Master Your Message Blog

Why Presentation Backgrounds Are Critical

My recent article on “White Death on the Podium” got some reaction. It’s set me out on a campaign to help people communicate more effectively “one screen at a time.” Well, it didn’t actually start me on that road, it re-confirmed the need.

It started a few people recognizing the fact that they were indeed using white backgrounds and black text – in PowerPoint particularly (as that awful program still commands the lion’s share of the visual support marketplace), and a light went on. “It makes perfect sense” was one common reply but even more prevalent was “I never really thought about it before.”

Well, think about it. It will make your visual support infinitely more readable.

And if you still doubt the validity of the point that white backgrounds will cause your audience to go blind (actually, I may be going overboard in that statement) or at the very least, give them headaches, try this test (I actually did this in front of an audience two weeks ago):

Create the first couple of text slides in your PowerPoint file as screens of black text on a white background. Now, this must be projected to have the best effect and your projector should be good enough quality so that the contrast is strong. Then take the last slide in that group and duplicate it (exactly) using the duplicate command. Then change the white background to black and the letters to white.

During the presentation, when the black text on white background slide is up, ask your audience to read one of the lines. While they’re doing it, switch to the white text on black background slide. Watch as they actually gasp in relief! There will not be a person in the room who will not thank you for making it suddenly so much easier to read the text.

They real key here is that we don’t think enough about our audience. But if YOU had to sit though your presentation, you’d probably make some changes! This white on black effect is just one example, but a fundamental one. The principle is that the human eye does not see black (or darkness).

Don’t try to make your audience read what they can’t see! And DON’T cause them to be distracted by beaming white light at the same time. For the eye is attracted by light.

Next time you’re going to use a projector or design slides for a television monitor, think about the user. When the light is projected, the rule is always light text on a dark background. Always. And it that’s difficult to swallow, by all means, take the test!

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