How to Use Color Wisely in Presentations

Remember that movie Pleasantville with Reese Witherspoon and Tobey Maguire? Released in the late 90s? Part of the uniqueness of that film laid in its depiction of living in a world of monochromatic black and white, a world without color. Eventually, when the characters felt something uniquely human, or did something distinctly out of the ordinary, they would turn into color. (Not familiar with the movie? Watch this.) It’s striking and fantastic to see the dull drone of black and white turn into a plethora of stimulating colors that we know and love. Color matters. It always has, and it always will. Every color is unique, symbolic and meaningful. Here are some tips on how to use color effectively in presentations.

Do Not Underestimate its Power

It’s easy to overlook the importance of choosing an appropriate color scheme for your presentation. You’ve got a million things going on, a million things to check off on your To-Do list, and color can easily take a backseat to everything else. However, you are doing your presentation a disservice if you underestimate the subtle influence color can have. Color is emotional; it can be used to persuade and motivate an audience. It grabs attention and increases interest.

People are used to categorizing their lives in terms of color– think of a traffic light: green always means go and red always means stop. Each color is suited for a particular purpose. We would never give a blue blanket to a new mother if her newborn were a baby girl. It would be inappropriate because we have certain connotations for girl colors and boy colors (whether those connotations are good or bad is fodder for another conversation). The point is, those connotations exist, and thusly, you should consider them when selecting colors for your presentation. What emotions do you want to evoke in the audience? How can you use color to encourage those feelings? How can you subtly influence the audience by using the right colors?

The Green Light

Remember reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in high school and discussing the meaning of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock that Gatsby incessantly stared at? Why is it green? Does it represent Gatsby’s hopes and dreams? Or does it represent money or the elusive American Dream? Regardless of how it’s interpreted, the light means something because it’s green.

Colors are highly symbolic. We have warm colors: reds, yellows, oranges, and we have cool colors: blues, greens, purples. Those groups in themselves have certain meanings. Reds represent passion, excitement and energy, while blues represent harmony, peace and calm. Yellows represent sunshine, cheerfulness, spirituality (and it’s the hardest color on the eyes), while greens represent nature, health and environment. Purples represent power, ambition and wisdom. Whites represent innocence, purity and goodness.

Colors have inherent meaning. Be careful to select colors that mesh with your presentation, that enhance the meaning and conjure the emotion you are trying to instill. Don’t use a lot of reds if you’re attempting to evoke calm and peaceful feelings, for example, and be aware of deeply engrained color associations: a mixture of red and yellow may have the audience recollecting the golden arches of McDonald’s, which could be antithetical to your presentation. Be smart and thoughtful when choosing an appropriate color palette.

Use It Wisely

First things first: choose a color scheme before you start designing your presentation. Be consistent. Don’t pair a purple with an orange or a green with a pink, for example. Limits are good here. Don’t go wild with an extensive array of colors. Choose just a few and stick with those. Bright colors will pop out on a slide, so use those colors for the most important information. Intense colors immediately draw the eye of the audience, so use them sparingly to maximize their ability to grab attention.

And lastly, and most importantly, simplicity is still the queen bee. She reigns supreme in all decisions, so keep her in mind. When in doubt choose the simpler design of the two. People love beautiful things, yes, but people also love minimalism and emphasis. Give the people what they want.

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