by Adam Noar
So, you know what you’re going to say in your presentation. You have it all mapped out – the clever headlines, the attention-getting quotes, the impactful summaries. You’ve got the hard part out of the way.
Now comes the fun stuff!
You already know that what you say matters. But don’t forget that how you say it matters too – and your font choice can have a surprisingly huge impact on how your audience perceives your message.
Take a minute to think about the types of fonts you see for different types of messages. You probably have somewhat of an instinctive feel for this – you wouldn’t use the American Horror Story font for a class syllabus, right? I mean, unless you want to send a very clear message about how horrifying the class is going to be.
Likewise, other contexts need other types of fonts, which carry their own personalities. But how do you bring this into your presentation? We can help! We put together a list of our favorite tips when we’re brainstorming on how we can really make the font work for us in our presentation, but without being too distracting.
There’s inspiration here for beginners and experts alike!
Let’s go through some tips:
1.) Bring the Personality
We touched on this a bit already, but let’s dive in: fonts have personalities. That’s the great benefit to fonts, is that you can communicate a lot with just the way it’s written! Although Comic Sans gets a bad rap these days, it’s known more for being youthful and non-serious. Times New Roman probably reminds you of school, but it’s a great basic and readable font, due to having serifs, which are the small lines that finish the stroke and orient the eye to the guidelines of the font.
Of course, this goes on and on. Script fonts are elegant and beautiful, bubbly fonts are fun, thick block fonts are modern and bold.
So take it a step further: how can you use this to boost your presentation?
It all depends on what your topic is, who your audience is, and what kind of feel you want the presentation to have. Try brainstorming a list of feelings or emotions you want associated with your message – luxurious? Strong? Classic? All those words will help guide you towards the right font.
Don’t get carried away and choose too many fonts, though. Our general advice is to stick with two or three, otherwise your presentation will get way too messy and busy. After doing the word brainstorm, decide on the most important ones, and go font-hunting to see what you can put together that will complement the essence of what you’re trying to say.
2.) Synthesize Serif and Sans Serif
This one is a great beginner hack, if you’re new to the world of fonts and looking for a basic combination to try out and get your feet wet.
We mentioned serif fonts above, which are the fonts that have the small stroke-completion lines at the top and bottom of the letter (think like old typewriter-style). Sans (without) serifs, then, are fonts without those strokes. Put them together!
There is some debate in the community about which font is easier to read – serif fonts are usually the winner, because the serifs help keep the eye oriented and moving along, but sans serif can look simpler and cleaner online. So really it’s up to you! Try one for the headers and sub headers, and the other for the main text, and see how you like it.
We recommend keeping both fonts fairly simple at first so you can really see how the serif and sans serif qualities play off of each other. We also love the look of using visual hierarchies with this as well, by making the headers quite a bit larger and/or bolder – if you’re using simpler fonts for both, it’s a great way to experiment with more visual interest.
3.) Mix Modern and Classic Together
When you think of new and modern fonts, think minimalistic, geometric, and clean lines. It’s very clear and powerful, but if you use only that font, it can get a little boring or one-note. Simple is great for larger pieces of text, or for a short title, but to use for all the text on your whole presentation would dim its impact.
Old fonts, on the other hand, tend to be more practical and readable, but of course, a little old fashioned. We love the traditional feel, kind of like using a typewriter or reading a newspaper. The readability is a great advantage for this type of font, but again, you might not want to use it for everything.
So, why not both?
Bringing the two types of fonts together seems to bring out the best in both, and it’s also a very fashionable choice lately. They play off each other well, and bring a balanced feel to the overall text.
There are a few ways to combine them. One of our favorite ways is within title slides, using one for impact words and one for filler words. Playing with size is great here too, where the accent font gets a much larger size than the filler font. Get creative!
4.) Consider Hierarchies
Some fonts are naturally more impactful than others – use this to your advantage! Fonts that are bolder, thicker, larger, or have strong structures are made for big headers, accents, and title slides. Fonts that are thinner, italic, smaller, or more delicate looking are much better suited for text that is lower in the hierarchy.
We love this look because it uses the fonts’ inherent qualities to build a natural hierarchy within your slide. It does the work for you!
This lends itself well to somewhat fancier designs, not anything too text-heavy. The types of fonts that work for this style are usually too intricate or stylistic to work for larger amounts of text. This is an advantage in itself, though – it forces you to get creative and not rely on too much text, allowing the other elements of your slide to communicate your message for you.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, ditch the text altogether, you can still make this style work for you. The heavier fonts can work for titles, and the lighter ones can work well for subtitles – pick a more neutral third font to round out your collection, and use for the rest of the slide.
5.) Keep it Simple
Just stay with us on this one. We know a lot of our advice centers around combining two or three fonts together, either highlighting the contrasting or complementing nature of the choices to bring together your presentation. But what if you just used one?
Consider finding a solid font that you think encapsulates your brand, message, or overall theme really well, and then just stick with that. There are plenty of variations in fonts so that it doesn’t look exactly the same – you can play around with bold and italic versions of the font, size differentials, even different colors! Challenge yourself to create the variety of several fonts with just one.
This can’t be done with anything too out there – a script font would be the wrong choice for this, clearly. But something simple and maybe a little understated has the potential to really work for you! It can bring a sense of cohesiveness to the presentation without having to try too hard.
6.) Think Geometrically
We’re suckers for contrasting imagery, clearly. We love a pop of color, a dramatic image, and bold graphics – so it’s no surprise we love fonts with contrast. If you want a step above color or size contrast, consider contrasting shapes.
This one requires a little bit of outside-the-box thinking. Instead of just thinking of the personality of your font, try and determine what type of geometric shapes it’s making. Is it bold and square? Rounded and curved? Linear and thin? Those shapes can be contrasted against each other for pretty dramatic results.
Remember our advice about combining the old and the new? This is the same kind of idea. Fonts that contrast in different ways can balance out the style of the presentation in a way that other things can’t.
So for this tip, try contrasting fonts that create different geometric shapes. Combine an angular font with a flowing script font, for example, or a minimalist thin structured font with a rounded one. Lots of possibilities!
Keep in mind, though, that this works best for types that contrast a lot, so to start out with, think squared and rounded. Two rounded fonts aren’t going to provide as much visual interest.
7.) Weight Mixing
The weight of a font is actually really important. It can affect how you see it, if it comes across as bold or minimalist. Changing the weight of a font can completely change its perception, which is why we recommend mixing weights of a font in your presentation!
A font’s weight is just how thick or thin it is. Using different weights of the same font can create nuance and natural hierarchies within just one font, which helps cut down on the business and increase the readability.
When you have a heavier weight drawing your audience’s eye to the title, header, or important part of a quote, you can have the lighter font picking up the slack with the rest of the text. It doesn’t look too graphic or design heavy, because it’s still just the same font! It’s a great compromise, and can really improve the balance of your slides.
This is also a nice cheat for creating different “fonts” for each section of your slide. If you have a three-part hierarchy but don’t want to go overboard with three different fonts, using one font weighted from heavy to light is an easy workaround.
8.) Classy Combinations
There’s something about an elegant design that just wins us over every time. Don’t get us wrong, we love modern, minimalist, bold, you name it; if you’ve got a solid concept that ties in with your font, we’re sold. But we definitely have a soft spot for the timeless classics. So how do you create that timeless, classic look?
The easiest rule of thumb for this one is to combine a font with gentle or fine strokes with a curvier, script-style font. The straight and curved styles give it enough contrast to make it visually interesting, while the fine details bring them together into a happy package.
This will add a nice boost of elegance to anything you’re presenting, and it works well with most topics! It even works outside of presentations, for illustrations or for print, and if you’re designing an infographic, this is a great choice for your header and sub header fonts.
9.) Break the Rules
So you’re reading these tips and thinking, “I know all that. Give me something new to try!” You’re ahead of the class! Well, we’ve got a good challenge for you. These tips are great for people experimenting with fonts in the beginning, getting an idea of what works well together and what doesn’t. But if you’re looking to branch out, try breaking all the rules!
Once you understand how fonts complement each other, and how to take advantage of that, it’s time to think outside the box. You can really get creative with this! Try combining two fonts that completely contrast each other and see what you like or dislike about it. If it’s done well, it’s something that can really stand out in the crowd.
Try combining fonts with completely different personalities. What does the new message communicate? Try using fonts that have the same weight. Do you appreciate the consistency, or does it get boring? Playing with the rules is how you’ll figure out which rules you can break.
There’s really only one rule, and it’s an obvious one: make sure your audience can still understand what you’re trying to say. If they can’t read it, either because it’s illegible, it takes too much work, or it’s too confusing, you’ve gone too far. Don’t obscure your message in your quest to stand out! We recommend trying this out on a test audience first, depending on how far you go.
Wow, that was quite a list! We hope you’re feeling inspired to go out and conquer the wonderful and beautiful world of fonts. Do you have any favorite hacks that we missed? Let us know in the comments.