Color is a very powerful presentation tool. In fact, some studies show that effective use of color can enhance learning and retention by as much as 75 percent, and promote up to 80 percent more interaction and participation. And, according to the Board Report of Graphic Artists, color, when used properly, can garner attention and influence moods. But, colors can be overused, or used incorrectly, which can serve to distract more than enhance.
What are some of the best ways to use color in your presentations?
1. Color Versions
You may choose to have two versions of your presentation, one with a light background and one with a dark background. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and most important one is readability. If you’re presenting in a dark room then a dark background like navy blue or black with lighter colored foreground elements like white or yellow will be easier for your audience to view with the lighter colored elements “popping” off the slide. In an environment with plenty of light, the reverse is true and you’ll probably want to choose a white background with darker type and slide elements. Another reason for having two background versions is printing. Darker backgrounds will use a lot more printer toner while white backgrounds will use less.
2. Choose Your Colors Wisely
Studies show that certain colors will generate different reactions from audience members. For example, black promotes authority and strength, while blue conveys reliability and trustworthiness (which is why so many companies use it in their corporate logos). Red excites people, prompting them to be more innovative and take more risks. Orange demonstrates a combination of confidence and playfulness. So, you’ll want to select colors carefully, based on the emotions you are seeking to evoke, or the perceptions you are trying to create.
3. Use Certain Colors Sparingly
While colors like red or purple can be rather effective in certain scenarios, when used too liberally, the presenter – and his or her delivery – can be viewed as overly aggressive. The opposite is true for colors like white, gray, or pastels, which create a perception of passivity or weakness. These colors should be used as highlight or accent colors only – as opposed to key colors within the presentation’s design.
4. Be Wary of Color Combinations
While certain colors may work well alone, when used in combination with other hues, they can fall flat. Of course, the most obvious color combination to avoid is red and green – you never know how many color blind people may be sitting in your audience. Studies show that orange and blue together can actually agitate or distress attendees, because of the “vibrations” the eye picks up when they are placed next to each other. And, red and blue don’t provide enough of a contrast, making it difficult to distinguish between slide elements.
5. Busy Patterns are Always a No-No
While you want your presentation to be eye-popping, you don’t want it to be distracting. Busy patterns and designs really won’t enhance the content of your slides. Sounds obvious, right? But, you’d be surprised how many presenters fill in their charts with stripes, or use a polka dotted backdrop. These will only create a sense of confusion, and prevent your audience members from fully grasping what you’re saying.
Understanding color can be a great way to create reactions or solicit emotions from your audience. Here are some other resources for you to draw from when broadening your presentation palette.
- Color in Motion – an interactive tutorial by Claudia Cortes (very fun)
- Color Theory Presentation by The Owl at Purdue
- Learning to Use Color a CreativePro article
- Color Matters a web site all about color
- ColorLovers a community of artists and designers who share color inspiration
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