When Bill Gates retired from Microsoft, he did a lot of interviews — and even a Netflix series. There are so many things we can learn from him. For example, did you know he had a think week once a year where he went away by himself to read and think about new ideas for the company? I think every CEO should do that. One of the throwaway comments he made in an interview really stuck with me. He mentioned that the whiteboard was one of the number one tools in his career. That comment still influences me today.


If you came into my office, you’d see whiteboards everywhere, and I recommend having whiteboards from floor to ceiling. I have even utilized the paint that makes your wall a whiteboard. There are endless tips on how to best use a whiteboard. You can find them on the internet or in books, but here are my tips.


First, have as many whiteboards as possible to capture ideas. Why should you have so many? While writing ideas on one whiteboard, you may get another great idea about a different topic. Go write it on another board. Stencil out the idea before you forget it. Our brain often produces multiple ideas at once, and we need to capture them before they disappear.


Second, our brains work best when we are standing, not sitting. It’s easier for the brain to get that oxygen-rich blood. If you able to stand, install the whiteboard in a such a way that it makes it easy to use when you are on your feet.


Third, you must have dry-erase markers in multiple colors. Here are some examples of how I use the markers. I know it seems like a minor thing, but I have found it to be helpful in meetings.


Black markers are best for the bulk of your points and to make an outline. Concepts should also be marked in black.

Blue markers are great for new ideas. It’s like the blue ocean; it’s the next destination where you could go. Epiphanies should also be in blue.

Green should be used for costs and anything that involves money. If you are looking for costs, money, expenses, or revenues, you can find it easily, if you mark it in green. You should always do your financial numbers in green.

Red is always for something negative. If there is something that could be a problem, mark it in red. It’s a red flag.


Pro Tip: Don’t get cute and use other colors. There is a reason we use these colors the most.


Fourth, practice writing on the whiteboard and looking back at your audience. Sure, it sounds easy, but you should practice alternating between writing and talking. You must remember to do this. You don’t talk to the whiteboard with your butt shaking to your audience behind you! People may forgive poor spelling, but they won’t forgive you talking to the whiteboard.


Fifth, practice good penmanship. We all get in a hurry, but make your presentation look neat. Practice the pictures you will use in presentations. If you are working on an internet-based business, practice your clouds and firewalls. If you’re in a financial business, practice drawing a spreadsheet. There are little techniques you can learn and plenty of free drawing videos on the web. You can look like more of an expert when you have the ability to draw and display good penmanship.


Pro Tip: get off the PowerPoint and go to the whiteboard. You will have better sales and better buy-in from customers and employees.


Some people talk about TVs as alternatives to whiteboard. In 2020, I have not found a big TV screen I can write on and be satisfied. However, there are great whiteboard alternatives — the iPad Pro, Microsoft Surface, and Microsoft Surface Studio 2. These digital technologies are alternatives, and Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is worth the money.


How about painting your walls instead of buying whiteboards? If you decide to paint your walls with whiteboard paint, go floor to ceiling. Half-way doesn’t look good. Also, put the paint on thick, and have it put on by a pro. Although it’s expensive, not doing it well is even more expensive.


So which whiteboard would I suggest since I’m such a fan? There are alternatives out there, but I prefer to have glass whiteboards that are magnetic. You can use magnets with them. Then you can add printed material to your whiteboard with magnets.


Why do whiteboards work so well? I tell many people we are only a few generations from humans who wrote on the walls. Further back, we are only a few thousand years from cave painters. It is hard wired into us to paint on walls. It’s only in the last few decades that we have been using Excel, email, and spreadsheets. Writing on whiteboards works with the hard wiring of our brains. Plus, it provides interaction that is hard for even expensive technologies to match.


A few things I’ve learned: Lysol wipes are hands down the best way to clean a white board. They work better than any EXPO spray or eraser. Also, if people accidentally take a Sharpie to a white board — yes it happens — write over it with a white board marker, and, in most cases, it will come off.


Now before you go out and buy that great new gadget for the business, consider what Bill Gates used as one of his most important tools — the whiteboard.


Written by: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors, West Michigan Scaling Up Coach