Much Maligned and Misunderstood – the Humble Flipchart

How do you feel about flip charts? An odd question, I know…….

I’ve noticed there is a bit of a divide – the pro and anti flip chart camps, people that either love ’em or hate ’em. There are people who express a distaste for this humble piece of equipment. And then there are those that swear by them.

Someone asked me just the other day whether I was “flip chart” or “not flip chart”. Do I use one or not in my workshops?

The answer is of course, but not always. More often than not when I use a flip chart, I use a lot of other materials too. A flip chart is a tool, a piece of equipment to use when the occasion fits. It is not a centre piece.

Jewell Facilitation Workshop024

My own flip chart is frequently used for writing down all sorts of ideas, scribbles, drawings, the odd mind map or large list. I like be able to see the big picture (literally!). It is a fabulous tool, and one of several pieces of equipment that I use regularly.

In a workshop I use it:

  • To “park” ideas
  • As a way to record the results of a brainstorm
  • To note down the main points in a conversation when needed
  • To show a diagram or do a quick drawing to illustrate a point
  • To show the aims of the workshop
  • To write up some ground rules if needed
  • To note down important questions

There is nothing special or clever about it. It doesn’t have a particular air of cool. It’s not a spendidly exciting  thing, but then it doesn’t need to be. I can see where the dislike comes from, you can get it wrong (yes, really). But in defence of this uninspiring looking piece of equipment, I would suggest that it is not about whether it should be used or not used, but about whether you can make it work well for your needs.

Is there a way to use a flipchart properly?

Well actually yes there is, or rather there are ways to use it badly that are probably what spur on the idea that they are not to be encouraged.

There is such a thing as “death by flipchart”. It’s the lo-tech version of “death by powerpoint”. They both mean the same thing. They refer to a tool used badly, the impact of which is to make you feel talked at, slide after slide (or sheet of paper after sheet of paper) with little or no regard for the audience or group of people listening, watching or reading. Most of us have been in the audience and experienced this at some time or other. It’s boring and so rather than risk being in this position, perhaps people prefer to avoid them.

Powerpoint, or perhaps Prezzie or Sway are all valid ways of presenting information. It is not the tool that is to blame but the way it is used. You can include them very well in a workshop, but they are not THE workshop.

flipchart

And the humble flip chart is the same. When I worked in Nepal many years ago, we used a flip chart with “newsprint” the hand made and comparatively expensive paper to write on. We used it sparingly and didn’t write down endless tracts of information. This was so long ago that in fact the then high tech version of presenting information was on an overhead projector. I digress…

A flip chart is a valuable tool, but only if you use it well. My top tips for using one are as follows:

  • Do not write pages and pages of information out and flip through them.
  • If you are preparing information in advance, make sure it is in sequence and that perhaps you mark your pages so you don’t get in a muddle.
  • Write clearly and choose good pens. I really can’t emphasise enough the good pens.
  • Green and red markers are often hard for some people to read, particularly at a distance- I tend to avoid them.
  • Using all colours of the rainbow to write in may seem appealing from where you are standing, but remember people do need to read what you have written.
  • Make sure you write big enough for your participants to actually see.
  • A flip chart is something to support your information on. It is not something you are glued to, it is not a comfort blanket. You can move away from it and use other materials (something I highly recommend in fact).
  • If you are writing things down as you go, remember your audience, don’t just talk to the flip chart.
  • We are not all lucky enough to have primary school teacher neat and tidy writing, and we are not all good at writing on a board in straight lines (I’m not, and I’ve been doing it for years!). But equally scrawling all over the paper in millions of different directions is not helpful.
  • Summarise, paraphrase or use short hand where appropriate if you are writing as you go along. Most of the time you don’t need to get every word, for example if you are doing a brainstorm. Your participants won’t want to be reading great long sentences and you will take a lot of valuable discussion time doing so, not to mention a lot of paper!
  • If you are taking notes, recording a brainstorm or taking down ideas it’s a good idea to take the pieces of paper off the flipchart as you go along and stick them up on the wall somehow. That way you can see all the information. If possible, think in advance where you are going to out these pieces of paper and whether you have space to display them.

And there I rest my case. It is a simple piece of kit, not to be overused and I would say generally doesn’t work well as a solitary thing. By which I mean you will need some other activities to go with it.

If you want to see me and my flip chart in action, it plays a minor but important supporting role in my next workshop and will be there together with a large variety of other pieces of equipment and materials.

Do you have a favourite piece of equipment in your workshops?

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great article and so relevant.

    I frequently mix the old (flip chart) with the new (SmartPhone) and photograph chart contents, where relevant, so that I can share them with course delegates, use them personally as aide memoire and to ensure that no learning is forgotten

  2. Thanks Andy. Agree, taking photos of the contents is the perfect way to get the best out of both worlds, that’s exactly what I do.

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