Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Dark or light? Until recently, it looked like a no brainer and I was advising everyone to use dark backgrounds. Now experience makes me modify that advice. It's not so simple after all and you'll have to make a judgement call.

Why the original advice to use a dark background?

You only have to compare a slide with light words on dark background, with the same slide the other way around, and you'll see that the first is considerably easier on the eye. It was so obvious that I missed something subtle but important.

It turns out that bright white words on black background are harder to comprehend than the other way around... so while you gain some in eye comfort, you lose some in comprehension. (If you try this comparison yourself, make sure that font, font size, and font characteristics are identical in both cases - then ask someone who doesn't know the content which of the two is easier to understand. Also, do your test on the big screen, not on the computer screen.)

So, here's my amended advice.

Increasing comprehension but keeping it easy on the eye

For screened words, use light words (not bright white) on dark background, but make sure that the font is bigger and bolder than you might normally allow. Which means that you should have even fewer words on the screen - for PowerPoint, that's a good idea anyway. But if you have any doubts about comprehension, return to black words on a light background.

More considerations:

  • If your PowerPoint uses photographs of objects, you will almost certainly need a white background.
  • Many people make two versions of a PowerPoint show - one (the detailed one) for the handout and the other (highly simplified) for the screen.
  • A dark colour doesn't necessarily mean black. Some find that too sombre.


About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally-charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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