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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