There's handouts and then there are handouts...
Here's my thing. I, too
, have noted that people stopped giving out handouts. In fact, I attended a heavy-duty molecular biology session that had no handouts -- this was a huge problem (can you say retention?)
I agree that receiving a printout of ppt slides is almost never a good thing. Either 1) the slides can stand on their own (so why are you bothering to give a presentation) or 2) the slides can't stand on their own (so why give people copies of them?). However, if the topic is at all complicated, or if you're giving detailed instructions, or if you're showing web pages -- you should hand people a summary with things spelled out, a list of instructions, a few annotated screenshots, or a list of URLs. It's fate worse than death when someone reads a URL during a presentation.
Some people (like me) need to take notes to remember. If I can take these notes on a sheet that has related information already, I'll be more likely to keep both. Also, I'll be less worried about jotting down enough to re-find pages and resources if I know that I've got the url down already -- that means more time listening.
So, IMHO, best practices are
- 6-6 rule: no more than 6 lines with 6 words each per slide. Slides do not stand on their own, but are merely to guide the talk or to hold screenshots if internet access isn't reliable
- handouts: list all URLs and instructions. If you're showing a bunch of different web pages or databases or electronic resources, consider adding little screenshots in case your audience can only remember that "it's the one with the green stripe at the top". Have some white space for people to make notes and use tables or bulleted lists to compile the summary points you want people to walk away with. I could probably get permission to share one of these I made internally at MPOW -- you can e-mail me and ask if you'd like.
- explain what the handout is briefly in the beginning of the talk so people know what they have.
See, for example, my presentation last year for JHMI
-- my slides are different from my handout.