Article Category: Visual Aids

Flip Charts 101: How to Use Flip Charts Effectively


Rescue the flip chart from the dark corner of the roomWhen I was in high school, every teacher used an overhead projector regularly. Many years later, I can’t recall the last time I saw one used as meeting rooms are increasing equipped with digital projectors to display PowerPoint and Keynote slides. This is a clear technology upgrade, and I don’t miss the overhead projector at all.

Similarly, the flip chart is another device my teachers used often; sadly, it also gathers dust often in dark, neglected corners of meeting rooms. But flip charts are more than just relics; they remain one of the most versatile tools readily available to speakers.

In this article, we list the core benefits of using flip charts, and give several tips that will help you use this wonderful tool effectively.

Core Benefits of Flip Charts

Flip charts are both a static display tool (like slides or props) and a dynamic creation tool (like a whiteboard or the ubiquitous back of the napkin). This versatility offers many key benefits to speakers, including:

  1. Writing or drawing on a flip chart is an active process, and energizes the speaker. Whenever I step up to the flip chart, my energy levels rise.
  2. Audiences ask more questions. I don’t really know why, but perhaps it’s because the scribbles or sketches on a flip chart feel less permanent (than electronic slides), and thus more open to questioning and dialogue.
  3. Writing takes time, and this provides healthy pauses for your audience to absorb information or take notes.
  4. Flip charts and brainstorming go together like peanut butter and bananas (yummy!). One of my favorite training techniques is using a flip chart to record brainstorming sessions. I ask questions, and then speedily record responses shouted out by my audience.
  5. Flip charts are low tech and analog. You don’t need to worry about passwords, projector bulbs, or extension cords — just present! (I’m not saying they are better than slides; rather, I think speakers should master both options.)

Flip Chart Do’s and Taboos

Using flip charts effectively is a basic skill every competent speaker must possess. You may not use flip charts in every presentation, but you should be able to wield one effectively when appropriate.

Here’s a few tips to help you:

1. Be prepared.
Check and double check that you have markers (and that they aren’t dried out) and enough paper.

2. Choose dark, saturated colors.
To maximize visibility all the way to the back of the room, stick to high contrast colors like black, blue, red, or dark green. Stay away from yellow or anything pastel-shaded.

3. Use colors consistently.
If you are using more than one color (you should), then use them consistently. I typically use black as my base color, but then use red or blue to emphasize key words, or annotate the text.

4. Position the flip chart to maximize visibility for your audience.
I’ve seen speakers use flip charts from exactly where they stood at the beginning of the session: in a far, dark corner. Don’t hesitate to move the flip chart to a more convenient location.

5. Minimize the time spent standing in front of the flip chart.
Lots of people advise standing to the side, even when writing. I find this difficult to do without compromising legibility. However, it is important to quickly move off to the side when you aren’t writing or drawing to avoid being an obstacle.

Flip charts are more than just relics; they remain one of the most versatile tools readily available to speakers.

6. Be neat… it matters.
If nobody can read it, it’s pointless. Practice your penmanship. It’s not hard to do, but it does take practice as it is different than writing on a desk or table.

7. Print.
Don’t write.

8. Print large.
Make sure every word you print can be read by the person sitting in the back row of the room.

9. Print straight across.
Keep your words/phrases oriented straight along the page. Don’t dip down as if your words are tumbling down a waterfall. If you find this difficult, pre-trace some faint pencil lines along the flip chart pages.

10. Give the flip chart the focus.
If you are using both slides and a flip chart within the same presentation, consider whether the two are needed concurrently. If you don’t need your slides when using a flip chart, black out the slides (use the “B” key in PowerPoint to do this) to put the entire focus on the flip chart.

11. Don’t use flip charts for lengthy sentences.
Focus on single words or short phrases. This will keep the tempo quick and active — just what the flip chart should be.

12. Draw pictures. You don’t need to be an artist.
Of course flip charts are good for planned diagrams, but they shine when used for impromptu sketches. Use colors wisely.

13. Make tables, charts, or graphs.
Let your imagination go wild.

14. Pre-fill some pages, either in whole or in part.
It depends on your overall presentation plan, but sometimes it makes sense to pre-write or pre-draw some or all of the pages. On pages meant for brainstorming, I’ll often pre-write the column headings. When using diagrams, I’ll often draw out the main blocks using black marker before my session, and then add color labels and highlights during the presentation. If you do this, be sure to leave a blank page in between prepared pages so that the lines don’t show through.

15. Use pencil to give yourself invisible hints.
You can sketch diagrams in pencil beforehand, and nobody will be able to see them. (You can do this for an arbitrarily detailed figure by projecting it onto the flip chart and tracing in pencil.) Then, during your session, just draw over these invisible lines with markers. Alternatively, you can write reminders to yourself in the corner of the page in pencil. If you plan well, you can eliminate hand-held notes entirely, even for lengthy sessions.

16. Refer back to flip chart pages throughout your presentation.
Help your audience draw connections by referring back to relevant flip chart pages from earlier in your presentation. For example, I sometimes open by brainstorming some big picture questions the audience has about my topic. Then, as the presentation proceeds, I can refer back to those questions as they are answered. If necessary, rip off the pages and post them on the wall to ensure they are accessible.

17. Get your audience members at the flip chart.
You could have a volunteer act as a scribe for you, or you could have small-group activities planned using flip charts. There are endless training techniques you can employ… perhaps that’s another article.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have tips for using flip charts? Please share in the comments.

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Comments icon24 Comments

  1. Robert Fineberg says:

    In nearly 30 years of watching speakers use flip charts, I estimate 90% of those charts were a subtraction rather than an addition to the speaker’s message. I avoid using them 100% of the time.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      It’s possible that 90% of PowerPoint users are using the tool poorly too, but I don’t think that’s a reason to avoid it entirely. There are times when PowerPoint is indispensable, and I would say the same is true for the flip chart.

      I hope articles like this help speakers know when and how to use flip charts effectively.

      1. I agree Andrew. I use flip charts all the time when I’m teaching workshops. By the end of the workshop (especially multi-session workshops) the entire room is wallpapered with the content we covered throughout the program. They continually serve as a focus for discussions, AND they (without a doubt) increase retention for participants. As you probably know, there’s a scientific explanation for the effectiveness of drawing out a concept in front of an audience (mirror neurons and all), but that’s probably for another post :-) Good post. Keep on drawing…!!!

  2. Craig Hadden says:

    Thanks for this list of tips Andrew – very handy!

    To answer your question at the end, the only extra tip that springs to mind is this: Stick thumb-tabs (made of tape) onto the edge of the paper. They can make it much easier to turn the pages! (If you make the tabs out of clear tape, they’re neat and discreet. Or, if you make them out of opaque tape, you can write on or colour them for quicker access to different pages.)

    See a video example by Brendon Burchard of tip #14 (drawing and writing done in advance)

    I was surprised by Robert Fineberg’s comment (above) at first, since as you say, flipcharts let you connect with the audience more than slides do. But on reflection, I suppose when the presenter does ANYTHING other than speak with the audience, he/she fails to fully connect with people. So Robert might be right: Like slides, the majority of flipchart pages might actually hinder rather than help the process. (They give the presenter something to do other than eyeball the (scary) audience, but they may not always actually help people understand or remember your message.)

    P.S. I love the expression “Do’s and Taboos”! (I’d not heard that before, so it seems much fresher than “Do’s and Don’ts”. And rhymes always help to make things stick in the mind.)

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Thanks for the tip about the sticky tabs, Craig.

  3. Awesome post, Andrew! I think all the points you raised are true — but not for everyone. It takes a certain amount of exposure to the flip chart to use it properly — presenters need to have legible handwriting, not cover the flip chart as they write, and also keep some ready flip charts for non-candid scenarios. Of course being comfortable with the medium is a prerequisite that’s true for any presenting technique.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I agree, Geetesh. Flip charts are certainly not for every speaking situation. My hope is to encourage speakers to get comfortable so that the flip chart becomes a useful option for them in situations where it does make sense.

  4. Great advice. I love flip charts for smaller audiences especially. It’s intimate. Their input goes up in front for all to see, so they’re involved. You gave me some new tips I appreciate. Keep ‘em coming!

  5. Thanks for bringing flip charts back into conversations regarding presentations. They are simple and effective . I suggest that they are best used with audiences of under 100, a group size that allows a lot of active discussion and participation.
    I carry a flip chart around with me in my trunk! They are always ready to be “online ” and they are wireless.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      You make a good point about group size, Betty.

      To be effective, the flip chart itself needs to be visible (harder in larger groups) and the writing or sketches need to be legible to every audience member (also harder in larger groups). It depends on the layout of the room and the positioning of the flip chart.

      In my experience, I use flip charts with audiences ranging from 2 to about 40 people, but rarely more than that.

      1. Ray Ochlan says:

        Great stuff, I follow the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint and try to project on a dry erase so I can flip chart my ppt
        10 slides 20 minutes 30 font

  6. debbie price says:

    When I write flip chart pages ahead of time I use a piecs of Plexi glass between the sheets to keep the marker from going through on the next page and it provides a stronger surface to write on.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Good tip, Debbie. I imagine that might help make your marker strokes crisper too.

  7. Dale Klein says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’m also a flip chart supporter; good article. Another tip is to learn how to master turning over the flip chart pages so you don’t fumble. Additionally, you can place a post it note on a page to easily reference it.

  8. Eileen says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Love the article especially tip 15. Use a pencil beforehand…mmm!

  9. Andrew:

    Another excellent post, about a visual aid that’s at least a century old but still is useful on many occasions. If your easel has wheels, then be sure to lock them so your chart doesn’t slide away or fall over, as Max Atkinson has related.

    If you tend to write downhill, then you might want to buy an easel pad with light blue lines spaced an inch apart, or an inch grid. Suppliers like Office Depot and Staples carry them, and also have sheets with self stick backing that can be torn off and placed on the wall. There also are smaller pads with built-in easels for using on the top of tables.

    Richard

  10. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the comprehensive post. Here’s a tip related to colours I picked up from a presenter last year who was using a flip chart to write down a lengthy list of ideas solicited from the audience. He alternated colours for each point (green, blue, brown as i recall). I wondered whether the colours had any significance and asked him afterwards. He said that they didn’t; he has just found that audiences are able to see, digest and understand lists on a flip chart more easily if the concepts are separated by colour. I have since experimented with this concept using two and three colours and I have to say that the end product is better than it would have been had there only been one colour.

    Cheers!

    John

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I like anything that can improve readability.

      I think the only potential danger is that the audience attempts to mentally group the concepts which share a color. As long as the list of items does not suggest such groupings, then go for it.

  11. Andrea says:

    Hey Andrew (or anyone else reading this who might know the answer)

    Do you know where I can get horizontal flipcharts like the one Brendon Burchard uses? I’m in the UK and I can’t seem to find any (apart from the tabletop ones).

    Thanks
    Andrea

    1. I’ve just now seen your question: I produce a flipchart similar to Brendon’s (120×90 cm) and I invite you to give a look at it. It’s having great success in Italy, come and give a look at King Flipchart in FB, leave your comments. I’m at your disposal. Thanks a lot, Tiziana

  12. Thanks for the article Andrew.

    I find that flip-charts are effective when used effectively as you have mention in your points.

    You only have to look at examples such as Simon Sinek’s Why Ted Talk to see how effective having a well planned flip chart can be,

    If anything, flip charts add a new (old) dimension to presentations because we are so used to poorly designed and executed ppts.

    Andrew- How often do you use flip charts v. powerpoint v. other forms of media v. nothing?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Re: How often do you use flip charts v. powerpoint v. other forms of media v. nothing?

      It varies quite a bit based on the type of speaking I’m doing. When I teach courses (ranging from a couple hours to a full day), I use flip charts, slides, and paper handouts quite a bit. When I deliver seminars (~ about an hour), slides are most common. For shorter presentations, I’ll generally only use a single form of media (either a single prop, or maybe just a couple slides).

  13. jared says:

    I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never really considered using flip charts until now. Great article. I’m not sure if I will, but I’m considering now :) Thanks!

  14. Jeffrey says:

    Just for the record, sometimes people try to flip the flipchart page like they are turning the page of a book, which doesn’t work well. I’ve seen a smooth technique where the presenter stands beside the chart, grabs the bottom of the page between their pointer and middle fingers, then brings the bottom up in a curl so that the bottom edge stays close to the sheet; guiding the edge over the top and down the back until gravity carries it the rest of the way. It’s smooth and fairly silent.

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