Flip Chart Magic

Flip charts, sometimes referred to as newsprint because of the type of paper used, have been around training rooms for decades. They are a handy, versatile tool available to trainers, facilitators, and anyone else who needs a visual writing surface for ideas or information. They are great for quickly capturing participant comments, for creating prepared information and graphics, and for displaying material for reference later in a session. One of their greatest assets is the simplicity of use. Virtually anyone can use them to write or draw in a session. Even so, you should take the time to plan their usage and practice your technique so that what ends up being displayed is perceived as valuable by participants. Learning basic presentation techniques and using flip charts effectively adds another dimension to your professional abilities. They can be used in ways that are limited only by your creativity and ability (see The Big Book of Flip Charts in the Resources for Trainers section in the appendices).

When designing flip chart pages for use in your sessions, ask yourself the following questions:

Are they clear (meaning)?

Are they concise (well written)?

Are they simple (creative without detracting)?

Are they graphic (right colors, clip art, and images used)?

Do they add value (will they aid learning)?

Are they necessary (can points be made in other ways)?

General Tips for Use

Flip charts are inexpensive yet effective training aids for small groups of up to about 25-30 participants (depending on room configuration). They provide an easy way to capture key thoughts or to highlight information in small group settings. Many tips for using flip charts are found in The Big Book of Flip Charts31 and are shown on the following pages. In general:

Make sure the easel is locked into position and balanced.

Place the easel so that ceiling lighting shines onto the front of the page and does not come from behind where it can cast a shadow and make viewing difficult.

Do not write on the flip chart and talk at the same time. Write first; then face your participants and talk.

Stand to the right side of the easel, as you face your audience, if you're right-handed; stand to the left side if left-handed. This allows you to face your participants and easily turn to capture key discussion points on paper with your dominant writing hand while turning pages with your free hand.

Do not block your participants' view when pointing to preprinted information on the flip chart.

When not writing, PUT THE MARKER DOWN! Playing with it or using as a pointer can be distracting and communicate nervousness.

Leave a sheet of blank paper between each sheet of text to prevent participants from "previewing" the next page as you discuss the current one. It also prevents damage to the next printed page should your marker "bleed" through.

Use large pointers made of wooden dowel rods with a black tip (available at craft, teacher, and home supply stores). You can also use arrows cut out of poster or other heavy colored paper or other props (e.g., plucked chicken pointer available from Creative Presentation Resources in the Resources for Trainers section of the appendices).

If appropriate, tear off sheets and tape them to walls for future referral.

Put two-inch strips of masking tape on the side or rear of the easel for use in posting torn pages.

Consider putting tabs (e.g., a strip of tape attached to the back of the sheet, then folded forward attached to the front edge of the page) on prewritten pages to ease in topic identification. You can then number or label topics on the tabs for easy location when needed. The tabs allow you to refer quickly back to pages later in your presentation and to turn them. Instead of tape you can also use the clear colored stick-on strips produced by 3M. Reference the colors in your lesson plan or notes so that you can easily find a desired page.

Always have extra markers and pads of paper available.

You may want to write comments or key ideas lightly in pencil in the upper corner of the pages. This allows you to refer to them unobtrusively, as you appear to be looking at the flip chart topics. Your participants will never know you "cheated" because they can't see the remarks from a distance!

A creative technique used by some experienced trainers and presenters is to use two flip charts in tandem (together) during a session. They either alternate prepared images between the two charts, or they have prepared pages on one easel and use the second to capture participant comments or to add more information to a topic during the session. If you plan to use two easels, I suggest numbering the easels (1 and 2) and indicating in your lesson plan or session notes which easel you will use to make a point. This can prevent embarrassing confusion during your presentation. The other key is to PRACTICE with your easels before participants arrive. I find it helpful to have a set of similar colored markers on both easels. This prevents me from carrying a marker used to the other easel and leaving it, only to be without it when I return to the second easel later.

Design Considerations

Lettering about 1-2 inches is usually large enough to view from a distance of approximately 30-60 feet (see Figure 8-2).

Use block lettering—uppercase for title or header lines and combined upper- and lowercase for text.

Limit the number of words to six to eight per line and the number of lines of text to six to eight (six by eight rule).

Use horizontal (across the page) versus vertical (down the page) lettering for ease of reading.

Use numbers, symbols, and abbreviations. Avoid unnecessary words.

If using vertical columns of information, use no more than three columns per page.

Keep your page simple and uncluttered.

Limit yourself to one topic per page. Don't dump everything together—it will only confuse participants.

Underline title lines and key words or concepts with bright colored markers to draw attention to them.

Use no-bleed type, water-based markers to prevent ink from going through the page onto the next one.

Use dark colors to write. Black, dark green, and dark blue work well. Red is good for highlighting key words or phrases and drawing icons but should not be used for text. That is because from a distance red is difficult to see and words appear to run together, particularly for people with deficient color vision. Pastels and lighter colors can be used for borders and art to add color and pizzazz; however, they should be avoided for text.

Avoid using the bottom one third of the page because some participants will have difficulty seeing it over the heads of others.

Visibility distance in feet (approximate) FIGURE 8-2. Visibility distance in feet (approximate)

Flip Chart Page Layout

Flip charts that you create before a session can save time and help project the image that they are professionally prepared if they are planned well and neatly designed. No matter what you plan to put on your pages, always leave plenty of white (blank) space to aid ease of visibility. In general, it helps to leave a margin similar to that of your printed materials. Two inches of blank space on the top, bottom, and sides of a page gives your flip charts a clean, finished appearance. This image can be conveyed further by the use of bullet points or icons before each concept, sentence, or idea (see Tools for Trainers in the appendices for sample icons) Also, leaving about 1 inch between lines of text helps participants better read what you have written. If you are writing information or capturing ideas from participants during the session take your time and do not clutter a page with too much content. You may even want to leave the bottom one third of a page blank so that the participants in the rear of the room can see over the heads of others.

If you use captions on your flip charts to label items, follow the same guidelines that you see graphic artists use in printed materials. Put them in the upper left hand corner of the page. If they describe an image shown, place the caption directly under the image. This is helpful because people see such an over/under format used in various media and come to expect such a standardized use. Doing anything else might distract them from your message.

Adding Artwork

You can greatly enhance the appearance of your flip charts by adding relevant artwork or images to your pages. You do not have to be a great artist to include basic characters or images. Pick a couple of simple images and practice them on paper, then transfer them to your flip chart. There are many books available to help you learn how to draw images and cartoons (also see Tools for Trainers in the appendices section for simple drawings that you can copy).

When using art or images of people, always have them facing in toward text, rather than on the edge of the page facing outward. The reason for this is that your participants' eyes are naturally drawn to wherever the image is focusing. Plus, it makes more sense to have a purpose for the image (e.g., looking at the text). See the use of my caricature at the end of the Introduction to this book to get an idea of graphic usage.

Graphic artists have researched and fine tuned techniques for putting material on a page for best visibility and maximum impact. I suggest that rather than ignore what they know, take advantage of it and use the strategies to strengthen your own visual messages in whatever format or media you use. Some of the basic concepts to consider are balance, pattern, and unity.


When designing your transparencies and other written materials, consider how you weight the items on the page. From a graphics standpoint, information is viewed as either having formal balance (equal on both sides of a page, as in Figure 8-3) or informal

FIGURE 8-3. Formal Balance FIGURE 8-4. Informal Balance

FIGURE 8-3. Formal Balance FIGURE 8-4. Informal Balance balance (pictures or more information on one side than the other, as in Figure 8-4). When you use only a balanced format, your images can become boring or monotonous because everything appears the same. This is because items are equally matched or displayed on the page so that the attention of your learners is not drawn one way or the other. To achieve such a balance, you would use an equivalent sized image on the left and right side or at the top and bottom of the page.

Unlike the balanced image, an informal perspective is achieved by having only one image placed on the page without a corresponding one opposite it. The effect is that the eyes of your participants are drawn to the image. This is one of the reasons stated earlier for ensuring that any image used in your material should have a purpose and compliment written messages. You want your learners to be aware of the image subconsciously and not to consciously have to focus on it to try to figure out how it applies to the message being presented.

Maintaining Balance

To get the feel of formal and informal balance and what the concepts look like on your flipchart, draw and cut out a variety of images and shapes that you may want to continually use in the future (e.g., smile faces, boxes, rectangles, simple people figures, or whatever, such as those in the Tools for Trainers section in the appendices).

Spray them with artist's adhesive, and then practice placing them at various locations on your page. Next, try adding some lettering and move your images around.

Text should be evenly spaced and start at the same position on each page to present a uniform appearance. To maintain visual balance, consider leaving the same margin on all sides of text, for example, 2 inches from the top and bottom edges of paper and 2 inches from the left and right edges. When adding graphics, keep their size in proportion to the rest of the information shown.


When designing your flip charts, the pattern of the word flow and image positioning can affect the way information is received and understood. The visual pattern you create is called an arrangement. The key in layout is to use the K.I.S.S. process (Keep It Short and Sweet). Too much information or artwork clutters the page and loses the interest of your participants. When laying out text and graphics, choose a pattern that resembles one of the following letters: C, O, S, L, T, or Z. (see Figure 8-5)

FIGURE 8-5. Flip Chart Patterns

Typically a C, S, Z, or T pattern shown in Figure 8-5 appears more dynamic and will likely capture and hold learner attention better. Whichever pattern you choose, remember that the words or message should be the focal point, not the artistic intent. You do not want to overshadow or diminish your written message.


The final aspect to consider when designing your flip charts or other visual material is unity (see Figure 8-6). By grouping figures or like items you can connect them visually. For example, if you wanted to use three large circles to enclose three key steps of a process, you can achieve unity by allowing the edge of each circle to overlap that of another slightly. Now, instead of appearing as three separate and distinct individual steps, the three appear connected or as one (Rule of Thirds). In effect you have subconsciously sent a message that this is a single process with three parts or steps. A good rule of thumb to accomplish this effect is that there should be more room between the edge of your transparency frame and a figure you are using than there is between the figures.

Creative Shortcut to Drawing

If you are like me, you are artistically challenged. To overcome that deficit, I suggest that you find an image you would like to include on your flip chart, enlarge it to the size desired, and then copy it onto a piece of clear transparency film. Place a flip chart easel with pad directly in front of an overhead projector (a couple of feet, as necessary), then project the image onto the paper and trace the image (see Figure 8-7). If you want to wow your participants, lightly draw the lines of the projected image on paper; then when ready to use that page, trace the lines with the broad

FIGURE 8-6. Flip Chart Unity

edge of colored markers and make it look as if you are drawing freehand. Voila! Instant artist and your learners will likely be impressed with your talent.

Keep in mind that if you are using copyrighted images, you should obtain written permission to use them. Also, give the originator credit for the images. This is especially important if you are conducting seminars open to the public or for which you are charging a fee.

An alternative to using copyrighted material is to find a friend, co-worker, or participant with artistic ability and ask him or her to draw a few images for you. If you pay for the images as a "work for hire" you can use them in any way you please in the future. This strategy has worked well for me over the years. I have gathered a collection of caricatures of myself by stopping by caricature artist stands I have found in malls and festivals. I pay them to draw images of me in different poses, for example, pointing to a flip chart, or standing next to an overhead projector or behind a lectern. I now have art that I can use on transparencies, in handouts, or on flip charts.

Text Appearance

It is important that learners be able to read what you write. To facilitate reading, take your time so that your handwriting is straight and legible. You can purchase flip chart pads with line grids on them to help facilitate this or you can use a yardstick or other straight edge to guide your writing.

Also, as you read in the section on printed materials, use block lettering, upper- and lowercase for text and all capital letters for titles or headers (see Figure 8-8). These practices can enhance legibility.

Creative Accessories

There are many accessories on the market today that can enhance the appearance and add pizzazz to your flip charts. Here are some of my favorites available from various sources.

FIGURE 8-7. Creative Shortcut to Drawing

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