An amateur’s guide to picking fonts for your presentation

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Microsoft PowerPoint and Keynote have a number of system fonts built in. A few are fairly decent (like Georgia and Trebuchet MS), others less so (*cough* Comic Sans *cough*).

But one thing’s for certain – everyone’s seen them before. Because they are so readily available, you can be sure that everyone has seen and/or used them at one time or another.

And that makes them blah.

You don’t want your presentation to be blah do you? No, of course not. Well then, come with me on a journey through a whole new world of fonts.

What fonts? Where?

An array of websites offer unique fonts that your viewers – and perhaps you – have never seen before. A simple Google search for ‘free fonts’ will yield tons of uncommon fonts for free download. But how do you decide which to use for your presentation?

Fonts that fit the personality

Think about the tone you want for your project. Is it professional and corporate or light-hearted and quirky? Maybe it’s elegant and artsy? For inspiration, think of a brand that embodies the personality you want to portray and study their website and other marketing material. This will give you a good idea of the font styles that best project the personality you want. Pay attention – is the font formal? Or handwritten? Is it light or heavy? Then select a combination of styles that best reflects your brand.

Your presentation fonts should match the personality you want to project

How many fonts should I use?

The ground rule when selecting fonts is this – don’t go crazy. Don’t flood your presentations with so many different fonts it degrades to alphabet soup. Instead, select up to three fonts that work cohesively together – one for headings and important text elements that you want to stand out (this one can be bold and creative), one for any ‘body text’ (this one should be simple and very easy to read) and one that complements the other two for sub-headings, diagrams and other elements (this one is optional).

Use two to three fonts in your presentation

Keep fonts in the family

Another best practice when you’re just starting to experiment with fonts is to select one font that is available in different ‘weights’ or levels of thickness. These ‘font families’ as they’re called are guaranteed to go together. You can use the ‘bold’ version of the font for headings, the ‘regular’ version for body text and the ‘light’ version alongside the ‘bold’ version to add some interesting contrast.

Font families work well in presentations

Establish a font hierarchy

Now that you’ve selected your font styles, think about how to use them on your slides. Remember, the way you use your fonts should give a clear idea to viewers of the order in which to read the elements on the slide. You can show this by creating a hierarchy of importance using the size of your text, the boldness of a font and its positioning on the slide. Headings should be large, bold, prominent and at the top or left side of the slide, sub-headings should be less large and bold than the headings but more so than body text. And each element should be positioned in a logical order, allowing your viewers to know, without thinking, the order in which they should read the items on your slide.

Visual hierarchy in font selection

Play with contrasting fonts

Contrast is an important design principle, and it will make your presentations pop! To make contrast work in your presentation, experiment with very large text alongside small text, an extra bold font alongside a very thin font, and decorative text alongside plain text. You will discover that, when used artfully and sparingly, contrast can often be extremely visually pleasing.

Create contrast in font selection

Selecting fonts, in summary

Congratulations! You now know the key principles of excellent font selection:

  1. Pick fonts we don’t see everyday
  2. Pick fonts that match the personality you want to project
  3. Don’t use too many font styles – select a maximum of three
  4. Use different weights within the same font family
  5. Use font size, weight and arrangement to make slides easy to read
  6. Use contrast in font size, weight and style to add visual interest

Go forth and make amazing presentations!

Have a burning question about presentation design, messaging or delivery? Contact us, we’re always happy to help!