Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Flip Chart Fundamentals

We usually associate flip charts with classroom or convention presentations, but their central purpose – to record and visually display information that will engage and stimulate audience participation -- is also ideal for mediation. Think about it. Robert Lucas, who is a professional “presenter,” says that flip charts are “the perfect medium for harnessing the collective brain power of a group.” He should know, since he’s literally written The Big Book of Flip Charts.

As visual aids, flip charts can’t be beat. They’re simple, inexpensive, low-tech, portable. They require no electrical outlets, batteries, or perplexing software. They can be easily and quickly prepared and produced, without the aid of expensive graphic artists or computer programmers. This alone is a comfort to the technophobes among us. A flip chart says, “Relax!” No need to be scared off by the notion of “interactive technology” when all that’s required is a big user-friendly pad of paper with colorful letters on it.


If you know how to use them intelligently, flip charts offer enormous psychological advantages for facilitating resolution between disputing parties.

Flip charts focus attention. Instead of disputing parties staring at their own individual documents on the table, they can simultaneously focus on a shared notepad.

Flip charts increase retention. It is said that we remember a quarter of what we hear, half of what we see, and two-thirds of what we hear AND see. Participants more easily remember concepts, ideas and key points that are written down or symbolized in pictures.

Flip charts provide a permanent record, which can be referred back to during every stage of mediation. For frustrated parties who feel no progress is being made, flip charts are tangible evidence to the contrary. It is a visual record of mutually generated ideas. Its lack of bias honors and respects all participants’ contributions.

Flip charts not only record and review ideas, but also pose questions, stimulate brainstorming, help make action plans, and document incremental steps toward solutions and consensus.

Unlike the legal briefs that may accompany litigants, flip charts focus less on past problems and more on future solutions. At the start, it’s a blank page, a clean slate. It says, “Our job is to start afresh and fill it in.”

Symbolically, a flip chart represents “shared interest and goals.” Because it belongs to all parties, it encourages constructive joint participation. It says, “Everybody owns this problem, and everyone will contribute to the solution.” In fact, you might try relinquishing the markers to the disputants.

“One of the key elements of androgogy [adult learning] is active involvement of the learners,” says Lucas. “There are two ways to involve your audience: solicit ideas and capture them on a flip chart yourself, or pass out markers and let participants do their own problem solving and writing. Take yourself out of the role of presenter or expert and move into new role of facilitator. This is less intimidating, since you build on the knowledge of the group, and avoid talking down to or controlling others.”

DOs & DON’Ts:

Use the most visible colors: black and blue. Red is the most appealing color, but it is best used as an accent color than as a primary color. Avoid brown, pink, yellow. Use two colors for variety, but don’t make the common mistake of using a separate color for each party – that only underscores differences at a time when you’re trying to portray shared concerns. So, your best color combos are: red/black, red/blue, or blue/black. Three colors are too confusing.

Write neatly, in uppercase block letters. Use keywords, abbreviations.

For lists, use bulletpoints (asterisks, checkmarks, arrows), NOT numbers. Numbers can incorrectly (and detrimentally) be interpreted as ranking , rating, or weighing ideas or priorities. Sometimes you can make a stack of bulletpoints first, with items to be filled in by participants – challenging them to wring out more ideas: “Good. What else?”

Encourage group ownership of the process. Don’t draw a vertical line down the middle of the page, demonstrating opposing positions. That’s like using a different color for each participant – it only helps them become more entrenched, and focused on arguing the merits of their individual perspectives, as opposed to stimulating collective “groupthink.”

Tear off and tape each finished page to the wall, for easy reference – and to enable participants to be enveloped by their own forward progress.

Stuck? Write open-ended questions at the top of a page, and let participants take turns filling in answers. Keep the gray matter spinning. Request specificity, concrete ideas. The mere act of writing down a solution for common viewing enhances personal accountability.

To stimulate brainstorming, remind everyone that the flip chart is a work in progress, not a final document. Proposing a solution is not necessarily agreeing to it.

Use flip charts to record action steps – who will do what and when? Assign accountability for small tasks between sessions.

Use pictures. You don’t have to be Van Gogh – doodles are fine. Again, creating and viewing graphics engages the brain in the creative process – and can even “lighten up” a tense atmosphere.


Flip Charts : How to Draw Them and How to Use Them,
Richard C. Brandt (Jossey-Bass, 1986; 88 pages)

Flip Chart Power: Secrets of the Masters,
Bonnie E. Burn (Jossey-Bass, 1996; 134 pp.)

The Big Book of Flip Charts,
Robert William Lucas (McGraw Hill, 2000; 258pp)


Stephanie said...

I loved this post. Thanks. And I greatly admire magicians. I have a friend you may know: Danny Archer?

I am glad I recently learned of your blog and now have it in my Google reader.

Jerry Lazar said...

Thanks, Stephanie!... I don't know nuttin' about dis Danny Archer youse talking 'bout... Maybe youse mean Gino Mozzarella?... Da guy wid da 3 balls?... Yeh, him I might know... Good guy, but whaddya expect from South Philly?... I mean, hey, c'mon!...

Jerry Lazar said...

And while we're here, let's throw a little link love Stephanie's way, for two terrific blogs: and

Stephanie said...

That Gino guy would be one and the same. How fun and funny! Small world.

I was just talking with Edd (aka Vincent Marinara) yesterday that we need to check in with Danny/Gino as we have not talked with him for a while.

I did a tiny link to this post here:

I am sure I will do a large link soon to another post of yours.

Stephanie said...

Thanks. Looks like simultaneous link love.