Does the background colour in slides affect your success? Much more than you think.
Updated: Oct 7, 2018
The choice of background colour in a slide seems to be a detail most presenters don’t think much about. We either use corporate templates or choose the one we most like from what our presentation software offers us.
However, when you start understanding how we react to visuals at a deeper level, you will realise that with the wrong template you may be unconsciously directing your audience’s attention away from what really matters. And that will hurt how effective your presentation will be, which in turn can have an impact on your results, project and career.
So let’s see how a seemingly unimportant detail such as the background colour will affect focus and ultimately our success.
Over thousands and thousands of years, one kind of visual stimuli which our eyes have developed to pick up on immediately are large objects. We always notice them first and small ones only later. We are hard wired to think that what is larger is also more important.
We also know very well from experience that shiny objects attract more attention than matte ones.
How does this explain the link between the background colour in a slide and your success?
The two sources of information in presentations with slides are usually the screen and the speaker. The sizes of screens typically depend on the size of the room. The larger the room, the larger the screen to allow everyone to see it easily enough. But the size of even smaller screens, for examples large screen TVs in smaller meeting rooms, is still big compared to the presenter.
If we use slides with a light-coloured background and dark letters, then the screen will emit more light, attracting the audience’s attention as all shiny objects do.
Paired with the size of the screen, it becomes clear that using dark letters on a light background taps into two deeply ingrained mechanisms that draw our eyes and thus our mental focus to such visual stimuli.
But isn’t it good if we give such prominence to our slides?
The main event in every presentation needs to be the speaker. It’s the presenter who tells a story with their presentation. It’s the presenter who connects with the audience using body language. It’s the presenter who builds trust, which is crucial for selling any idea.
Audiences are not convinced because they look at slides longer. Audiences are not swayed because they like a slide deck. Audiences make decisions because how a speaker makes them feel. They just justify those decisions later to themselves with rational arguments.
Slides are only meant to provide visual support. And directing your audience’s attention to your slides more than required by their supporting role will impair your ability to win them over. To be successful.
“But what about readability?” you might ask. Dark letters on a light background enhance readability. This is what we see in books. This is true. However, there are other ways to make a text more readable in a slide, such as font size and type. And these other means don’t add a feature to slides that would help in promoting them from the ranks of the supporting cast to those of the leading actors.
Opting for light letters on a dark background in slides is a small detail that will help you cast the roles as they are meant to be distributed in a presentation. The slides in the supporting and you in the leading role.