How to Select and Use Fonts on Presentation Slides

One of the key choices you make when developing your presentation slides is what fonts to use and how to use them. Here are some guidelines to help you use fonts effectively in your next presentation.

Font Categories
There are three basic categories of fonts: Serif, Sans-Serif and Script. Here is a description of each font category, some examples of each and when each should be use.
Serif – A serif font is one that has serifs or the extra tails on the end of each letter. The most popular serif font is Times Roman, others include Bookman, Century, Garamond, Lucida and Palatino. Research shows that serif fonts are harder to read when projected, so if you are going to use a serif font, be careful and only use it for a title font where the text will be larger.
– A sans-serif font does not have the serifs or extra pieces at the ends of the letters. The most popular sans-serif font is Arial, others include Calibri, Century Gothic, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma and Verdana. A sans-serif font is easier to read, so it is best used for both title and body text on a slide so that the viewer can quickly read the point and return their attention to the speaker.
 – A script font is one that tries to emulate handwriting. Some script fonts are Brush Script, Edwardian Script, Freestyle Script, French Script, Papyrus and Vivaldi. A script font is quite hard to read and should not usually be used on a slide since the viewer will spend too much time trying to read the words and not be able to focus on the message.

What about using a downloaded font, not one of the standard fonts that come with PowerPoint? This can cause a lot of problems, as I describe in this article.

Font Sizes
The question of how big of a font should be used on a slide so the text is easy to read is a question that can only truly be answered with “It depends.”  It depends on the size of the screen and the size of the room.  I’ve done the research and created a table that explains how to know if the font size you have selected will be big enough for the room and screen you are using.  You can download the table here.  While that is the full and correct answer, I know you’d like a simple answer that will work with most room situations.  Here are some guidelines for font sizes that will almost always work well:
Title Font 
– between 32 and 40 point
Body Font
 – between 24 and 32 point

Font Effects
One way to make words stand out is to use font effects, such as these:
 – makes the lines of the font thicker. It is not always easy to distinguish bold from regular weight fonts when projected, so use with caution.
 – places a line under the word. This was acceptable until the Internet age came, because today most people assume an underline simply means that the words are a hyperlink and they do not place any extra importance on those words.
 – slants the tops of the letters of the font to the right. An italic font is harder to read, so it should be used sparingly to emphasize words.
 – places a dark gray shadow of each letter behind the letter slightly to the right and slightly below the letter. A shadow is a poor choice to emphasize a word because it is so hard to actually see the shadow in many cases.
All Caps
 – the word is typed in all capital letters. In the past, this was an acceptable way to emphasize a word, but today all capital words are considered to be shouting at the person and will not be viewed favorably.
Word Art
 – this feature allows you to distort the letters of the font in a variety of ways. Unfortunately many of these effects end up looking amateur and should be used with caution.
Highlighting – this may be the most effective way to emphasize words and is done by placing a colored rectangle behind the text box which creates the same effect as a highlighter has on a printed page. If you want a more organic look, you can use the technique I describe in this article and video.

Bullet Points
Using bullet points on a slide is a common way to present the key ideas during a presentation. When selecting a bullet to use, consider these ideas:
Bullet Character 
– The most popular choices are a filled circle, filled square, open circle, hyphen and arrow. The characters with a large portion of the character filled are easier to see by the audience and are preferred. You can select a graphic as a bullet, but make sure that it does not detract from the slide by drawing too much attention away from the words on the slide.
Bullet Size
 – Try to select a bullet size slightly smaller than the font of the text so it does not overpower the text itself.
Bullet Spacing
 – make sure that there is sufficient space between the bullet and the first letter of the text so that the first word is readable.

By selecting and using fonts effectively on your presentation slides, you can increase the impact of your message.

Are you selecting colors and fonts to design a PowerPoint template? If so, you will want to get the book Building PowerPoint Templates Step by step with the experts. Read more and order here.

Are you looking for a customized workshop where your staff can learn the exact techniques to communicate more effectively using persuasive PowerPoint presentations?  Here’s what Vic Klassen, a Sales executive said about the sessions I’ve done for his team, “Dave helped give my sales team a new perspective on how to deliver effective business presentations. He is a true expert in the field and is a very strong communicator.”  Click here to learn more about my workshops.

Did you find this article helpful?  If so, click here to check out some great learning tools to help even more!

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.