Guide on the Side – Flip Charts: Low Tech Powerhouses

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities.

Flip charts probably stem from the same need to show as cave wall drawings–before paper was invented. 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. Flips 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 charts consist of three simple components:

  • Easel or mechanism to hold a writing surface at eye level
  • Pad or writing surface
  • Writing instrument

These parts can be combined and even digitized in a variety of ways for different uses. Consequently, flip charts can be found in several flavors.

  • White boards-plain or digital. The plain ones, like chalkboards, have the drawback of having to erase to get additional space. The digital boards solve this problem. Push a button to get a hard copy of the board’s content or use an interactive board hooked up to a network. What is on the board appears also on screens elsewhere on the network. Now the content becomes interactive and preservable.
  • Binder easels, sometimes called table top flip books, are three ring binders with a special hinge built into the back cover enabling the binder to be propped up (like an easel) and the pages (often in plastic sleeves) to be flipped. Binder easels are a great way to deliver one-on-one presentations or for self-help at information kiosks.
  • Flip chart pads are usually 27″ x 34″ and come in plain and ruled. 3m makes large post-it note flip chart pads so pages can be posted on walls without tape or tacks.
  • Pads can be pre-printed in color at Send flipcharts2go your presentation in PowerPoint or Word via email. They will prepare and return to you a printed pad of your presentation within three days. Samples of their work and prices are on their Web site.
  • Titles and captions that look professionally printed can be made on the computer with Avery labels using 144 point font in landscape mode. Use label 5165 for laser printers, 8165 for ink jet printers or A4 for European size. Clip art and banners can also be printed this way. The full sheet (8 1/2 x 11) labels are easily affixed to flip chart pages.
  • Posters and poster boards with photographs or drawings can substitute for or be used in addition to flip charts on additional easels.
  • Storyboarding as refined by storyboarding gurus like Jim Norman, (Storyboard Planning Center) capture ideas and solve problems by using 3″ x 5″ or 5″ x 7″ cards to receive ideas. These are then tacked on large tack boards. The cards have the virtue of being able to be moved as ideas are sorted and organized. When a problem-solving session is complete you can literally walk into and view the solution. (Guide on the Side – The Story of Storyboarding – Part 1 and Guide on the Side The Story of Storyboarding – Part 2)
  • Graffiti walls are temporarily covered walls using large rolls of newsprint. An audience is invited to express itself individually–overtly or covertly. Private ideas become public. Graffiti walls provide an opportunity to let off steam, be anonymously creative and embellish ideas of others.

Flip chart mavens distinguish between two categories of flip chart use:

  • As a visual aid for presenters
  • As a display of group thinking for problem-solvers or project planers

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 flips 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 chart.

Use only the top 2/3 of the pages. Leave blank pages between the used pages to avoid “see through.”

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.

For refinements and templates, take a look at:

The Big Book of Flip Charts: A Comprehensive Guide for Presenters, Trainers and Facilitators by Robert William Lucas

Flip Charts: How to Draw Them and How to Use Them by Richard C. Brandt

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills