When PowerPoint Templates Go Wrong

  • Steve Puffenberger
  • General, Presentations/Events
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When PowerPoint Templates Go Wrong

Some think PowerPoint templates with white backgrounds are cool but the results are anything but.

Why do more and more people use white for PowerPoint backgrounds?!? 

Every time I see someone presenting, they're using white or very light backgrounds. And they're beautiful if you view them on a computer monitor or laptop, but project a white background on a big screen and bad things happen.

What's wrong with this picture? Everything that happens when you use a white background:

  • The screen becomes a primary distraction.
    Look at the above. The screen is the brightest thing in the room. With that much light in one place it becomes difficult to see the presenter, even though he's standing in stage light. If there were no stage lights (as is most typical), the presenter would be totally in shadow, so the white screen disconnects the presenter from the audience even more than normal.
  • It's very uncomfortable for the audience.
    With a bright projector on a big white sheet, it's like being in a room with the sun glaring through a window, right in your face. Your audience has to squint from the eyestrain and wish they had sunglasses. (Next time you go to a movie, notice the credits are usually white on black for this very reason.)
  • It reveals every flaw in your projection system.
    White light reveals every stain on the screen (from tomatoes thrown at the last presenter, perhaps), or all the dirt that's settled inside your projector. Or you'll see a color shift from one side of the screen to the other because as lamps age they do strange things. It's all pretty ugly, but it's mostly hidden when you have dark backgrounds. Also, unless you have your projector lined up perfectly, the rectangle of the image area will be some other trapezoidal shape.

So those are the 3 key reasons why NOT to use white or very light backgrounds with your slides. So why DO people use white as backgrounds?  Here's what I can guess:

People use white backgrounds because...

  1. They're lazy. 
    Open PowerPoint. Type in some bullet points. Bang - you have a presentation with black type on a white background - the default template. 
  2. They think It looks "clean."
    That's certainly true - on their computer monitor. Projected on a big screen where you see smudges, seams and projector discoloration, it's anything but clean. Black or a solid darker color with light type looks clean too, and people don't need sunglasses.
  3. It looks great on the computer monitor.
    Everyone is used to seeing text on a white background on their computer screens, but light reflecting from a projector screen works differently. It needs to be balanced with ambient light so the presenter isn't in the shadows.
  4. They're using a template that looks "cool."
    So they click through the template options and pick one that looks really spiffy. Sometimes the title slides have a colorful background, but the remaining slides have white. Not knowing how to change things in PowerPoint they just use the default.
  5. It's the paid "corporate template."
    It seems most "branding" agencies who concoct branding standards have never projected anything in their lives. They're paid thousands to design templates that all have white backgrounds and they force their institutions to use them in spite of the problems they cause. Have these people never projected anything before? (Wait, didn't I just say that?) That's why we've hung our shingle on branding standards, because we at Advent Media, Inc. look at logos and design templates from a practical point of view - how comfortable is it for an audience to read the content?

So let me summarize...

Why should you use dark backgrounds with light type:

  1. The speaker and the screen are balanced in brightness.
  2. No glare for the audience.
  3. White type with black background cuts through ambient light most effectively.
  4. Dark backgrounds mask imperfections in the projection system.
  5. Edges blend into ambient light, so projector misalignment is not as evident.
  6. Slides achieve the goal of not being primary distractions.

Remember, it's all about contrast and readability. If your audience can't read or see what your presenting, you'd be better off without it.

Those are reasons why you'll NEVER see a Presentation Slide Deck from Advent Media, Inc. that lacks proper contrast. But that doesn't mean that the slides won't look good or even cool. We reguarlly design, format and deliver presentation content (including PowerPoint Templates) for business and corporations with great results.

Discover our Presentation Services

(By the way, there actually is an image on those screens in the picture. But because the camera exposed for the room, it totally washed out the image. This picture is un-retouched from a real event for which we did NOT do graphics

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