Choose a boring font; Issue #260, May 1, 2012

Presentation Tip: Choose a boring font

A lot of presentation designers have made comments in the last year or two about what font you should choose for your PowerPoint slides. Almost every designer suggests that you abandon the built-in fonts like Arial or Calibri. Why? They claim that by using a standard font, you won't stand out. Instead of the fonts that they claim are overused, they suggest you find a cool font to download and use that instead. One article I read even suggested what search term you should use to locate a font that is appropriately cool.

To understand why these designers make these suggestions, you need to know what type of presentations they typically work on. They are usually working on slides for a conference keynote presentation where the primary objective is to make the presenter look good. The goal of the presentation is rarely to convey important information or convince a decision-maker. When you are in that type of setting, where you can have absolute control over every aspect of the technology, you can probably get away with a downloaded font. But that is not the world I live in, and I suspect that you don't either.

In a typical corporate setting, we are having to e-mail our presentations to others or take the presentation on a USB stick to another computer that is used for the presentation. In the world we live in, a downloaded font is a bad idea. Why? Because you run the risk of your text being unreadable or gibberish. Here’s why I say this. When you use a downloaded font, it resides only on your own computer and doesn’t travel with the presentation file unless you’ve specifically set the option to do this (hands up if you know where this option is hidden). When that presentation arrives on another computer, PowerPoint doesn’t recognize the name of the cool font and so it substitutes another font it does know. You don’t get to choose the substitute font, it does it for you.

And what happens to your carefully designed slides? One time I saw PowerPoint select a font that made most of the text run off each slide and text boxes ran on top of each other, making the presentation look like a mess. Another time it selected Webdings as the substitute font and all I saw was gobbled gook. And in reviewing slides for a client recently, their downloaded font caused the text in a table to move around and it made it hard for the audience to tell what was going on. Is that what you want a key decision maker to see when they open your presentation? I didn’t think so.

In another client situation, they insisted that their font needed to be used. Fortunately, they had a special arrangement with the font company to allow us to buy the font at a reduced price. When we went to purchase the font, we discovered that the discounted price was $756! For one font! Imagine asking your partners or customers to spend that amount, just to be able to view your presentation.

So my suggestion is to stick with what some would call a "boring" font, like Arial or Calibri. These are standard fonts that are on every computer, so you are assured that your presentation will look the same when your colleague, client, or supplier views it on their computer. Will the recipient of your file dismiss your ideas just because you used a standard font? If they do, I suggest that you are probably dealing with someone who won't really understand your bottom-line message no matter what you do. Most business people I deal with want to see a well-crafted message with persuasive supporting visuals that communicates clearly. Do that and the font doesn't matter.

Another advantage to using Calibri when you are showing numbers is that it makes it easy to line up columns of numbers. Since Calibri has monospaced numbers, you can use the decimal tab to align the numbers and every column will also be aligned. If you are reporting financial information, you will find this combination makes your life much easier. So there is actually an advantage to using one of these "boring" fonts that don't meet a desginer's idea of "cool". I won't be the trendiest commentator on presentations, but I will always advocate what I think is best to help you communicate more effectively when using PowerPoint presentations. Stick to the standard, "boring" fonts, and you will be much better off.