The flip-chart trick

Why are so many presentation slides cluttered and loaded with data, and why does it seem so difficult to create simple and meaningful visuals? What seems so hard to do on a computer looks far easier on a sheet of paper. Nobody would try to paint a complex mural on a flip-chart (without extensive prior practice anyway). On a flip-chart people allow themselves to be simpler, more visual, and even more playful than in front of their computers. So, why don’t we just pretend to prepare for a flip-chart presentation, and then transfer the results into our presentation software? Paddy Hirsch, Senior Editor of Marketplace, gives a beautiful flip-chart presentation that we would like to use as an example of how this can be done.

Paddy Hirsch manages to explain the complex subject matter of collateralized debt obligations and their role in the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 in a highly sustainable way. We do not only understand the problem, we will remember. Through the powerful metaphor of bottle, cork, and pyramid of glasses Paddy makes his story stick. The simple shapes he uses make it relatively easy to rebuild his drawings in a presentation program.


One of the charms of flip-chart presentations is to watch the presenter draw his visuals. Since drawing and explaining are deeply interconnected a flip-chart presentation doesn’t run the risk of being out of sync. In the best case it’s a harmonious process. And since people can’t draw faster than they speak the chance of delivering too much information is relatively low. These are two major advantages that we can draw from — we can keep our slides simple and arrange them in meaningful sequences. Developing a presentation like that takes three steps:

1. Find visual metaphors that are recognizable and memorable.
2. Design the images using simple shapes.
3. Create sequences with the process of presenting in mind.

We can build most anything using the four basic elements, line, circle, triangle, and rectangle. It’s just a matter of combination. Here is the “cutout” for the above slides.

Up until now, Paddy’s presentation has had more than 87,000 hits on Youtube. Today more than ever before, people are craving for explanations. In our experience from the academic as well as the business world listeners always appreciate well done explanations, even if they already know the subject.

Axel Wendelberger