Handouts and Syllabus Material

The other day I was working on a new lecture idea, “Sharpening the Saw: Distance Learning for the Genealogist” and doing what I usually do, construct the outline first. The outline also serves as the core of my handout or syllabus material. A colleague, another genealogy lecturer, raised the question, “Isn’t it a bit risky to give away your outline? Some unscrupulous person could pirate your talk.”

I laughed because anyone who has heard me mention my handouts in outline form knows that I tell people its a guide so the learner knows when I go off topic. The outline never includes the anecdotes and confessions of my learning errors and those human interest hooks are often the key to people remembering my points.

But, my colleague did cause me to look at other handouts, and here are some thoughts based on the 2004 Federation of Genealogical Societies’ conference in Austin.

Some folks like to list parts of an outline in a simple numerical order. I’ve seen Paula Stuart Warren do this very effectively, and Thomas W. Jones. Its easier to refer to number 31 in a syllabus than to section IV.B.4, I guess. They also extend this numbering to the references

I remember a vey nice clean two- column wide handout that Paul Milner used for a lecture on “Effective Internet Use of England’s National Archives”. Now that I found it I still like the look, but wish there was a little something to break up the text more. But it was a neat look.

A good idea that turned out not so good, was to put the print over top of a reproduction in grey of an old engraved picture. The print was hard to read.

I like boxes with tables, or key concepts or sidebar stories. The previously praised Tom Jones does this very well I find. For some reason inexplicable to any but my psychologist friends, I like simple page borders. I wonder if they’ll interpret that as a desire for control or a call to have some one to control me. Its just me. Of course I also lecture on Canadian government border entry records, and put a border on that handout! Borderline something, did you say. Be cautious about shading those boxes and borders, because cheaper papers tend to make them appear darker than intended.

I love bibliographies, reference lists, suggested readings etc.– after all I am a librarian and bibliophile. But I think these things allow the people who attend the lecture or class to follow up, review your concepts and expand their knowledge.
If you know nothing about papers, drop by a local print shop and ask about printing papers. Learn about weights and brightness from the pros. It will be 30 minutes well spent.
I don’t like amusing scripts, though I have used a “Comic” something font a few times. Go figure. What I mean is that the intellectual content of the handout should not be constricted by the font chosen. I seem to be partial to Times-Roman, Arial Narrow and Palatino–oh and that Comic something sometimes. In print, research shows that serif style fonts are easier to use in texts. San serif fonts are ok in headers. Pamela Boyer Ported, a great editor and proof reader, tells me san serif fonts ( e.g. Arial) are the best in overheads and for your powerpoint style presentations. So guess what, the template I use for this blog dictates I use a san serif font. Again, go figure.

Handouts are part brochure, part newletter and part study notes. As we learn to create each type of document, we get better at creating handouts.

Final thought. When I create a handout I do two things. First I create a header that gives the title and copyright notice on every page. The footer identifies me, my business, and how to reach me ( address, web page, email etc.) I did not usually use he footer for anything more than a page number until Louise St. Denis at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies pointed out the opportunity.

What are your experiences with handouts and syllabus material. Any comments?


6 responses to “Handouts and Syllabus Material

  1. Best wishes on your new endeavor, Ken!

    I don’t think it is bad business to “give away” the outline of a talk. No two people do a talk the same way, even with the same outline (as perhaps in an emergency substitute situation). I don’t even give the same talk the same way each time. My own experiences and anecdotes come from real life which, amazingly enough, keeps happening.

    Also the syllabus material should convey enough of the information to let a potential attendee know if they 1.) absolutely need to come to your talk, 2.) should get an audiotape of the talk (if available), or 3.) skip it because they heard it before or it doesn’t apply. You do your audience a great service by letting them know what it is they will be spending their hour on as well as those of us who are visual learners like to follow along.

    What I would like to know is what do speakers use for their own notes while giving the lecture? I suspect this can go from full script to just the outline in the syllabus.

  2. Elissa,
    Thanks for the comments. I totally agree with you about it not being bad business to give away the talk outline when people have paid to hear the lecture or attend the event you give it at.

    Interesting that you should ask. My last lecture I gave I used the Powerpoint presentation and my memory to deliver it. the PP was like a teleprompter I guess.

    But I also use the outlines from the handout, and detailed scripts from time to time. Nothing is laid in stone.

    And I too wonder what others use?

  3. Kathleen Trevena

    For notes I, too, rely on my presentation, which includes Powerpoint slides and whatever maps and illustrations I have interleaved with the slides. (Am still in the dark ages, printing off my material on transparencies.) Since I’ve wrestled the material into the form that best gets me from here to whatever outcome I have chosen, I don’t seem to have trouble adding in the comments, definitions, annecdotes, whatever, at the right places in the talk.

    Although I haven’t gotten lost in a talk yet, some overhead projectors are easier to work with than others. Occasionally I find myself bobbing and weaving, attempting to actually see the overheads on the projector surface – since one mustn’t turn one’s back on the audience to look at the screen – while attempting not to be blinded in the process!

    As for how much to include on the slides and outline, I haven’t worried about omitting material. An advantage, as already stated, is that the audience doesn’t have to take many notes and you always have your key points right in front of you. People often thank me for including as much as I do in handouts. As a rule of thumb I try for about 30 Powerpoint (bulleted text) slides, no more than 5 bullets for slide, for a 50-minute lecture, and that seems to give a reasonable amount of detail for handouts and my own overhead cheat-sheet. Oh, and I include a reference list with the handouts as well.

    As a caveat, I’m still lecturing in a small area – not yet nationally – and am earning my income at a non-genealogical day job, so “theft” of my material would not do me as much harm as it might to others.

    I did have an old friend who is now cruising the country in a 5th wheel trailer ask me to send her handouts [outlines] of my talks so that she could use them at the genealogy talks she gives at their camp grounds. I confess I “forgot” to send them. Mea culpa.


  4. Kathleen,
    Thanks for your comments. A friend of mine sticks post-it notes on his overhead transparencies with key words to help him remember things needed in the lecture at that point.

  5. Lectures are not the largest part of my business at the moment, but there is a part of PowerPoint called the notes page that will allow you to type notes or script on a page with the slide reduced on the page. You can then go to the print function and choose whether to print the slide show, outline or notes. Choose notes and you can have a custom made script if you want to use one. If you would rather just have an outline, choose the outline option and it will print an outline of your slides with bullet points.


  6. Lauren,
    I was waiting for that! Its taken a while before someone rose to the challenge. Congrats, Lauren. In teaching there is often a need to shut up and let students teach. I wondered when someone would raise that point. Thank you.

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