Keep Flipcharting From Becoming a Dying Art!
Happy Facilitation Week! My question for you today is a basic one. Is flipcharting a dying art? I still love to flipchart! There is something very creative and satisfying about making a beautiful flipchart before an event and there is something also beautiful and humbling about capturing participants exact words as they speak. I felt like it was important to go back to this basic art form for facilitators because most of us don’t give it much thought. So even if you are an experienced facilitator, you might want to read this and “up your game” in the art of flipcharting. If you are struggling with flipcharting because of handwriting legibility or a physical disability, I’ll offer some tips and alternatives as well.
Get ready to get reinvigorated around flipcharting! We’re going to offer you our best and worst samples of what to do and what not to do in a photo blog. We will include photos of pre-event flipcharts where you have more time to make them visually attractive and “in the moment” flipcharting to capture people’s words.
What’s your pain point around flipcharting?
- 1. My flipcharts look like a 2 year old made them.
- 2. I can not seem to write fast enough to capture people’s words.
- 3. I don’t know how to use color effectively.
- 4. I’d like to do images but my drawings make people laugh.
- 5. When I go to type the notes, I have no idea how to make any sense out of them.
I’m going to tackle each of these pain points below with photos and soothing words of advice to restore your confidence in this amazing art form.
“My flipcharts look like a 2 year old made them.”
Right now we’re talking about flipcharts you do during the event as people are talking. That’s probably normal that they look like a 2 year olds attempt at writing adult words. Look at the 2 examples below and take a minute to decide how you might improve this.
The main weakness of these flipcharts is that we don’t know what this list is for. The writing is a little hard to read. There are missing letters and it is primarily written in one color. In addition, there are often too many words on the page without enough spacing between phrases.
Instead, use bullet points for each discussion point. Vary them up – asterisks, points, squares. Use at least 2.5 cm (1 in) between each new idea. Alternate colors between each idea. Use print rather than cursive handwriting.
Below are some examples of flipcharts that are substantially more legible and attractive. Ensure your printing for each word is approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) high. What do you notice about these flipcharts?
“I can not seem to write fast enough to capture people’s words.”
This part of the art form is about really listening. Please be sure to ask the participants to repeat something if you did not hear it or could not capture it. It’s better to have an accurate document than be worried about embarrassing yourself.
I find my most skillful and accurate capture of the participants words are when I tune out everything in the room except for listening to the speaker’s words. I’m not looking at the group. I’m not looking at their body language or dynamics. I am simply waiting for the key nugget to be said. If a person speaks for a long time and you don’t know what to write, kindly ask, “Can you sum up that last point in one sentence?” Flipchart notes are not meant to be notes taken in a courtroom. You’re not trying to capture everything, nor do you put it into your own words. You’re not paraphrasing but you are capturing the key points in that person’s words. For example, if they say, “We are really struggling here. I think what we really need is a deep exploration of our identity as an organization”, you simply write “really struggling – need a deep exploration of our org identity”.
“I don’t know how to use color effectively.”
People will see dark colors best. If you are alternating colors, try black and blue, or green and brown. Never take notes in red or orange or pink. Those colors do not show up well from a distance and are very hard for people who have color recognition challenges.
Here’s a cool and super easy way to add beautiful visual color to your flipcharts – chalk! It is best done with flipcharts that you’re going to prepare before the event. For example, your agenda, objectives, group guidelines, etc. Here are some nice examples from some of my colleagues.
“I’d like to do images but my drawings make people laugh.”
You might consider purchasing this book, The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide by Brandy Agerbeck.
Look at these photos below. Which of these drawings do you think you could do yourself? For example, there are many ways to draw people. A person can have a triangle body with stick arms and legs and circle for a head. Or a trapezoid body. Just go back to your geometry days and play around with those shapes for people images.
“When I go to type the notes, I have no idea how to make any sense out of them.”
Now, imagine you are back at the office and you or your documenter are trying to make sense of the flipcharts to make a coherent document that most participants and interested parties will understand in the long term. What do you need to do while you are flipcharting to ensure you can do this? Have a heading and a page number on every flipchart page. Ideally, put your header or question in a different color and underline it so that it is clearly distinguished from the rest of the text. It is also a good idea to start a new page for a new discussion or product summary.
Inserting photos of your actual flipchart summary pages into the document can be enormously helpful as well.
Tips for legibility or disability
Maybe you physically cannot write due to an injury or disability. What are your options?
- Train a person to do your flipcharting using the tips above.
- Type onto a laptop or have a documenter in the room to type key points (train them too!) and project onto a screen.
- Ask a participant to flipchart for you and give them a mini crash course on how to do it. At least tell them about alternate colors, writing big enough, using dark markers and giving enough spacing between points. You can also repeat the key point the participant made.