presentationsConsider the size and lighting conditions

Dig­i­tal pre­sen­ta­tions are in­fa­mous for their ter­ri­ble ty­pog­ra­phy. But I blame those who cre­ate the de­fault tem­plates for these pro­grams. The qual­i­ties that make these lay­outs cheer­ful and at­trac­tive on your lap­top of­ten make them in­tol­er­a­ble to an audience.

Why is that? When you’re writ­ing your pre­sen­ta­tion, you’re prob­a­bly sit­ting in a well-lit space, look­ing at your slides on a rel­a­tively small screen. In that con­text, slides with bright back­grounds and large type are fine. Your au­di­ence, how­ever, will likely be in a dim room, view­ing the slides at a much larger size. To them, the bright back­grounds and large type will be as pleas­ant as star­ing into a flashlight.

This in­sight yields a sim­ple tip that will im­prove any pre­sen­ta­tion: choose ty­pog­ra­phy for your pre­sen­ta­tion based on the size and light­ing con­di­tions where it will be displayed.

  1. Gi­ant white rectangle.

  2. Bor­ing sys­tem font.

  3. Point size too large.

  4. Line spac­ing too tight.

  5. Huge cen­tered headline.

When you’re de­sign­ing for read­ing in the dark, your goal is to get the words on screen us­ing the fewest pho­tons. So start your pre­sen­ta­tion with a black back­ground and a thin sans serif font that’s about 50% gray (not pure white). You can al­ways brighten it later.

Pick a base point size that lets you fit 12–15 lines of text on screen. Not that you’ll ever be putting that much on a slide. (I hope.) But that’s a com­fort­able read­ing size. As much as pos­si­ble, use this point size on every slide—even if there’s only one line of text on screen. Con­stantly chang­ing the point size be­tween slides is annoying.

Be­yond that, the other ty­po­graphic guide­lines ap­ply. In par­tic­u­lar, use color with re­straint—pre­fer pale shades over bright ones. And avoid cen­tered text.

  1. Calm black rectangle.

  2. Con­course font in pale gray.

  3. Point size re­duced; line spac­ing increased.

  4. Head­line nei­ther huge nor centered.

  5. More “white space” (which in this case is ac­tu­ally black space).

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