Here’s another true story, possibly even an Oscar candidate in the “wrong answer to a good question” category.
One of my colleagues – let’s call him John – was recently presenting at an industry seminar. With more than 200 experts and potential customers in the audience, the speaker had a great stage for promoting our company’s vision and portfolio. The event turned out to be a big success and John’s message was well received.
Actually, the content of his talk was outstanding. But, during the after-event debrief, there was this one comment about “too much text on the slides and too small font sizes.” As I was sitting in the back of the room, I can acknowledge that a pair of binoculars would indeed have been a good thing to bring along.
When confronted with the poor readability of his visuals, John’s reaction was unexpected and wrong:
“Well, when we come back next year, we should probably ask the organizers to install a larger projection screen…”
In my humble opinion, a more straightforward – and easier solution – might have been to put fewer words on the slides, and to increase the font size of the remaining text. And to follow Guy Kawasaki’s advice:
“The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well.”
Size matters, John, also for your presentation fonts!
One of the “blessings” of the first WYSIWYG computers and laser printers that hit the market in the second half of the 1980’s, was the rich collection of bitmap and vector fonts that came with them.
In those days I was working as a free-lance trainer at Apple Computer, and as such I have been exposed to extravagant compositions of some of my Desktop Publishing students — with dozens of newly-discovered-exotic-typefaces literary dancing before my eyes.
Times have changed and people have got smarter, or haven’t they? When I look at certain Powerpoint (or Keynote or Prezi or …) presentations today, I still experience the same cacophony of fonts projected in front of me.
Here are a few basic rules to respect:
- Slides must be readable, also by the people sitting in the back of the room. Use font sizes 28–36 for your titles, and don’t go below 20 points for the body text.
- LARGE BLOCKS OF CAPITALIZED TEXT MAY BE HARD TO READ. You may capitalize some titles or the first characters of each line, but don’t over uppercase.
- Sans-serif fonts are best for titles and bullets, while serif may be better for small sizes and large texts.
- Don’t mix too many fonts into the same slide show, avoid too exotic typefaces, and never use script types. Also try not to deviate from the format prescribed by the presentation template.
- Beware of fonts, such as the infamous comic sans, that may impact the credibility of your presentation.
- Use boldface, italic and (contrast-rich) color instead of underline.
- In case you want to be creative with fonts, then don’t overdo, rely on your good taste or (when you’re not sure of yourself) ask an expert.
Believe me, if you follow these simple tips, your will come over more professional as a presenter and your audience will go home without a font-ache.
Next week, I will talk about using color in your presentations.
Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:
Sometimes (I am sure that my colleagues at work would even say often) crafting a business presentation is considered a last-minute job. And when there’s little time left for being creative yourself, it’s tempting to rely upon material that others have created before you. Nothing as easy as making a slide deck by cutting and pasting slides from existing PowerPoints into yours.
Should it be a surprise that 99% of these cut‘n’paste slideshows look like chameleons, that change colors, fonts and layout with every slide transition?
Read my words: look and feel do matter! If you want your audience to perceive you as a professional, then never compromise on the layout of your visuals.
- Real estate: Don’t overdo. Beware of creating slideuments. Apply the same template to all slides. Use plenty of white space. Limit the amount of bulleted slides as well as bullets per page.
- Colors should contrast with the background. Don’t put together too many colors on one screen. Avoid using red text on a white or black background. Use tools such as Shyam Pillai’s add-in to select and customize your PowerPoint color schemes.
- Fonts must be readable from the back of the room. Be consistent in style throughout the whole deck. Don’t mix too many typefaces. Avoid script fonts. Bold and italic are good to emphasize text, underline isn’t.
- Images are there to complement or emphasize your message. Don’t insert standard clip art that adds no extra value (we all know the man climbing a bar chart, don’t we?) Avoid mixing line art and photos.
- Vocabulary: Consequently use the same terminology everywhere. Beware of acronyms and abbreviations. Don’t use jargon or slang.
So next time you need to build a business presentation, start well in advance and take your time to tune each slide. Don’t take existing material for granted. Be creative. Be consistent. Be professional.
And if you have some time left, take a look at the blog posts below: