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When I started teaching, one of my goals was to provide excellent handouts for each class I taught. Years later, based on feedback from my students, it appears that I have met that goal.

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Creating excellent handouts can be very time-consuming, and even now I still typically invest several days’ worth of time into creating a handout for the first time. But over the years I have developed several shortcuts that have significantly reduced that time investment, and today I will share them with you.

Shortcut #1: Start at the Foundation

In the world of documents, the foundation is called a template. Creating a reusable template for your class handouts will take a serious investment of time and effort, but once complete you will reap the reward many times over. The template will help you not only with layout, but as a means for organizing your thoughts and presentation of the information. Regardless of which software you use to develop your handouts, there is most likely a template feature. This allows you to populate the document with all of the repeating, standard, branding information. Items to include are:

  • Cover page layouts, including copyright information and branding
  • Contact information for follow-up and/or social media
  • Broad organizational headers
  • General formatting standards including font style, sizing, paragraph layouts and page numbering
  • Reminders of things to remember to include (easily deleted if not required or no longer needed)

The more you can put in the template, the less time you will have to spend in the future, reinventing the wheel. It will also be an element in establishing your brand: handouts with a consistent appearance send a consistent message.

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Shortcut #2: Steal from Yourself

As trainers, instructors and presenters, we generally focus on one area of expertise. However, each specific class often focuses on a more narrow element. In some cases these details maybe shared between topics. Whenever possible, copy information from one handout directly into a second handout and then edit the information if absolutely necessary. If the information has been proven to work well as a means of communication before, it will probably work well again.

Also, as you develop your handouts, begin with the idea of reuse already in mind. Are any elements essential to the foundation of your overall topic? If so, present them in such a manner that it will be easy to reuse the material with little or no modifications. Over time, you can create a significant library, speeding up the process of creating excellent handouts by leaps and bounds.

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Shortcut #3: Work Like a Writer

As much I do not consider myself a writer (speaking is much more in my strike zone), a lot of writing is required for my job as a teacher, trainer and presenter. As I have studied more about how writers work, the one universal concept is that of the first draft. The concept of the first draft is simple: just get the information, thoughts, and ideas into print and don’t worry about the overall quality.

This is also true when developing a handout. Focus more on getting the important concepts and ideas down before worrying about order, layout or presentation. Once the bulk of the information has been written, then go back (preferably after some time away) and reorder, refine and polish. Although taking two or three passes seems like it would add time to the total process, my experience is that it actually shortens it. By eliminating the worry of polish and perfection, the information flows much more quickly and in the end, getting to a quality product happens more quickly as well.

What is your favorite shortcut for creating excellent handouts?