Using Flip Charts

by Speaking Tips | January 26, 2004

Unabashedly low tech, universally understood and easy to use, flip charts remain communication powerhouses. They continue to be popular because they are effective, portable, familiar, inexpensive and do not require electricity or telecommunications. Flip charts generally work better than anything else in a presenter's toolbox to:

  • Focus an audience's attention
  • Give visual expression to ideas and concepts
  • Communicate what words can not
  • Promote collaboration between groups
  • Develop consensus among diverse constituencies
  • Sell new ideas

Flip chart usage generally falls into one of two categories:

As a visual aid for presenters.
Flip charts may be prepared either in advance of the presentation or on the spot. The ones prepared on the spot should appear spontaneous but to be effective must be carefully thought out in advance. Spatially-oriented professions such as engineers, artists and architects, commonly sketch out diagrams and drawings as an adjunct of their thought processes. The more word-oriented professions often have to develop graphic skills. Simple lines forming squares, triangles, circles, and arrows convey ideas and explanations very well. The hurdle is to learn to keep things in proportion and in the proper relationship on the page.

As a display of group thinking.
Flip charts require scribes to capture the ideas as they are expressed and then decided upon. Ideally, the scribe is not the person facilitating or chairing the event. Group thinking also requires that pages be hung around the room as they are filled to display the thoughts. Similarly, flip charts can be used to chart and record a meeting's progress. Flip charts are indispensable for group activities such as problem solving, decision making, planning, team building, project control, brainstorming, quality management and reaching consensus.

Tips On Using Flip Charts Effectively

  • Confine flip chart use to smaller groups (under 25).
  • Write, then turn and talk to avoid talking to the flip chart with your back to the audience.
  • Print rather than write. Make letters large and bold enough to be seen. Use one inch height per letter for each fifteen feet the audience is away from the flip chart.
  • Use only the top 2/3 of the pages. Leave blank pages between the used pages to avoid "see through" effects.
  • Use markers made specifically for flip charts which do not bleed. Avoid magic markers. Scribes will appreciate scented markers with refreshing odors.
  • Pre-design the pages ahead of time and tab the pages with post-it notes for easier turning. Pencil in lightly what you are going to write or draw with markers.
  • Use more than one color for contrast and to distinguish systems or types of information. Black and blue are the best; avoid yellow, orange or pastels.
  • If you plan to mount used pages on the wall, find out what is allowed and what sticks on the mounting walls. (Some wall surfaces repel many kinds of tape.) If you do not know the situation, come with a surplus of tack pins and tape.
  • Invest in a carrying case to protect the pages if you plan to re-use your flip charts.

About the Author

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