Make slides easy to see; Issue #267 August 7, 2012

Presentation Tip: Make slides easy to see

There is no point using slides if the audience won’t be able to figure out what is on them. While this may sound obvious, I see too many presenters create slides that the audience won’t be able to figure out because of problems with the slide design. You don’t need to be a graphic artist or designer to follow the simple guidelines in this article.

The first guideline is around selecting colors. Many of you may have a template mandated by your organization and don’t think you need to worry about color selection. I think all presenters need to remember that the most important aspect of choosing colors is that they have enough contrast. Contrast makes one color easily distinguishable from another. It allows text to be seen on a color below, it allows one pie wedge to be easily distinguished from the wedge beside it, and it allows shapes to be seen on top of or beside each other. Even if you have an organization standard template, you will still select the colors for many of the graphs, diagrams, and text boxes that you put on slides. To make sure the colors you choose have enough contrast, use the Color Contrast Calculator at

The second guideline is to not use a distracting picture in the background of your slide. At a recent workshop, one of the slides I used in the makeovers section demonstrated this issue. It was speaking about some changes to rules regarding alterations to a home. In the background, they had a photo of a street in the community, showing houses, lawns, and trees. A nice photo, but one that distracted the audience because they were trying to figure out whether the image related to the changes being discussed (it didn’t). Pictures in the background of your slides are distracting. If you want to use a photo to illustrate your point, make it the main part of the slide and use callouts to direct the audience’s attention to the spots on the photo that illustrate what you are talking about.

The background of your slide is also part of the third guideline presenters need to keep in mind. Some presenters like to use a gradient between two colors as the background of their slide. It is more visually interesting than a solid color and I use a gradient in my slide backgrounds. The caution comes when the difference between the two colors is too large. If you go from a cream to a navy blue, the gradient looks attractive, but it will be nearly impossible to find a text color that has enough contrast in all areas of the slide. If you want to use a gradient in the background of your slide, choose two colors that are fairly close to each other, such as black to a dark green or other dark color, or white to a light blue or other light color.

Using fonts that are large enough to easily read is the fourth guideline. Recently I had another organization send me a slide that used a five point font. That’s right, five point! There is no way in the world that the audience will be able to read text that small. Selecting a font size that will be easy to read depends on the size of the screen you are using and the size of the room. I recently presented in two rooms where they are using flat screen TVs instead of projectors, and the text is much smaller than a typical projector image. Use the tables at to calculate the font size you will need to use in order to make the text easily readable. In most situations, text should be at least 24 point or larger in order to be easy to read.

The final guideline for slide design has to do with where you place any branding, such as logos or names. Not everyone agrees that branding should be on each slide, but you may decide to add a small logo to each slide to reinforce your brand. If so, place all branding (logos, website address, name, etc.) at the bottom of the slide, not the top of the slide. Why? Because many times the bottom 10% of the slide is cut off by the setup of the screen and projector being too low. It is visible to the front row of the audience, but the rest of the audience can’t see the lower part of the image that is blocked by the heads of the people in front of them. If your branding is at the top of the slide, it pushes your valuable content into that bottom 10% and the audience can’t see it. Keep your content in the area that will be easiest to see by placing all branding at the bottom of the slide.

You don’t need to be a graphic artist to design a slide that is easy for your audience to see and read. Just follow the five guidelines in this article and your audience will think you are a great slide designe