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How to Use Flipcharts
Techniques > Public speaking > Speaking Tips > How to Use Flipcharts
Preparation | Writing | Drawing | On the wall | General use | See also
Using a flipchart during a presentation or training session can be a very successful tool or can go horribly wrong. Here's a set of tips and suggestions to ensure your session goes down well.
Before you start your presentation, take time to prepare the flipchart setup. This should be done in plenty of time to get everything correct (typically an hour before people arrive).
Check charts, paper and pens
Check that you have the expected number of flipcharts and that they are stationed at the right points in the room. Work out how to raise and lower the charts as needed.
Know the approximate number of flipchart pages you will need and ensure there is enough paper available. If necessary, get the facilities people to provide another pad or more.
Also check that you have enough pens of the right color. Do test the pens as many flipcharts have pens on them which do not write well. The moment a pen is not writing clearly and strongly it should be binned.
If you will be drawing known diagrams at fixed points and your freehand style is not great, you may want to lightly draw the pictures using a fine pencil that you will be able to see but your audience will not (check this by going to the front row and looking).
If your writing tends to slope off, then you can also draw horizontal lines to help guide your text.
Do also do a test sheet and then go to the back of the room. Sit down like your audience and figure out whether first they can read what you have written and then whether they can see around the people in front of them. If the hall is large, you may have to abandon the flipchart. If there is a bit video projector screen then you may be able to get a camera trained on the flipchart as needed.
If you are going to stick things up on the wall, check early that there is enough space and that you can get to the walls. Some rooms have walls covered with pictures or other items. Small rooms can also have the tables and chairs right up to the wall, making it difficult to post things.
Do check with the room's owner whether you can do this with the 'sticky putty' or masking tape or whatever you use. Some wall coverings are highly intolerant of anything sticky! If in doubt, do a small trial.
If you are provided with some form of sticky stuff, check that it works. Sometimes people buy cheap stuff that is great for having flipchart pages fall off the wall at inopportune times. It can be a good idea to carry around your own supply in any case.
Another alternative is Post-It flipcharts. 3M produce flipchart pads with Post-It glue on them so you can easily peel them off and post them directly on any surface.
If there is a rail into which you push the paper, try it out first. Some of these rails get jammed or are just difficult to use. A good way of inserting paper is to hold the page by the sides at the top and slide it side-to-side as you push up gently.
Write big and clear
When writing words on the flipchart, make the letters large and clear enough so people at the back can read them. Similarly, use colors that are easily visible. It is too easy to quickly scribble something that is essentially illegible. Always slow down when you are writing unless you have immaculate handwriting. Some people prefer capitals only, although this can look like SHOUTING.
One way of saving time and keeping it simple is to use abbreviations and initials, for example 't' for time on a graph. Be careful with this as it can easily confuse.
As with slides, keep text on the flipchart to a minimum. This will naturally happen if you use larger letters.
Sometimes 'shouting' with text can be a good way of emphasizing without deafening. Write very large, maybe even one word, written as outline with the contents shaded in. This can have a much greater impact than more smaller text.
One way that flipcharts get used is in capturing the ideas in a brainstorming session.
A neat method when the flipchart is full of lines is to switch colors and write between the lines that are already there. So, for example, if you start with blue, the fill-in lines may be in red. Although this rather packs in the text, it is useful as the audience can still see previous ideas and use them as stimuli for new ideas.
Flipcharts are great for diagrams as you can build them up as you talk, though do be careful to ensure people can hear you and do talk around often. It's no fun for an audience if you give large sections of your talk to your flipchart.
Drawing graphs and charts
You can build up graphs nicely on the flipchart. Use different colors for the axes and lines, bars, etc. Shade in solid areas with quick squiggles. Pause between elements to face the audience and tell them what is happening.
Learning to draw simple pictures of people, situations and so on can really enliven a talk as most audiences do not expect presenters being able to draw. It really isn't that difficult, although some practice beforehand is a good idea.
On the wall
One of the things you can do with flipcharts is to post them up on the wall, using 'sticky putty', masking tape of one of those fixed rails into which you can slow the paper.
This can be a good way of showing progress. At the end of a session a wall full of paper is a great reminder and reminds people how much has been covered. Plan beforehand for where the pages will go so they provide a logical sequence.
Having key points on the wall is a good way of reminding people of key items and helping them remember. It is also useful for you when you want to refer back to a previous item.
Ripping pages off
Good flipcharts have perforations that are easy to rip. There is a neat technique whereby you hold up the side of a page, flick the dotted line to break it then pull down to remove the page in one go. This will not work with cheap flipcharts, so do check the best way to rip off a page without ripping into your text.
Beware of bleed
Beware of writing on paper when it is on the wall as cheap paper will let the pen ink bleed through and you may end up marking the wall.
One page per idea
Whilst you may be tempted to save paper, beware of trying to fit lots of ideas and diagrams onto one page. One per idea generally works best. Think of the page like a slide -- you would not try to cram too much onto a projected computer slide so avoid falling into the trap.
Keep it visible
If the flipchart is on the same level as your audience make sure they can see what you are writing. This may mean that you only write on the top part of the flipchart.
Slow down and get your body out of the way for critical elements so the audience can see them being formed. Also step to the side after you have drawn something and are talking with it.
Finding your place
If you will want to go back to a previous page that you have folded over, the top, you can help find it again by marking it in some way. One way is to put a post-it note sticking out of the side. Another way is to fold over a corner.
Beware of the baton
Some speakers end up waving the pen at the audience. This is not great body language as it is an effective baton with which you are 'beating' them. If you want to use your hands in talking (often a good thing) either put the pen down (a good signal that you are now going to talk) or transfer them to the non-waving hand.
There are a number of modern alternatives to flipcharts, such as drawing on the computer as it is projected onto a large screen (a tablet rather than a mouse helps here).
Another method is to put a long strip of paper around the wall and write on it as you go, creating a dynamic narrative that moves around the wall.
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