How to Choose the Best Colors for Your Presentations

Choosing the right colors for your presentation can quickly become a surprisingly difficult task. It’s easy to know when color combinations don’t look good, but it’s tougher to figure out what actually works. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you begin to design your presentation.

WHAT NOT TO DO

The Vibrating-Color Headache
Vibrating color combinations are colors that give the illusion that they are vibrating on screen. Not only are they ugly combos, but they can actually give people headaches and have been known to even make some people nauseous. If you need to use bright colors, always use them with a complimentary (neutral) background.

Low Contrast Colors
While subtle color contrast can be great for print design, it rarely works with presentations.

A projector is limited in the colors it displays, therefore, colors with little contrast can easily be washed out and “invisible” when projected. I recommend always using high contrast colors when designing a presentation that will be viewed on a projector.

Not So Black and White
Print design can look professional and elegant when only using black and white, but in a presentation, black and white generally look boring and as if little thought was given to the design of the presentation. If a black and white feel is needed, I recommend adding a subtle gradient to blacks and whites to add a little depth/interest.

WHAT TO DO

The Emotional Power of Colors
Colors possess many emotional connotations. For example, the color red can infer anger or frustration, but when used as an accent color (let’s say a white/black/red color scheme), it can provoke feelings of power, excitement or confidence. Another example is blue. Blue provokes feelings of trust or calmness, which is why many medical companies use blue in their brand color scheme. However, blue can also infer sadness or boredom. My advice is to choose a color scheme that fits your material (i.e. strong, high contrast colors for tech/innovation;  pastel or dulled colors for emotional, human material), and stick with it.

Stay Trendy
One of the best resources on the web right now is Kuler. It is a fantastic color resource. You can create your own color schemes (choose a base color and Kuler provides a color scheme, based on the base color) or search their gallery or color schemes uploaded by users. It’s a great place to stay on top of color trends to see what will be best for your presentation.

Go Online With It
Color Scheme Designer is another excellent color-scheme site similar to Kuler, except it gives you the ability to view examples of what your chosen color scheme would look like on a website like SlideShare. It also has the “accented analogic” color option, which provides an analogic color scheme with a complimentary accent color.

Presentation color selection matters. Choose wisely.

READ MORE: 4 Design Tactics to Take Your Deck From Good to Great

About the Author
Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki.

If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Find Scott on Google+.

Creative Commons License
Colour Wheel by Matt Holland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewholland/5733611590/.

  • Qeana

    Try http://PaletteGenerator.com It is great because it allows you to upload a photo, select the area you want to focus on, then gives you not only the colors, but also the amounts of each used in that selection in a handy pie chart.

  • Dave Paradi

    I agree that color contrast is a key issue, especially when projecting a presentation in a room that may have an old projector or may have varying amounts of ambient light at different times during the day. I developed a tool that uses two international standard tests for color contrast. It allows presenters to make sure that the colors they choose have enough contrast. It is available at http://www.ColorContrastCalculator.com .

  • http://zip.net/bblhv0 Mario Bonamici

    I use colors im my sales training and its wonderful.
    Thanks. See: http://www.slideshare.net/MarioBonamici

  • http://www.theprofs.co.uk Richard Evans

    I’m new to web design and remember having quite strongly-worded battles with my web designer over my own site colours. I really wanted a predominantly purple background – but I was profusely told that almost all modern sites use white because it has a “cleaner” feel, and that purple wasn’t a “web friendly” colour, and should be avoided like the plague. After many attempts and back and fourths we came up with http://theprofs.co.uk/ – I think the purple really works and hopefully adds a professional feel to our university tuition website, but it’s up for review next week and this is the last time it can be easily changed. Any thoughts, anyone?

  • http://www.theprofs.co.uk Richard Evans

    I can’t believe how much time I now spend discussing the colour purple…

  • Brian Jones

    looks modern, young, and professional. But when I see it I think of a young financial institution, or a tech start up rather than a tuition service.

    That and cadburys chocolate, but maybe thats my tummy.

  • http://irajlal.com Raj Lal

    Check accessible design for how to choose the contrast colors and the type of fonts in slides http://www.slideshare.net/rajeshlal/accessible-design-how-interactive-design-conference-washington-dc-sept-2729-2012

  • http://www.theprofs.co.uk Richard Evans

    Thanks Brian. I’ll take cadburys

  • http://www.adobetec.com/ Percy Ordonez

    Very useful post. Short and sweet. Keep up the good job. I love Ethos3 site ..

  • Jonathan

    It was a pretty good movie. The only thing I can remember Oprah acting in.

  • John Hepburn

    Please also remember the 10% of men (and 1%of women) who are colour blind, especially when presenting data with many elements. Distinguishing between lots of little boxes of varying shades of grey or brown in the key and linking them up with shaded boxes on maps, also of varying shades of grey or brown is an impossible task and I, for one, don’t even attempt it.

  • http://www.somewherinafrica.wordpress.com/ Lionel Thomas

    This is true knowledge and must be applied to business card design, where the most common mistake is the poor choice of color and contrast; how to create a great business card? More here http://wp.me/p3RlfH-30

  • Jane Wiltshire

    Good points but no mention of the biggest no-no:red on green or vice versa-an absolute boo boo with the large number of men who are red green colour blind!