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Presentation Design Masterclass: Using Fonts

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Hello everyone! Welcome to the third module of our Presentation Design Masterclass. In our last two modules, we discussed how to plan the perfect presentation, and create a document template that will set you up for success. By now, you’re probably excited to actually design something – so let’s talk about typography.

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Selecting the right fonts

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Legibility

The first and most important thing to remember when selecting a font to use in any presentation is the legibility of your text. Your audience should be able to read whatever is on your slides within a few seconds – even the people right at the back on the room. This is another good reason to keep the amount of text on your slides to a minimum.

Brand restrictions

If you are presenting in a corporate environment, then your next step will be to identify a brand-appropriate font. If the company you work for has strict corporate identity guidelines, lucky you! Your font choice has likely been made for you. If your company does have a corporate font, make sure you find out how many weights and styles the font has – bold, italic, light, black, and so on. The bigger the font family, the more freedom you’ll have to design while still staying within the guidelines!

If there are few restrictions on use of fonts where you work, or if you are creating a presentation that is personal or internal, you might be able to play a lot more with your font choices.

 Combining fonts

Don’t be afraid to use more than one font, to give your presentation some texture and personality! Just remember, font combinations need to be used sparingly and with a certain amount of consideration. Never use more than two (maybe three) font families in one presentation, and only combine fonts that complement each other. When in doubt, it’s better to remove or replace one of your fonts, or ask a coworker or two for there opinion.

Pairing serif and sans serif fonts allows you to cover a wider scope with regard to your tone, and also help you sidestep the clash-of-the-fonts dilemma. (You can find out more about serif and sans serif fonts later on in this post.)

If you’re not comfortable using more than one font just yet, look for a typeface with a large font family. Playing around with italics and font weights allows you to create visual contrast without going too crazy.

Fonts have personalities

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In the first module of this course, we discussed how important it is to know who you are presenting to, and what your “big idea” is.

 Just like a book gets judged by its cover, a font gets judged by its letterforms. Each font has its own set of visual personality traits, which can add to or detract from the narrative of your presentation. When selecting fonts, ask yourself : will this add value to your narrative?
If the content is classic and informative, opt for a typeface that conveys that sense of authority and refinement – a serif font would be your best bet here. Serif fonts have little decorative accents – look at Times New Roman and Georgia for examples.

Use a sans serif for clean, simple and bold messages. Sans serif fonts also display better on screen, especially for larger amounts of copy at smaller sizes. Sans serif fonts are cleaner and more modern – Arial and Trebuchet are commonly used examples.
All that needs to be kept in mind are the pros and cons of the different font styles, and context is everything. Every good story needs a strong reliable main character, supported by a healthy dose of comic relief, drama, action and suspense. Pace yourself when using a multiple typefaces in your presentation, allow your story to dictate the choices you make with regards to font pairing, style and variety.

Best practice for presentation fonts

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You’ve chosen the appropriate fonts for your presentation, so what do you do now?

Text size

Start by establishing what size would be comfortable to display them on screen. Sans serifs are more forgiving when scaled down, but don’t bargain on everyone being happy with large amounts of small text – so keep it simple. Display key messages in large bold phrases (28-32 point size or larger).

Where absolutely necessary can always elaborate with a subtle descriptor/ breakdown in a smaller text – but try to avoid anything smaller than than 18-20 pt. It might look too big on your little laptop screen, but your audience and their eyes will really appreciate it.

Text placement

Most eyes move across the screen from left to right, and then top to bottom – so placing your header in the top left corner would be your best bet. It might seem like a cop-out because everyone else does it, but it became the standard for a reason! If you only have a few words on a slide (yes please!) then you can ignore this rule and have a bit more fun.

Either way, keep the placement of all your elements straightforward and in a logical hierarchy to avoid losing anybody along the way.

 Flow

Once you’ve laid out the bulk of your presentation, go through and see if you have a nice flow between your slides; make sure you don’t pull out the same typographic tricks across the whole presentation. Provide more simple slides to give your audience a breather, before you hit them with another round of visual stimulus.

The nuts and bolts

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If you already have all your desired fonts installed on your computer, then they should automatically display in your fonts dropdown menu in PowerPoint. If you’ve opened PowerPoint prior to installing your fonts, you might have to relaunch the application for the font to show up.

When designing a presentation that will be displayed on another person’s computer, keep in mind that they will have to install the font files too, so it’s a good idea to check first whether this is an option. If there are restrictions in your organization with regard to installing new fonts, it’s best to know that early on, so you don’t end up needing to swap out half your fonts at the last minute.


Now that you’ve got the mental tools to produce great type layouts for your presentation, how about some materials to play with? We’ve assembled a free pack of great fonts for any application, and laid out a few sample slides for you to play with in PowerPoint.

All the fonts in the pack are 100% free to use and distribute, so don’t be shy. Just remember to install the fonts before opening the sample slides in PowerPoint – there’s a handy font installation how-to in there as well.

Sound good? Great! Just click the comically large yellow button below to claim them.


If you found this post and resource pack useful, or you’re just enjoying this series of posts, keep an eye out for the next module later in the week. We’ll be talking about how you can use the power of colour to create a more engaging slide deck.

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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