David outsmarts Goliath: Why flip charts beat PowerPoint
Lately I’ve been leading a lot of “Train Your Board” workshops based on our new book. I often start by asking, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever attended a bad class, a bad workshop, or a bad seminar?”
Hands fly into the air. Everybody laughs, because we’ve all been there.
And then I ask, “What makes a bad workshop really, really bad?”
How bad is bad? Let us count the ways.
I encourage them to turn to a colleague and generate a list. Here are several common items:
- Not interactive; a monologue rather than a dialogue
- Reading slides (additional “bad points” for reading in a monotone)
- Self-important presenter; talking at or, even worse, talking down to the audience
- Not responsive to the needs of the participants; plows through the agenda no matter what
- Too much content for the time allotted, so the presenter is rushing through
Notice how many of these crimes are aided and abetted by PowerPoint slides. Pretty much all of them, right?
The Lowly Flip Chart Makes a Comeback
The PowerPoint model is based on a problematic assumption: I, the presenter, know a lot about this subject. I am going pour it into your brain, slide by slide. Sit there and listen attentively.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how adults learn. We learn by talking with others, thinking out loud, solving problems, and getting our hands dirty.
The lowly flip chart, when used effectively, starts with a different and more useful metaphor: most people already know a lot about the subject at hand. Your job, as trainer and facilitator, is to create the opportunity for them to reveal what they know, then collect and codify that information for the good of the group.
Flip charts make people feel smart!
Imagine that you’ve set up an exercise like the one described earlier.
Turn to a neighbor and discuss all ways that learning experiences, such as workshops, can be bad. Give the small groups a few minutes, then reconvene the full group to debrief their answers.
By collecting their answers and writing them on the flip chart, you accomplish several objectives:
- You validate each person who speaks by recording his or her idea in front of the full group.
- By compiling multiple ideas, you demonstrate that the group, as a whole, is wiser than any individual.
- You reinforce that idea that they already have the wisdom and power to do the work you’re discussing – in our case, the topic is raising money.
Note that graphic facilitators, who literally illustrate collective wisdom rather than generate a bullet list, can fill this function even better than simple list-makers like me – but this is a topic for another day.
Use all the tools in your toolbox
Yes, there are times when PowerPoint and other presentation tools, such as Prezi, can be really useful. For example, it’s tough to rely on a flip chart with 300 people in the room (though God knows I have tried).
Regardless of the tools you use, your job is to make your workshop interactive and engaging. Look for ways to both collect and affirm the wisdom of the group.
Remember: The people you train are at least as smart as you are.