Let’s dive right into it with this little test
Didn’t read that? Cool. Neither will your audience if you ever have the ignorance and/or guts to present them something like this. So, to avoid sinning when it comes to presentation text, keep the following in mind:
1. You should not LUST for inordinate Fonts
Why is the text above so hard to read? That’s right – because of the font choice.
There are four basic categories that almost all fonts can be placed under: Serif fonts, Sans Serif fonts, Script fonts and Decorative fonts.
Serif fonts have small, decorative lines added to the basic form of the characters (think Times New Roman) while Sans Serif fonts do not (think Arial). Script fonts have a handwritten style (like the Harlow Solid Italic font used above) while Decorative fonts, as the name suggests, have more details and decorations than other fonts (take Castellar, for example).
In presentations, the general consensus is that Sans Serif fonts are the best choice for body-text. Although, Serif fonts are easier to read on paper, digital mediums often employ Sans Serif fonts because they are easier to read on a screen, whether in smaller or bigger sizes, and they’re friendly. This, of course, applies to presentations as well, with the added bonus that Sans Serif fonts look better when projected.
The other three types of fonts should be used sparingly and only when it comes to larger-sized text: titles, subtitles, messages and ideas that are placed by themselves on a slide etc. For example, Script fonts can be used for quotes, because they give a feeling of authenticity and craftsmanship, but you see what a disaster they cause if they’re overused.
“Wait – does that mean I can use two types of fonts?” – you might ask yourself. Well, yes. You can. And, many times, you should, as long as you limit yourself to 2 or, in special cases, 3 fonts. This creates contrast, which is highly recommended (but we’ll come back to that later).
However, never mix fonts that are too similar in style because they do not contrast enough and just give the feeling of inconsistency and unprofessionalism. Did you notice where we’ve used the Magneto font in the slide above?
Small note here – if you are (although, we hope you’re not) the type that copy-pastes text from somewhere else (say, a web page) in the presentation slides, please be sure to check and change the font so that it matches the one you’ve used for the rest of your slide/presentation. Attentive audiences will notice these things and they will not see you in a good light.
2. You should not be GLUTTONOUS with your text
Otherwise said, don’t overindulge your presentation with written information. It’s a question of quantity and dosages. Just like with food, drinks and basically anything else, too much at once will definitely cause nausea and sickness. Only, in this case, it’s your audience who will suffer.
To prevent presentation-sickness, don’t cram too much information into one slide or in your presentation in general. It’s visually repellent and ineffective. People can’t listen to you and read the slides at the same time, so there’s no use for that wall of text.
Unless, you’ve made that presentation so YOU could read off of it, like a teleprompter. Indeed, doing that is comforting for a nervous speaker. But it’s an insult to the audience. Your presentation is there not for you, it’s for them.
It’s there to strengthen the ideas you’re communicating to the audience, to help them prioritize the information they’re receiving and remember it better. Your presentation is not there to help YOU remember YOUR OWN speech or act as a doppelganger for your speech.
Another important reason why you should not include a lot of text into your slides is the fact that this will cause that text to be rather small. Small text is harder to read, obviously, and if it’s unreadable, there’s no reason for it to be there at all.
Don’t use yourself and your computer screen as reference. Think about the location where you’re going to hold the presentation and think about the person sitting in the far back. If they might have trouble reading it, make your text bigger. Make it big anyway. This will keep you from stuffing your slide with text.
It’s not just about reducing text as a whole, it’s also about reducing the number of words you need to convey your ideas. Make it simple. Make your content more digestible. Break it into bite-size pieces. Spread those pieces across multiple slides. Form those pieces out of conversational tone and non-pretentious language.
In the not-like-this example above, I’ve said “encounter a few recommendations” when I could have said “find some tips”, which occupies less space and is faster to read.
Restricting the number and type of words you use in a presentation entails that you put sufficient effort into preparing that presentation and extracting the essential elements. This will be appreciated by your audience and will give you a firmer grip on your presentation speech. If you’re not ready to put in that kind of effort, you’re better off handing out a document or an eBook.
3. Don’t be GREEDY with your slide space
This is related to the above mentioned sin and, specifically, it refers to not leaving room for visual silence. A lot of people have the tendency to gather many elements into a single slide (all the elements in an enumeration, for example) instead of allowing empty spaces to augment those (fewer) elements.
Since it’s more of a design issue, we won’t dwell on it too much, but we must say this: less is more. If there are fewer (text-based) elements on a slide, it’s easier for the audience to prioritize and remember information than when they come face-to-slide with a clutter of stimuli. It’s also easier to avoid walls of text like this and to pair up supporting visuals with the smaller-sized information.
Plus, that empty space will give a feeling of greater importance to the elements present on the slide, so don’t be afraid to use it. You won’t lose anything by splitting one slide into three or four. On the contrary, you stand to gain a lot.
4. You should not be a SLOTH when it comes to arrangement
Again, this is in close connection with what we’ve mentioned above. Reducing your text, spreading it out across more slides, allowing empty spaces to augment relevance… they all take effort, but they’re all worth it.
But text arrangement is not limited to this. You can play with line spacing options, character spacing options and much more. Line spacing can help create cool visual effects and improve readability. Character spacing variations can help convey a certain personality. Loose character spacing, for example, can give your text a feeling of openness, acceptance and friendliness.
The width of your text blocks is also something to take into consideration. Try to not let your text stretch out from one side of the slide to the other – this will make it so it takes longer to read because people have to continuously shift their gaze across a greater distance.
Also, in case you’re going to project your presentation and you’re not familiar with the environment, keeping your key-information away from the edges of the slides will help prevent awkward moments. You may not always have an empty, big and uniform wall on which to project your presentation, or there could be objects blocking your way, so prepare for that kind of situation.
And now, let’s move on to bullet lists. You’ve probably seen the recommendation of using bullet lists in several places but, if your bullet is followed by more than one line of text (which is also pretty iffy), then you don’t have a bullet list, you have a composition with paragraphs that happen to have a dot in front of them. Avoid this. Better to lose the bullets and just have normal paragraphs.
Instead, reduce the text in your bullet list and place it in a more creative manner on your slide: diagonally, in text boxes, all around a central element and so on. Have fun with it. Careful not to get too tacky though. Anyway, ditch the traditional bullet lists and try to have text that has less than 10 words / bullet.
Put some effort into the arrangement of your text and you will have a greater chance at conveying your message.
5. You should not make your audience feel WRATH with unreadability
This is a no-brainer. Yet, we have to insist that you always keep this in mind because many factors can contribute to it and it’s easy to miss.
When you’re creating your presentation, you see it from up close and on a computer screen, so you can’t see it as your audience will end up seeing it later. Additionally, you know what information you’re including in your slides, so you’re not actually reading it at first sight, like your audience will have to later on.
Don’t annoy them with unreadable text. To be extra safe, you can ask a friend to read your presentation at a certain distance from the computer screen and see if they encounter any problems, have any complaints of if it takes them too long.
Other than that, steer clear of the following factors that may cause unreadability:
- Too much text and crowded slides (makes it had to focus on the information)
- Small text, poor font choices, extreme line spacing and character spacing, underlined text, “overdoses” of bold and italic
- Lack of contrast between the color of the text and the background*
*Generally speaking, black text on white or light-colored backgrounds are considered the best for readability, but, if you’re going to project your presentation in a room with very little lighting, then white or light-colored text on dark backgrounds would work better. In any case, never let your text blend into the background. Always make sure there is sufficient contrast between the colors and, sometimes, also styles. And, while we’re on that topic…
6. You should not covet the neighboring style (ENVY)
Alright, this one was kind of forced… Basically, instead of aiming for and borrowing elements that are close in style with what you have right now, you should aim for contrast.
What does that mean exactly? Remember that we’ve said to never mix similar fonts because the weak contrast only creates the impression of inconsistency? Well, this applies to many other aspects.
You can combine different fonts and colors, you can use bolded text to highlight certain keywords, you can spice up your normal-sized text with the occasional large-sized phrase or sentence, you can add some line and/or character spacing variations to make some parts stand out and so on.
A good contrast will help you emphasize the most important elements of your content, it will make it easier for the audience to read, prioritize and remember the information presented and it will also make your presentation livelier.
Contrast is essential for your presentation, so don’t shy away from it. However, you will have to use your better judgement to not go overboard, so much so that it will become ineffective, and to not make aesthetical atrocities when combining various aspects.
7. You should not be too PRIDEFUL to proofread
This one is pretty explanatory, right? Just make sure you take time to check your presentation before bringing it in front of an audience.
Have you noticed we made 2 typos in the example slide and left out the word “will”? If you’ve made a good presentation and your audience members will actually read the information in it, you don’t want them getting a bad impression of you just because you didn’t properly proofread, do you?
It matters. For various reasons. It can tell your audience that you don’t really care much about that presentation and/or details in general. It makes you seem unprofessional. It distracts the audience’s attention from the actual content. It can hinder your message from getting across.
Take the time to proofread your presentation, even if you’re in a hurry. Have a friend look it over if possible.
If you can’t, try to take a little break between finishing your presentation and coming back to check it. A tired mind cannot spot mistakes that well and, since you know what’s supposed to be in that presentation, you’re highly likely to zoom through the text while reciting your speech in your head. Taking a break and slipping into a different mind-frame by the time you come back to check your presentation will help you in seeing it through a different party’s eyes.
Well, that’s all for now, folks. Thanks for sticking with us till the end and hope this was and will be helpful for you in your future endeavours. If we missed anything important or if you’d like to share your opinions and suggestions, please comment below.