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?

 

 

 

A-Z of Workshop Minigems part 4 – Tools to Zone

Here at last is the final instalment of my minigems! There are so many things about workshops that I could share, but these are just a small selection of quick pointers for you to think about when doing workshops. Enjoy!

mini gems T  mini gems U mini gems -V mini gems W mini gems X mini gems Y mini gems Z

I’d love to know what you think of my top tips, and if you have any of your own please share!

For further information on future workshops click here or sign up to be notified of next dates and more hints and pointers designed to make your workshops run more smoothly.

People Centred Meetings

A few weeks ago I wrote about bad meetings. The types of meetings you really don’t want to go to. The types of meetings that make people cringe and roll their eyes and wonder why they bother. But what about good meetings? Have you ever been to a good meeting?

Hands up…….there must be a few of you…..

Some companies, organisations and places of work have got it sussed. They know exactly how to conduct meetings that make people want to go to them (or at least not groan when one pops up in their diary). They know how to make them productive and how to make the best use of the resources in that meeting. By which I mean the people. Just as importantly, they know what they want to happen after the meeting has finished. They have thought about how the meeting might end and the follow up afterwards.

There is a lot of advice out there on what to do and what not to do about meetings. There are innovators of all kinds who have tried to revolutionalise meetings as we know them. You hear about people meeting standing up, or meetings that happen while you walk , meetings that are short and fast but happen every day , and of meetings that are long and involved and look more like a workshop. There are meetings that use lots of technology, and meetings that happen where no one is even in the same room (this example is another rather over parodied meeting but you get the picture!).

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However your meeting looks, one of the of the most important elements of any meeting is the participation and engagement of the people present. It is about inviting the right people in the first place and ensuring that their time and energy is well used. If the structure and process of the meeting doesn’t allow people to take part, and contribute effectively then it isn’t going to be worth doing. While not everyone is as disengaged as this man we have all been to meetings where we have spent time doodling and thinking about our lunch rather than joining in!

The thing that can really ensure your meetings work are keeping the people as the primary focus, rather than the information you have to get through or the decisions you have to make. A bold statement perhaps. But if you have reached a decision based on only half of your participants really thinking hard about the discussion, then the chances are you may have to go back and revisit it at a later date. Getting people together for a meeting can be hard, so you want to make sure you make the most out of your opportunity. People holding a meeting often plan the agenda, organise a room, check people’s diaries and order tea and coffee. But they don’t always spend time focusing on how they are going to get everyone involved.

Depending on the different positions and personalities in the room, and what type of meeting you are having, the level of engagement and participation will vary. You will have slow talkers and fast talkers, loud people and quiet people, people that love to join in and people that hate it. There will be some people that disagree a lot and some people that agree with everything. The mix and how you deal with it are important. The dynamics of the group and how you manage it can make or break a good meeting.

So, no pressure then!

There are all sorts of tools and techniques for effectively managing a meeting and many different styles of doing so. Tools are really the materials and processes that you use to get everyone working (the activities), while techniques are the methods you employ to make them work (the behaviour that you use). And people “running” a meeting will have different roles; whether you see yourself as facilitating, chairing, managing, running, hosting, leading….there are subtle differences between all of these things, but you are essentially responsible for the meeting itself, and the people in it.

Meeting white board

So in order to keep everyone on track, it might help to think about:

Additional resources, tools and activities that you could use to make the meeting a cut above the normal sit down and talk around a board room table. You don’t all have to be doing elaborate ice breaking activities, or using the height of technology, but sometimes the addition of something other than just talking or looking at handouts is needed. It might be that adding more varied visual materials, writing comments on cards, asking people to get up and write on a flip chart paper, or splitting into side groups is enough. You don’t have to turn your board meeting into a workshop, but there are ideas that can be taken from workshops to keep your meeting attendees actively listening and thinking about the meeting. Sometimes though, a little bit of fun or some quirky activity can also be useful!

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The way you are talking to your participants. If it looks as if someone doesn’t understand, can you paraphrase or ask a clarifying question? If someone is talking too much can you find a way to curtail them, or bring someone else in? If people are prone to giving one word answers, are there certain things that you can add or ask to draw some of the information out?

The way you are listening and watching the people in the meeting. There may be people who are itching to say something, or others who wish they could become invisible. But by keeping your eye on the way people are interacting you will get more value out of the people who are there.

Preparation and letting people know what you want from the meeting. People will always feel more comfortable when they know what is expected of them. This is not just about making sure they have the agenda beforehand or space in their calendar but about what they are expected to contribute and do in the actual meeting. Quite often meetings are so frequent and so un-engaging that we have got into the habit of just turning up for them and not really thinking about what we might want to add.

So, when you plan your next meeting, it might not need to be incredibly clever, radical or innovative. But a shift in focus to fostering an environment where people feel able to ask questions, talk freely and have productive interactions may be a good investment. Good meetings take work, and creating the time and space to make them better will in the long run provide better outcomes. A focus on people is hard when you have deadlines to meet, information to get through and tough decisions to make. But the people and their thoughts, opinions, ideas and questions are what make it a meeting. It is the skills and knowledge from the group of people in the room that are needed, they are what it’s really all about.

What are your top tips for making meetings better?

 

 

Training, facilitation and pink arrows!

So, here’s the news for today – I’m not a trainer. I am a facilitator. That’s not to say that I haven’t done lots of training in the past. In fact I spent three years training lots of lovely people in Nepal as a VSO volunteer. I absolutely loved it, which is probably why I ended up staying for three years not two!  Most of the training I did was around language development, a whole plethora of communication skills,  and disability. VSO trained me immensely well to take the leap from Speech and Language Therapist, to trainer in anything vaguely related (and lots that wasn’t). The training skills I learnt to use were participatory, as in they got the people being trained by me (the participants) properly involved.

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Tools of the trade

I often find myself describing my job in terms of what it actually looks like. I frequently say something like: “imagine a room full of people, a flip chart stand and lots of Post -It notes”. It is true I do get through a lot of flip chart paper and sticky notes, but there are an awful lot of other things I use too. I sometimes think that the job of a facilitator would suit someone who has a massive love of stationary, because I do seem to have an amazing amount if it! The trick is to plan your sessions carefully so that you only actually travel around with what you actually need rather than a car boot full of stuff that looks like you have just raided WHSMITHS. So, where to begin…..

Stationary Tools

1) Buy a lovely spacious box to put your things in. I have a 12 Litre Really Useful Box.  This is big enough for me to fit quite a bit of stuff in, but not so big that you are tempted to carry the kitchen sink with you. This travels to workshops with me and contains my most useful things when it’s at home but doesn’t hold the reams of paper and extra pens and sundry other items that I have in my “office” (I work from home).

 

 

Really Useful Box

 

2) Essential items that I always have in my box are:

  • Sticky notes such as Post-It notes , Stick’n notes or Stickies – I find these are one thing I always need and I have several colours at once.

  • Coloured card – I usually have a stash at home and cut it up into the sizes I need to take with me to the workshop. I commonly use a lot of A5 card as this is good for participants to write ideas on and the size means that they have to be concise.

  • Coloured paper – works better than card if you are going to be using the Sticky Wall as it is lighter. It also folds better for certain activities.

  • Sticky Wall I know I’ve talked about this before but I love it! You do need to make sure you have the space in the room you are going to use as it needs a good wall to attach to. But I find that as well as being a brilliant tool, participants also rather like it as it is a bit of a novelty (unless they have used it before of course!).

  • Masking tape – to secure the Sticky Wall on the actual wall. Also useful for sticking lots of cards together at the end of the workshop or pieces of flip chart paper together for a larger workspace.

  • Pens – lots of them! Biros, marker pens and board markers. Expect not to come home with some of these as they do always go astray.

  • Elastic bands – useful for those rolled up pieces of flip chart paper.

  • Paper clips – really good for keeping pieces of paper together at the end of the workshop.

  • Coloured Sticky dots – useful for dot voting/prioritising and highlighting information.

  • Paper shapes – I have a few arrows that I have used for workshops and are useful for outlining processes or flows of information and circles/squares that are also useful to categorise things for example.

  • Scissors – an easy thing to forget but frustrating if you need them and you don’t have any.

  • Blue tac/white tac – invaluable although check with the venue before hand as not every one likes you sticking it on the wall.

3) Not in the box are my roles of flip chart paper and often my flip chart stand. I don’t always need this but even if a client says they have a flip chart stand, I don’t assume they are going to provide the paper.

4) Camera – a digital camera (or phone if yours is better than mine!) to record the information as it is produced in the workshop. Things do get shuffled around a lot when clearing up the workshop, no matter how hard you try not to.

5) Fiddle toys – sometimes I put little toys on tables for my participants to play with. It can be a good discussion starter and sometimes keeping your hands occupied means your mind is able to think better and stay focused.

6) I also often give my participants biscuits which is slightly less brilliant for them……….

So, while it’s not Blue Peter and there is no sticky backed plastic there are often a lot of bits and bobs involved. They take time to prepare (you really don’t want to be cutting up hundreds of bits of card 10 minutes before the workshop!), and time to set up and collect after the workshop. But a good selection of different materials, colours and textures makes workshops much more interesting and hopefully adds to one of your key tasks; keeping your participants fully engaged.