Guide on the Side - Flip Charts: Low Tech Powerhouses

By Marie Wallace, Published on August 1, 2000

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:

Flip charts consist of three simple components:

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.

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

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