In Praise of Flip Charts

A recent experience led me to think about the use of visual aids in training.  Two training companies were described as being like ‘chalk and cheese’.

Chalk and Cheese

In this case:

  • one company’s courses are scripted and PowerPoint driven, and trainers appeared to treat participants’ questions as a nuisance.  Hmm.
  • the other company’s trainers welcome interaction and dialogue, and mix PowerPoint with a range of other ways to get their message across.  That’s better!

Visual Aids

It led me to think about the term ‘visual aids’.  Aids to whom?  Some trainers seem to consider that their slides are there to help them in their role as trainers.  Perhaps they need to re-think.  Visual aids should help the learners to learn, participants to understand, and the audience to remember.  And PowerPoint and its kin can be magnificent at this – when used well.  We’ll hold that thought for another day!

Flip Charts – the trainer’s friend

I will come out of the closet: I am a real flip chart lover.  I love them as a consultant, working through ideas and solving problems; I love them as a facilitator, capturing and sharing ideas; and I love them as a trainer, to explain, clarify and illustrate learning points.

PowerPoint is linear and pre-programmed: flip charts are infinitely flexible.  So here are some of my tips and techniques for getting the most from this fabulous tool.

Flip Chart Tips and Techniques

Wings
Lots of flipcharts these days have wings – extendable arms that allow you to fasten a finished sheet to either side of the main display.  This is great for displaying participants’ work when doing a review or even for creating wide screen HD flip chart displays.

.

Pre-prepare
If you want to create complex images or drawings that you are not confident to draw ‘live’ then prepare a sheet with the drawing in light pencil (a 2H lead is ideal).  It will be invisible to your audience, but clear enough for you to follow the lines and appear to draw a fabulous image free-hand.  Ruled pencil lines also allow you to write in straight lines if this is not something that comes naturally.

Better, still, practise your drawings on a whiteboard.  Do them over and over until they become second nature, then you won’t have to pre-prep your flip charts!

Laminates
A great way to great more dynamism and use more powerful images is to create full colour printed images and get them laminated.  You can then attach these to your flip chart with blue tack and build up your image more quickly and more stylishly than you could draw it.  For example, create six coloured images of hats for when you want to facilitate a discussion about Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats, or illustrate different team dynamics for when you are explaining Tuckman’s model.

StickyNote Sticky Notes
You can use the oh-so-useful sticky notes in a number of ways.  A simple trick is to use them as marker tabs to help you quickly find a pre-prepared sheet quickly.  A favourite use is in exercises where you want participants to identify, then classify items.  If they write their ideas on the notes, they can then place them on the table or grid you or they have created on the flip chart.

Fonts and colours
For large amounts of text, lower case is easier to read, as long as your writing is very clear.  But do ask yourself: ‘are large amounts of text really appropriate?’ They rarely will be.  So upper case is often clearer.  Text should be in strong colours to create good contrast, and do use lots of colour in your diagrams to make your images interesting.

Caution – do not rely on colour contrast to make distinctions that matter.  Around one man in ten has some limitation to their colour vision.  It is rarer in women.

Pens
Good flipchart pens are a must.  Most trainers (including this one) prefer chisel tip to bullet tip.  When you arrive at a training room (if you’re using their pens) or before you leave for the training venue (if you use yours) test all your pens and throw away any that are no longer at their best.  Always travel with your own set, and a back up set if you expect to rely on your own.  Three excellent brands for clarity/strength of colour, range of colour and life-span (and all are chisel tip) are:

  • Berol Flipchart Markers
  • Edding 40
  • Mr Sketch scented markers

Display
Brighten up your training room by putting flip charts up on the walls at breaks.  It creates a stimulating environment, with visual reminders all around, of what participants have been learning.

So here’s the deal

If you don’t already do so, look for more opportunities to use flip charts.  Make time to practise using them well, and use good quality pens to help you do it well.

. . . and, most important, please add your own tips to the comments at the foot of this blog, to share them with others.

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4 thoughts on “In Praise of Flip Charts

  1. Jooli Atkins

    I love flipcharts!

    I only use PowerPoint, where I have to and that is often to provide a visual signpost for moving on from one part of a workshop to another.

    I also use Magic Whiteboard – a great product that I knew before it was famous on Dragon’s Den 🙂 – to stick to walls that won’t allow blue or white tac and then ‘stick’ my flipcharts to the Magic Whiteboard, which is re-usable. That way you can have your flipcharts all around the room during the event without incurring the wrath of the ‘facilities people’.

    We take photos of the completed flipcharts and send them to the participants at the end of the event – much easier than typing them up and you also get the real images of the day which are impossible to type.

    One of my favourite activities is a flipchart carousel, which is great for avoiding the ‘our team thought …’ feedback drone whilst getting everyone involved in every element of a discussion point.

    I could go on …

    Reply
  2. Jennifer Fitzgerald

    One lesson I have learned time and again is to make sure I write up instructions to any exercises clearly on flipcharts. This provides clarity, reduces the number of questions and helps support delegates as they work through the exercise. It is especially important when facilitating people who have a different mother tongue, who may find verbal instructions difficult.

    Reply
  3. Mary Richards

    Can’t agree more! The humble flipchart is brilliant for enabling interactive in-the-moment learning. Far more beneficial to the delegates than ‘here’s a script/set of slides that I prepared earlier’. Flipcharts are great for activities too – when I’m working with delegates on creative thinking or working under pressure I do a version of the children’s game of ‘pass the parcel’. With the delegates sitting in a circle around a pile of sheets of flipchart paper, a flipchart paper ball is passed around the circle. Whoever is holding the ball when I shout ‘stop’ has to grab a piece of paper and make something from it. Delegates are very creative (hats; walking sticks; envelopes; snowflakes…) and it provides plenty of opportunities to open discussions about being creative and being under pressure.

    Reply

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