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Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach

Imagine you are in a technical training session and the instructor is writing on a flip chart. The marker does not work very well so he presses a bit harder. The extra pressure causes the flip chart stand to become unstable and it comes crashing to the ground. He spends 10 minutes trying to set it up. After it crashes to the ground again, he leaves the room to find some duct tape to stabilize it. The room starts to become disrupted with side conversations.

When he resumes writing he uses a new set of markers and soon the room has a pungent smell of acetone fumes. People start fanning their faces with note pads. Frustration levels also arise in the very wide room because people on the sides of the room cannot see the flip chart clearly. Now visualize the people in front of the flip chart squinting because the instructor is writing using yellow and pink markers- which are not very visible. When the instructor finally decides to use darker markers, his credibility is diminished even more due to his untidy handwriting and misspelling.

Presentation skills excellence is all about taking the time to hone your skills and maximize the value to the audience. The hypothetical story above is to help you understand some of the things that can go wrong when using flip charts, and how to use them successfully and professionally.

Some reasons for using flip charts can be:

  1. Changes the presentation mode and helps keep the audience’s attention
  2. Increases engagement when used for audience interaction
  3. Used to facilitate discussion, brainstorming, and group or individual workshop exercises
  4. Helps focus the audience’s attention

Using a flip chart to help jog your memory:

Pre-determined facts, figures, points can be covertly written in light pencil ahead of time.  As you use the flip chart you glance at these hidden cues to help make sure you have discussed all the necessary points.

Success strategy for using a flip chart:

  1. If your handwriting and/or spelling is bad, then consider using a scribe. This also helps you maintain more eye contact and interaction with your audience.
  2. Use paper that has lines to keep your writing straight
  3. Only use one page per idea, do not let the page become too crowded
  4. If you are using heavy markers or doing a lot of drawings, use heavy flip chart paper or use the subsequent page as a bleed sheet. Test your paper and markers ahead of time to see if you will need to do this.
  5. Preparation work can include putting tabs on the vertical side of the flip chart pages. They can be color-coded, numbered, or incorporate some notes. This will aid in keeping a good flow when turning the pages.
  6. Understand your room configuration and visualize if audience members will be able to see the flip chart.
  7. Make sure the flip chart is uncluttered and is in a location where the lighting will help with visibility.
  8. As you are writing/drawing, try and find a position that will maximize the ability of the audience to view the content
  9. Determine if there are any obstacles between you and the flip chart such as a projector light, lectern, table, or audience members. How will you move to and from the flip chart?
  10. If you do not have good handwriting, practice so that it looks professional. The other option is to use a scribe or prepare as much of the drawings/writing beforehand as possible. Setting it up beforehand helps keep the flow.
  11. When dealing with multiple ideas or complex data, use multiple sheets and stick them to the wall. Use self-stick flip chart paper when you want to display the work on a wall. Determine what wall coverings are in place ahead of time and if there are any objections to putting them there. Adhesive tape that will not mark the wall coverings is also an option. If the room could get hot and or humid, be aware that it can become distracting if the pages start falling from the walls.
  12. Keep the flip chart content visual. Drawings and different colors and different font sizes for headings and sub-headings can help people follow the flow of information.
  13. Use white paper and dark markers. Thick markers with colors such as black, blue, red, and green are most effective. Careful of red-green combinations as this is a color blindness combination that affects 1 in 10 men. Avoid solvent pens- the smell can be distracting and the alternatives are just as good.
  14. Write in capitals so that the font is clearly visible.
  15. Practice drawing and do mini-sketches to practice the layout.
  16. Know the flow of your content, know what’s next and incorporate purposeful transitions.
  17. Make sure that the information you are discussing is relevant to what is displayed on the flip chart. A useful technique is to use a strategically placed blank page that is identified with a tab on the side that can easily be flipped into place.
  18. The types of stands are important. The options include:
  • Tent-type flip charts that are placed on tables for groups to work with.
  • Flip charts on a sturdy stand are most frequently used.
  • Flip charts on stands that have wheels can be useful when you have a need to move the flip charts around. This is sometimes necessary following a group exercise, such as when you want people to discuss their brainstorming information.
  • Cheap, portable, flimsy flip chart stands are available, but be cautious that they might become distracting if they collapse or if the flip chart keeps falling off.