I call this little tip about Fonts, “Fonts 101” because there are only a couple of basic things you need to know about fonts.
One is size. On the screen, make them at least 24 points or larger. That’s so that little Freddie in the back row can see them. 24 points. That’s a rule.
Now, the big conundrum – Serif or san serif? Serif are those knobs at the ends of letters in some fonts – like Times or Palatino. “San” means “without” (in French), or fonts without knobs – like Helvetica or Arial.
The rules always used to be, “san serif for headings and serif for paragraphs.” That’s because larger blocks of text are easier to read if they’re serif (with knobs).
The idea is that the knobs at the end lead our eyes from character to character and so our eyes “flow” from letter to letter. That makes it easier and faster to read blocks of text.
BUT, because we’re talking screen text and you’re not SUPPOSED to have blocks of text (the Rule of 66 – six lines of text on screen maximum, each line with six words maximum), you can use san serif for everything if you want. It’s really up to you.
Here’s another rule: no more than three fonts per presentation and you really shouldn’t use more than two per screen. Rules are meant to be broken, of course, but if you’re going to break this one, have a really good reason. Because your presentation starts to look “cheesy” really quickly if you use too many fonts.
Tip – stay away from fancy fonts. They’re hard to read and this is all about communication.
I’m always amazed at signs along city streets. The other day, I saw a sign for a hair saloon done in such a strange, scrawling font that I simple could not decipher the name of the place. That’s about the last place you’d want to have unreadable text. The second to last place is in your presentation.
If you’re taking your presentation to a conference or convention and it’s going to be played on a computer other than your own, it’s critical that you use only system fonts. I’ve seen quite a number of presentations in my life that didn’t take this into account and the presenters wondered why their presentations didn’t show up the way they intended. You see, the system will replace the font with whatever it thinks is best … style and spacing may be radically different.
The alternative is to embed them in the presentation itself. And for all the hassle of doing that, I always recommend that as a presenter, you make it a rule to ONLY use system fonts. There are so many of them now, that it really shouldn’t cramp your style too badly.
And that’s fonts 101.