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How Do You Use Genealogy Presentation Handouts?

The Importance of Genealogy Presentation Handouts
Last year I gave a presentation for a history conference advertised to genealogists. One of the speakers, not a genealogist, asked why he had to prepare a handout. He felt it was unnecessary as he gave numerous talks each year, never preparing a handout. The organizer replied, "genealogists expect them."

I had to laugh because she was right. I had seen this speaker before and had been to presentations in that history field, and never once was I given a handout or even a list of resources (and I LOVE a good bibliography). I thought it was interesting that in non-genealogy circles, a handout may seem like an optional piece of paper. I believe, in this case, the presenter felt that between the participant taking notes and buying his book, his providing additional written material wasn't necessary. His work was to give the presentation, and that was it. (I'm not judging his attitude. It is extra work to put together a handout.) But as genealogists, we've come to expect those multiple pieces of paper or digital documents for webinars, society meetings, seminars, and conferences. And let me be clear. I love resources, so I'm a fan of the handout. But are we really benefitting from receiving that handout?

Genealogy audiences expect handouts, but genealogy presenters (and hosting societies and institutions) have differing ideas of what makes a good handout. For our purposes, I'm not interested in debating what makes a "good" handout. In genealogy, handouts have some commonalities, such as being about 4 pages, but they may be even more depending on whether it's a 1-hour society talk, a webinar, or an institute course. Currently, Legacy Webinars has 1,886 webinars with 7,063 syllabus pages. That averages to almost a 4-page handout for each webinar, but as you know, some presenters provide handouts that can get as high as 10+ pages. Digital handouts allow presenters to create handouts that exceed 4 pages because they don't need to be printed and handed out to the audience.

So with all that effort presenters use to provide presentation handouts, how can we, as the audience, make the most of the handouts we are given?

What Do You Do?

What do you do with handouts? If we are talking about a webinar, you most likely download them. But what then? Handout styles run the gamut and can be simply an outline of the speaker's main points, or they can act as a reference piece for later with additional resources. Those handouts that are an outline of the talk require you to annotate information so that you can remember what those bullet points mean and how they relate to your research. Without doing so, in the future, those points may be too brief to be used in your research.

I typically take notes on handouts and use a highlighter to mark what I want to remember. I also go through any bibliography and checkmark books I own and highlight books I want to purchase. I then add those books to my GoodReads account.

Some researchers upload the handout to an Evernote binder so they can add tags or benefit from OCR (Optical Character Recognition). This way, they get rid of the physical paper and have an easy way to find what they need in the future.

What do you do with the handouts and syllabi you accumulate? Do you take notes on the pages? Do you use the information to make to-do lists? What about bookmarking recommended websites?

We can all benefit from the "best practices" of others. So I'm curious. How do you use handouts and syllabi once the event is over? How do you get the most from that information? Use the comments to share how you use handouts after the presentation.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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I refer to the sources and hyperlinks for follow up. Sometimes I am not ready to use them when I listen to the presentation, but I know they will be useful in future and they are there when I need them.

I like to download and print the handout before the webinar starts. During the presentation I try to follow along with, and take notes on, the handout. Later, I scan the handout, which by this point contains my handwritten notes, and store the image as a .pdf file, sorted by topic, on an external hard drive that I use to maintain reference materials. Sometimes a presentation will touch upon more than one of the topics that I've established for reference notes. In that case, the .pdf file is stored under each of the topic categories to which it relates. And, yes, that external drive is backed up to OneDrive.

The handout/syllabus is so important to me that I usually will leave a webinar when one is not offered.

Like you, I annotate my hard copy to reinforce my learning.

My annotated hard copy goes into a binder, organized by year and month. I can easily find the annotated copy by searching my digital calendar by keyword to find the month and year of the webinar.

The digital file of the document is saved to my Google Drive in a folder titled Syllabi and Handouts.

I retitle the digital document by prefixing the title with the date in the "yearmonthday" format, and the subject title in a more friendly keyword style.

I have yet to figure out how I'll use the digital copies. When I do, I'll know where to find them.

How I use handouts and syllabi:
I have two situations. If it is a talk of interest, I keep notes on a separate page which I then neatly add to the handout/syllabus (since my writing of notes is terrible and I have trouble deciphering them 24 hours later. On the other hand i have kept a file of all handouts by presenters to the Summit County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society since 1994 with indexes by date and by key word. These re available to our members (I should scan them all so that they can be easily sent).

I have a separate folder in my dropbox for handouts and I categorize them by topic. If it is something that I just learned about that I want to act on quickly, I will print it out and keep on my desk until I follow-up.

I have attended mainly virtual presentations and I download the handouts and organize them on my computer in folders. I add them to Evernote with tags. If I were to receive actual paper, I would scan and toss. I went to an in-person presentation with my society last week. The speaker was a historian who wrote a book. There was no handout and I didn't expect one in that case.

I have a Remarkable and load the handout to my Remarkable. So I can then make notes on the handout, underline, use asterisks and even add note pages. I make my handouts a document that I can use. I can also save the file when I am done to my computer in my designated directory. Before getting my Remarkable, I always printed and made notes, highlighted, take notes during the presentation. Of course, when I am done, I can make a digital copy. When I get a really good syllabus and notes that I know I can use regularly, I keep it in paper version for quick access. Now that I have my Remarkable, I can keep it stored on there also for quick access.

I download and read through them...and then refer back to them when necessary. As a presenter myself (I work at and present at my local library), I always create handouts...

Incidentally, the other world in which handouts are considered necessary is that of romance fiction writing - I was a member of Romance Writers of America for 20 years and in the early digital days, when storage was still an issue, at the annual conference we'd receive HUGE coil bound packages of handouts from all the presenters. And woe betide a speaker who didn't have one!

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