In praise of (inter) active whiteboarding

In Say it with Stick Figures Tim Riesterer outlines some research on the use of images in presentations:

In a recent set of experiments, Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Zakary Tormala tested the potential effects of whiteboard visuals against more traditional PowerPoint approaches. The aim of the research was to determine whether “whiteboarding” can enhance presentation effectiveness, as defined by metrics of engagement, enjoyment, credibility and — most critically — recall and persuasive impact.

The experiments used three different images – labelled ‘whiteboard condition’, ‘powerpoint condition’ and ‘zen condition’ below – to convey identical content.  The whiteboard presentation had a statistically significant difference in engagement, credibility, presentation quality and recall.  That is, it was better in each area.


“Whiteboard Condition”


“Powerpoint Condition”


“Zen Condition”








Tormala then ran a second study with new participants.  In addition to assessing the areas from the first study, participants were asked other questions such as:

  • How compelling was the presentation (e.g., how convincing was it to you personally)?
  • How important is it to remember the idea of “the hammock” when giving presentations?
  • To what extent will the presentation about “the hammock” change the way you give presentations, or deliver your own messages, to others?
  • How likely are you to follow the advice from the presentation the next time you have to speak in public?
  • How likely are you to share the information from the presentation with someone else?
  • Do you intend to tell anyone you know about “the hammock?”

In terms of the ToP focussed conversation method (objective, reflective, interpretive, decisional)  we can see these questions are mostly at the interpretive level. That is, they were eliciting responses about significance, meaning and priority.  The last question is decisional.  That is, it is about action or next steps.

Finally, Tormala sent a follow up survey to the same participants a couple of days later.   The whiteboard presentation was again statistically superior compared to the PowerPoint and Zen presentations.

I should note in passing that Riesterer’s company sponsored the research.  Other people have reported on the research from different perspectives here, here and here.

My perspective is that engagement is critical to all types of facilitation.  A whiteboard helps this in several ways:

  • People relate well to the direct connection between you and the whiteboard content.  We generally find people more interesting than words or pictures on a screen.
  • You can build a story as you go.  This can be your own story or one that is co-created by the group.  Stories are what get remembered, shared and used to guide action.
  • It’s flexible and can work with the energy of the group.  You and the group can do stuff together in real time.
  • Most of us are not great graphic artists.  This means your dorky stick figures are just like everyone else’s dorky stick figures.  In turn, this means that people can feel empowered (at least a little bit) to go out and do the same for themselves.

So, what facilitation and/or training have you used a whiteboard for?  What did you actually do on or with the whiteboard?  What went well or not so well?  What will you do differently next time?

Go well!


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