeting.

One client told me it’s common for people to just work away on their laptop while someone is presenting in their company meetings. Another received urgent edits from an exec done while she was in a large meeting.

If someone comes to a meeting and does other work, they clearly do not need to be in that meeting. Or, the other work is more important than the meeting, so just leave and get the work done.

You only get to pick one. One at a time.

3) Distribute In Advance

Arrive early and distribute handouts at each seat. It makes the room look nice and sends the signal that this is an organized meeting. I always do this for workshops because the attractive materials are also part of the bluefeet brand experience. Every touch point is an opportunity.

Know that people will read ahead or skim while you’re talking, but sometimes people need to reference the material throughout the meeting, such as during a training session. If they don’t need to reference the material, consider the next option.

4) Distribute As Needed

Hold each handout until you get to the point in the meeting where it’s needed. You can pass one to each person, or send them down the line.

Either way, stop saying anything of substance during the passing. Or just stop talking altogether. It won’t kill you to be quiet for a few seconds. And it won’t be as long as you think.

Consider even giving people a minute or two to review the document. Again, no talking. Just let them read. They know how to read. They can’t read if you’re talking.

Take a drink of water. Check how you’re doing on time. But don’t check your messages. This will dilute your focus and others may see it as permission to check their own messages. If someone is paying you to be there, you owe them your full attention.

5) Distribute at the End

Think of it as a parting gift. Whether it’s your deck, a brochure or an in-depth spreadsheet that supports your recommendations, if someone doesn’t need it during the meeting, then don’t give it to them until the end. If they really like to take notes, they probably have a notebook or a laptop.

6) Distribute Later

Better yet, keep it green and share it with them electronically along with a short summary or commentary on the meeting. Just be sure to get it to them when you say you will.

7) Ask

Before the meeting, poll your group to see what they would like. Share that you practice green meetings, but you’re happy to print for those who would like paper.

Checklist for handouts:

  • People need to reference them in the meeting. Consider Green Option I, no handouts. Instead show via PowerPoint for all to see. Save paper and distractions.
  • People may want to take notes on them. Does everyone do that? Consider Green Option II, letting them decide if they want to print the handouts.
  • People may want to reference them after the meeting. Consider option 5, give the handout as a parting gift.

This is just one way to have a mindful meeting. Stay tuned for more.