Effective Whiteboarding: Lettering
Whiteboards, as ubiquitous as they are, used to be my nemesis. No matter how I tried, my otherwise tidy handwriting looked like a messy scrawl on a whiteboard, barely legible. As a “creative type”, I thought my handwriting should be impeccable, both on the page and on the wall. My whiteboarding game needed fixing.
It wasn’t until I was faced with facilitating a large group of highly placed executives within my company that I decided to address the problem. I wanted to keep the focus of the meeting on the topics we were tackling, not on difficult to read marks that would later be tough to transcribe - and I certainly wanted to impress this group.
In preparation for that meeting, I developed the following five tricks to write confidently and legibly on a whiteboard, no matter how quickly the conversation was moving.
The meeting was a great success! While no one said “wow, what great writing!”, the conversation flowed more naturally, our notes were easier to capture afterward, and I felt more confident than ever when facilitating the company’s top brass. My improved whiteboard game paid off in spades!
Follow these steps to develop your own whiteboard lettering, and you’ll feel the same lift in confidence. The next time you find yourself in front of a whiteboard with a marker, you’ll be the pro in the room.
1. Ditch the Script
The loopy script and hybrid print-cursive we learned as kids and practiced through adulthood is a liability on a whiteboard. It becomes difficult to read and often leads to confusion when trying to transcribe your whiteboard into notes.
When writing on a whiteboard, use a simple printed, all-caps font. You can master lower-case letters later, but they aren’t necessary for legible, attractive writing on a whiteboard and may even be distracting.
Remember this exercise from kindergarten? It’s the best place to start!
Free digital downloads like this are all over the internet. Feel like brushing up on the basics on paper? It’s a great idea! This will help when it comes time for working on the whiteboard.
2. Practice on Whiteboards
I know you don’t need to be told that practice is the time-tested method for continuous improvement…but there it is. Practicing your whiteboard lettering is invaluable.
After you’ve practiced on paper, get to your nearest whiteboard and start practicing your writing there. I practice regularly on my desktop whiteboard (M.C. Squares Surfaces are my favorite!)
Practice the alphabet, numbers and commonly used symbols. Practice writing commonly used phrases, and then practice more quickly. The more you invest in perfecting your on-the-fly whiteboard writing, the better you’ll perform in your next meeting or in front of your class.
I also take a minute or two before each meeting to practice my whiteboard letters. It’s a lot like taking a few practice swings before jumping into a tennis match - a quick refresh makes for better play.
3. Experiment with Markers
Try writing on a whiteboard with both dry-erase markers and wet-erase markers. Use different brands and definitely try writing with different parts of the tip. If your marker has a chisel tip, notice if you prefer the sharper end or the flat, broad surface.
Once you find your favorite marker, stock up. Having your favorites handy means you can practice with them and take them into the meetings where your whiteboard lettering needs to shine.
I like the thin end of a chisel-tip marker for smaller letters and detailed illustrations.
The broad side of a chisel-tip marker, like M.C. Squares Anti-Gravity Markers, is handy when writing larger and working in a larger room.
4. Use Black for Visibility
If you’re like most whiteboard users, you probably have a collection of dry erase markers in a variety of colors. All have their place and time, but usually BLACK is best for writing legibly on a whiteboard.
Check out the image below -- all words are written in the same blocky print, in the same size with similar markers. One color stands out best - black.
But don’t pitch the other colors! Brightly colored dry-erase markers are great for illustrations and highlighting important parts of your presentation. Just be sure to use black for the words you want everyone in the room to be able to read, even in the way back.
Some other benefits of writing in black on your whiteboard:
- Those photos you take of your whiteboard so you can refer to them later? Black letters will always be the easiest to decipher.
- Color-blind attendees will thank you! Black is by far the most legible color for people who cannot see certain colors.
5. Right Size your Letters for the Room.
The good news about writing on a whiteboard in bold, legible letters is that, even in larger settings, large writing isn’t necessary or even good.
For average size conference rooms that seat up to 15 people, 1.25-1.5” tall letters are more than adequate for optimum legibility. This is the size I use (and practice) most.
Whiteboarding in front of a larger group? Go as big as 2” high with your letters, especially for the most important items. Writing this large doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Once again, practice this size before your meeting. You’ll be glad you did!
If you spend a lot of time in front of a whiteboard, or if you only have a few crucial meetings where you use one, tightening up your lettering skills will make a big impact on your effectiveness and how your team perceives your skills. Quick, legible whiteboard writing is a valuable asset that will get you noticed.
Ready to master lettering on whiteboards? Get started with the following:
- Write in print and use ALL CAPS
- Get some practice - practice until you get the letters down, and refresh your skills right before each meeting.
- Find your favorite whiteboard marker, either dry-erase or wet-erase, and learn the best part of the tip for your handwriting.
- Choose black markers for letters to write most legibility.
- Write large enough for the room.