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What do I need to know before I select fonts for my presentations?

There are two basic guidelines to help you make decisions about fonts:

  • Serif fonts are typically used for text-intensive documents because they are easier to read and they promote higher degree of understanding and retention. We learn to read with serif fonts so there is a subliminal advantage in using serif fonts. That is why most whitepapers and vertical documents that are mostly text use a serif font.
  • Sans serif fonts are typically used in on-screen presentations because they are cleaner and easier to read as headings, explanatory text fields, etc. Most sans serif fonts take bolding better. Ariel, Verdana, Tahoma are your best bet and the most widely used in this order.

Choose carefully based on the above and then consider the following:

  • Size.
  • Text in the body of the chart should not be larger than the chart title font size
  • When some text on a slide is very small and other text is very large, the slide looks unbalanced
  • Font sizes should be fairly consistent throughout the slide/presentation. Consistent font sizes imply that "all things are equal." This is especially important when talking about sensitive topics. Don't over look the subliminal messages you may be sending.
  • Emphasis. You can emphasize words/phrases by bolding, changing the color of the font, using italics, or increasing the font size slightly (last choice). Onscreen presentations tend to use bold for everything so the text is readable and use font color as the attention-getter. Consider how you want to emphasize text in your presentations and then do it consistently.
  • Mixing serif and sans serif fonts. If you run a "storyline" through your presentation - a sentence or fragment that helps either prepare the audience for the message on the slide or establishes the take-away thought or interpretation - it's okay to make this its own font style. It is sometimes effective to use a serif font. But make this choice deliberately and use it consistently. This will become part of the style of the presentation.
  • Readability. Onscreen presentations need to have large enough text to be readable. Larger text means less of it. Reduce full sentences to fragments wherever you can. If possible, determine the size of the room and audience so you can identify a minimum font size to use in your presentation. Then absolutely do not go below that minimum size. The lowest you should probably consider is a 16-point font (and that's sort of pushing it for a large room/audience).
  • Replacements for text. Employ frameworks to help tell the story, this will eliminate some of the explanatory text.
  • Number of fonts used. How many fonts should you use? Fewer font styles give a more cohesive look. Do not add fonts (or font sizes for that matter) to create variation. Variation is the enemy of consistency. You are trying to make it easy and enjoyable for your audience to extract information. Present your material in a clean and easy-to-read manner.
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