Often times I am asked, “What is the best size font to use for my PowerPoint?” The answer is simple - one that is readable! That may seem a bit flippant, but it is the correct answer. You presentation should not be a eye test!! Bottom line is no matter how profound your lesson may be if they can’t read it from where they are sitting, it will detract from your message. Different auditoriums are different. What works in a small building may not work in a larger one. The size of the building, the size of the projected image, the colors being used on the slide, the font chosen, and even the brightness of the projectors all factor into how big your font should be. In other words, there is no universal answer to the question. TEST IT! Get into your auditorium, project your presentation, GO TO THE BACK OF THE ROOM and cycle through your slides. Are they readable? If they are - you found the right size font. If they are not, make them bigger. It is not really rocket science, it just takes some extra time.
Follow the “10-20-50” rule (actually it is more like a set of guidelines…)
There are some that suggest the “10-20-30” formula for your presentations. TEN slides, TWENTY minutes, THIRTY point font. While this may work is a small boardroom type presentation I can assure you that it won’t work in many larger auditorium settings. Thirty point font is too small in many situations and so I suggest a change to “10-20-50”. While again this concept should not be seen as a universal antidote to unreadable presentations, it can provide a starting guide from which to work.
10 SLIDES - Your presentation should not have more than a total of TEN slides to present your message. The idea here is that too many screen changes and transitions can become a distraction. Also, limiting yourself to ten total slides forces you to focus and simplify your message to its core elements. There certainly isn’t much room for rabbit chasing here.
20 MINUTES - Keep you presentation to twenty minutes when possible. Some suggest that after twenty minutes most people’s attention spans start to wane and they start tuning out. I have to say however that I have sat through presentation where I was tuning out far sooner than twenty minutes because the speaker didn’t seem interested or excited about his material. I have also sat in presentation that lasted well over and hour where I was riveted to the speaker because he was passionate and enthusiastic. Again, this should be seen as a guide, not a hard and fast rule.
50 POINT FONT - Keep your font size about 50 points at all times. This is where I personally think the “10-20-30” rule falls apart. Thirty point lettering seen from a distance is very hard to read. It also encourages the presenter to put too much text on each slide. Strive to limit the number of words you use on the slide (don’t just read full sentences off your slides) and make them as big as you functionally can. Now I know, I can hear you already - “there is no way I can fit everything I need to say on the slide using 50 point font.” My response is direct and to the point - you probably have too much text on your slide - but that is a topic for another post. In the mean time, simplify, simplify, simplify.
The 66% rule
There is another technique that I think can be very helpful in helping you select a more readable font size without leaving the comfort of your computer screen. (I actually like this better than to “10-20-50” rule.) After you have created your slides (or at least a few of them), switch to Slide Sorter View (in Keynote it is called Light Table). This view defaults to 66%. Scan through the slide in this mode and this size. If anything is difficult to read - it is too small!
Try these tips in your next presentation. Readability is a common problem and one the is curable with a little extra time and though. Remember, just because it looks good on your computer screen doesn’t mean much. You are sitting 24 inches away!! Test your presentation when you can in the environment where it is going to be viewed and make it readable. Remember, if they cannot read it it only serves as a distraction to your message.