Monthly Typography Tidbits help to feed your typographic hunger and nourish your design output.

This morsel is about typography of slide presentations.

Have you ever been in the audience of a conference seminar or presentation and “checked out?”

That’s me, and it happens all the time. I usually start to daydream about seven minutes in. Sure, some of the mind-wandering has to do with the lack of the presenter’s tone, enthusiasm, and speaking skill, but if the visuals don’t match the content, I get easily distracted.

Sometimes slide typos or tangents in the imagery will catch my eye and I begin to play the “find what needs to be fixed” game. Other times, the presentation design just has too much going on. But most of the time, it feels like I’m lost. Long presentations seem to go on forever. Sometimes I notice others checked out too, as evidenced by their eyes looking down at their smartphones.

Presentation slides might be easier to follow if they were designed simply, like children’s storybooks. With large letters, few words per sentence, page numbers and chapter breaks; these mental tracking devices help us to follow a story in a simple manner, tell us when we can take a mental break, and when we can expect to finish.

Used in your slide presentation, these mental devices can help audiences follow along and track your verbal delivery, enriching both the visual and audible experience in real time.

If you’re designing five slides or 200 slides, consider incorporating design devices to keep your audience’s attention:

  1. Consider the reader when choosing fonts
  2. Consistency in formatting is key
  3. Size matters and less is more

Consider the reader when choosing fonts.

When setting a type size for your slides, consider the reading distance between your audience’s eyes and the presentation. Yes, there’ll be a reading distance difference between presenting a printed deck across the table to one person, and presenting an on-screen talk to a crowd of 5,000.

For example, a typeface with thin serifs may not work well in low contrast presentations. For ease-of-reading consider typefaces with thick serifs, or medium and bold sans serif fonts. If there’s a font aptly named “display” or “banner,” then you may have found one that’s heavy enough for the screen. For your headers and chapter break headlines, choose display faces that aren’t so overly decorative where it slows the reader down.

Make it easy for your audience to read, and they’ll follow right along.

Chapter Break Sample

Our topic transition slide, as shown with Miller Display, a heavier font made for larger sizes, and set at 65 points.

Here’s a trick; design a single slide with your chosen typefaces, then stand back from your computer to see if you can read it from a distance. Then, keep the lights on and dim the screen as low as it can go, and read it again. Test as many light conditions as possible, especially if you aren’t able to work with the venue’s projector ahead of time.

Consistency in formatting is key.

Using a consistent grid, typography system and color palette will keep order and help to make each slide feel like it’s part of a larger story. If every page follows the system, you’ll create harmony and unity from the cover slide to the ending slide, and every topic in-between.

Music Sample

Our baseline grid shown in InDesign, with type and imagery lined up to the grid.

Think about incorporating topic transition slides. In books, we refer to them as section or chapter breaks; in the theater, they are known as act names (Act I, Act II, etc). As you begin another topic, consider designing these pages with proportionally larger type and different background colors, while utilizing the system grid. These slides will serve to create a pause in your story’s pace and bring audiences back to the topic if they’ve checked out.

For the top and or bottom of the slide, you might consider developing a header and footer system to address the name of the presentation and the slide number, serving as a folio and page number. For presentations longer than 30 slides, the use of this device is not only appropriate but creates structure for the overall presentation.

For charts and graphs, don’t forget to incorporate the design system into these too. Information graphics are a key part of the presentation and challenge people to make sense of them. Format your visuals so they look like they are characters in the story, and keep your audience’s brains on-topic.

Size matters and less is more.

Silicon Valley marketer Guy Kawasaki once said “If you need to put 8–point or 10–point fonts up there it’s because you do not know your material.”

Typically, the larger the font the better, with respect to the margins. We’re talking 24 points and higher here, but don’t design to the edge of the screen. Words will be the main focus when using ample white space all around.

That also means less copy on the slide. Don’t ask your audience to do double duty; read and listen at the same time. If you have to put words on screen, make them count — you can convey the rest of the content verbally.

En Dash Sample

Less words help to highlight one concept at a time.

If you need space for more copy for bullet points, divide them up among more slides or builds, which creates anticipation for each point.

Simply-designed presentations make it easy for people to follow. Well-timed visual and verbal cues capture audience attention and keep them entertained. And consistency throughout helps to package it all together into the attractive gift of a story that inspires others.

Are there other visual devices that you’ve been able to incorporate to simplify and streamline your presentation message? Flag us down on Twitter at @TypeEd and let us know.

Michael Stinson is a co-founder and instructor at TypeEd, where he helps designers implement better typography, efficiently. Get more typography in your inbox when you sign up for more updates about TypeEd.