Presentation Design Masterclass: Colour Palettes

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hello! Happy Thursday, and welcome to the fourth instalment of our presentation design masterclass. So far, we’ve covered the planning, setup and typography that will go into your presentation. Today, we’ll be talking about colour palettes – what makes a good one? How can you use colours to tell your story? Let’s explore.


Selecting colour palettes


Colour selection is essential to good design, even more so when it comes to a presentation – where you really need to captivate your audience and keep them interested. Bear in mind, though, that less is more. Going too crazy with your colours will have your presentation looking like a rainbow, distracting your audience rather than engaging them.

Does your brand have a colour palette?

If you’ve been through our fonts module, you have likely already checked out your brand’s corporate style guidelines. If you haven’t yet, go ahead and research them now – if your company does have existing colour guidelines, that’s half your work done for you. Most larger companies will define a range of colours that are acceptable to use, often broken down into a primary and secondary palette. This gives you room to experiment with colour, without going off-brand.

If yes, how can you use it to further your narrative?

Using your brand’s corporate colour palette will help the brand shine throughout the presentation, without having to add in a big logo on every slide.

Luckily for you, many corporate style guides specify “groups” of colours for the purpose of mixing and matching, so if your brand’s guidelines are well constructed, it shouldn’t be had to pick and choose the right ones for the job.

If no, what colours will you select to best further your narrative?

If you are working on a more casual presentation – for example, an internal presentation to your colleagues, reporting back on a conference you attended, then by all means, have fun with it and take the liberty of defining your own colour palette.

There are many websites you can visit that have done all the hard work for you. Websites such as COLOURlovers, The Day’s Color and Coolors can provide a great jumping-off point for teaching yourself which colours combine best, as well as generating endless sample colour palettes for you to play with.

Either way…

Regardless of your limitations and your overall message, a few tips will almost always apply:

  • If you have divided your presentation into sections, you can colour code them to create a clear navigation. If you’re going for something more clean and serious, you can always use similar, muted colours (dark blue, light blue, purple, etc.) It doesn’t have to look like rainbow.
  • If you are using a specific colour for an individual section, use accent colours within that section that match or complement your main colour.
  • As with fonts, less is more, so try not to use more than three colours on any given slide. An obvious exception to this rule is a slide with an explanatory graph on it – some elements do require more colours than others. In general, however, it’s best to restrain yourself, and reserve your complementary colours for elements that really need to “pop”.

When making your selections, keep in mind the meanings and emotional connotations of each colour you consider. The psychology of colour may seem a little “frilly” and irrelevant in the business world, but the emotive power of colour really can have a meaningful impact on the success of your presentation. Which brings us to…

Colour personalities


What colours mean

All colours have inherent meanings, which can directly impact the way your brand, in this case your presentation, will be perceived by your audience.

An audience’s reaction to colour can seem subjective, due to factors like personal preference and current mood. However, there are still common emotional associations that can be exploited to add value to your message.

Although red is often associated with fire, violence and warfare, it’s also used to depict love, passion and elevated social status.

Orange is indicative of vibrance, energy, heath and vitality. In more muted tones, it can also communicate a feeling of warmth, comfort and happiness.

Although yellow is often associated with danger, it’s not as aggressive and in your face as red. It is most commonly associated with sunshine and happiness, and can add a nice fresh, cheerful pop of colour and energy.

Green is a very down-to-earth colour that signifies growth and abundance. Although the saying goes, ‘green with envy’ it actually has many of the same calming qualities as blue. Brighter green tones can bring up feelings of freshness and new beginnings.

Blue can be quite tricky, as different shades tend to have different meanings. Lighter blues represent relaxation, friendliness and calmness, while darker blues represent strength and stability – great for a corporate environment.

Purple has a long history of being associated with royalty. As it is a combination of red and blue, it tends to carry some of their properties too. In darker tones, it can add an air of wealth and luxury.


Setting up a colour palette in PowerPoint


A how-to guide

Now the time has come for you to create your custom colour templates in PowerPoint. Here is a little how-to guide on how to do it in a few simple steps:

1. Open up your presentation document.

2. Go to Themes > Colours, and click on “Create Theme Colours” at the bottom of the dropdown menu.

3. A window will pop up, that at first seems a little confusing. Here is a short explanation of what’s going on in that window:

Accent 1: This will be the default colour for when you are drawing shapes and lines.

Accents 2-6: This is where you will setup of your main colour palette. Unfortunately, there is only space for you to add 5 colours, but if you need more, we can beat the system and add them as Text/Background colours (explained below).

Hyperlinks: These are the colours that any website links/email links will default to.

Text/Background: Dark 1 and Light 1 refer to your text colours. These two colours show up in the first two columns of your colour menu.

Text Background: Dark 2 and Light 2 refer to your background colours. Most often these are just left white. If you need to, this is where you can add additional colours to your palette.

4. To change a colour, click on that colour’s swatch (the little square next to its name) and then click the “Change Colour” button near the bottom of the window. A popup will appear, with red, green and blue sliders in it.

5. To create a colour within that popup, all you need to do is fiddle with those sliders until the colour swatch in the bottom left corner looks the way you want it to. If you are creating a theme based on exact colours from your corporate style guide, you can also look in the guide for the colour’s exact RGB values, and type them in directly.

6. Once you’ve added your colours, give your palette a name and click save.

Once you’ve created your theme colours, your whole colour palette will be available to you in PowerPoint at the click of a button, along with different tints of each colour. Handy!

A little overwhelmed about where to start? We’ve put together some basic sample colour palettes for you to play with, complete with RGB colour values that you can type directly into PowerPoint’s colour tools. Enjoy!

Are you enjoying this course so far? Stick around for our next module early next week – we’ll be talking about the importance of imagery, and how to incorporate photographs into your presentation without that cheesy stock photo look. We’ll see you then!

Published by Ross

Ross grew up on the wrong side of the Jukskei. He studied at Vega and was awarded the Top Student prize at his graduation. After working as a freelancer for four years, he founded Nicework with Ben Vorster. He has a penchant for Scandinavian wood furniture and really nice shirts. He is open to bribery- all iPads are welcome. He also likes chocolate cake and is happily married.

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