Archives for May 2011

3 Steps to Choosing the Best Presentation Colors

Poor color choice in presentations results in ugly visuals, bad feedback, and negative feelings from your audience. A good color palette makes a good presentation better, elicits positive feedback and increases audience acceptance of your content.

But how do you pick the best colors for your subject matter and audience? For example, which piece of pie below would you rather eat?

Choosing a color palette seems simple until you take into consideration how your audience perceives color and how those colors relate to your topic and goals, because colors elicit an instant and strong emotional response. For example, the color red could signal “danger” to some and “love” to others.

What is your favorite color? Why?

Know your likes and dislikes before selecting a color palette to guard against your color biases. Next, follow the three steps that follow to pick the best colors, improve the quality of your next presentation  and boost your success.

Step 1: Determine your goal.

If your goal is get “buy in” (e.g., make a sale or gain trust), use a color palette your audience knows and trusts—even if the palette is not what you like. When applicable, use your audience’s corporate, agency, or organization colors. People trust that which is familiar, and they want to see themselves reflected in your slides. For example, if you presented to the U.S. Army, which color palette do you think would work best—A or B?

If your goal is to increase mindshare and market your company or organization, use your colors. Consistent exposure to your company’s colors will, in time, breed trust. (Think branding.)


If you want to play it safe, use blues and greens. (Most Western cultures vote blue and green as the most appealing colors.) With that in mind, you want to know your customer and their culture. For example, the color green is associated with luck in the Middle East but is connected with death in South America. Know what each color means to your customer when you choose alternate color schemes.

Still need help? Here are some free online palette tools that aid in color selection:


Step 2: Know basic color theory.

Ignoring color best practices results in unsightly, illegible, or confusing presentations—guaranteed. Color is the first thing people see when they look at your presentation and helps or hinders your success rate. The following are essential color theory concepts.

Color consists of three variables:

 Hue – where the color appears on the color wheel (blue vs. yellow)
• Saturation – the intensity or vibrancy of the color (neon vs. pastel)
• Value – the lightness or darkness of the color (adding black to darken your color or white to lighten your color)

To simplify things, there are two color “families” of which to be aware:

• Analogous – colors that appear next to one another on the color wheel like blue, green, and yellow
• Complementary – colors across from one another on the color wheel like red and green

Avoid using complementary colors. Complementary colors—for example, red and green or blue and orange—vibrate when next to one another or placed over one another, such as orange text on a blue box. You’ll give your audience a headache! Analogous colors are a better choice when developing your color palette. It is safer to use two or three analogous colors with multiple shades (or tints) of each.

The colors you choose do not have to be analogous, but when choosing your colors make sure they work well together (are harmonious when side-by-side). Add additional colors to your palette, but save these colors for special circumstances. For example, you might choose blue as your primary color and green as your secondary color with various shades of each. You could then use their complementary color of yellow or orange to highlight special boxes or features.

When it is time to set up your template avoid the following:

• Strong gradients. It is difficult to read overlapping content.
• “Cheesy” effects (strong bevels, bright highlights, dark shadows, and other “fancy” effects). It looks amateurish and undermines your company’s professionalism.
• Large color jumps in your palette (dark blue to light blue with no options in between). Large color jumps limit your options.




Step 3: Be flexible.

Printers, monitors, projectors, and different paper styles rarely show a single color consistently. Your audience will not have a point of comparison, so the color is correct as far as they are concerned. As long as you follow steps one and two, the eccentricities associated with color display are negligible. Your slides will be cleaner, more attractive, and more consistent, and your audience will pay closer attention to your presentation.

Color is a powerful tool and must not be devalued. According to independent research:
• Color improves comprehension up to 75%.
• Color increases recognition up to 78%.
• Color increases motivation and participation up to 80%.

Use these three steps to choose the right colors for your next presentation and maximze its impact on your audience.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication expert and multi-published author. Visit Billion Dollar Graphics ( and BizGraphics On Demand ( for more helpful presentation tools. Contact Mike at or call 703-608-9568 for exclusive graphics training. Mike is a partner at 24 Hour Company (, a premier proposal and presentation graphics firm.

Secret to Speaking Success: Don’t Try to Be More Than You Are

By Sandra Zimmer

Recently I attended a workshop on Sound, Color & Vibration taught by Elias Demohan and Rafael Demohan.  Elias has been the most significant spiritual teacher in my life.  I have not seen him for many years as he now lives in Calgary, Canada.  The workshop was for me mostly a review of methods for self-transformation he taught me 35 years ago.

But Elias said one thing that electrified me and may make me freer than ever before to be who I am.

He said, “Don’t try to be more than you are.” This simple axiom for living goes against much of what is being taught and touted by self-help teachers, celebrities, gurus and communication experts in the last few years. Many are encouraging people to be more than they are, be more, do more, have more.  I have myself said this!  And I have also strived and struggled to be more.

We have become a culture of fame-seekers.  We have come to value fame more than authenticity. We think that celebrity means happiness, wisdom and success. We honor sparkle over substance. This shift in our cultural values has placed great pressure on people to try to show up as more than they are.  And that creates tension, stimulating stage fright and fear of speaking up.

Stage fright and fear of public speaking are rooted in shame, low self-acceptance and feelings that one is not enough. “Not enough-ness” is driving many of us to strive to do more, be more and have more. And it provides the deep vein of anxiety that feeds fear of speaking in public.

Here is why what Elias said is important for speaking and communicating in groups.  When we attempt to be more than what we are, tension is created in the mind and body. Underneath the surface, we are striving too much, pushing too hard. When we don’t try to me more than who we actually are, we can relax and be real. We do not have to know everything so we can share our true ideas, insights, gifts and talents. 

Without pretense, we don’t have to inflate or embellish what we have to offer. We can say simply, “Here is what I know for sure.” What we know for sure flows easily from our lips. It is what it is, no more, no less.

This week,  practice not trying to be more than what you are. I am already more relaxed today. Let me know what happens for you.

About the Author:

Sandra Zimmer believes that each of us has natural gifts and talents and a unique way of expressing that is compelling to others. She is the President of Sandra Zimmer and Associates Inc. and the founder of The Self-Expression Center in Houston, Texas. Sandra founded The Self-Expression Center in 1992 to help people develop confidence to express themselves more freely. For more information about her services, visit or

Is Narcissism Creeping into Your Presentations?

By Carmen Taran

In a recent research study, psychologists analyzed data obtained from 16,475 U.S. college students who were asked to complete the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between 1982-2006. The survey contains questions such as “I will usually show off if I get the chance,” “I am an extraordinary person,” and “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.”

Results show that the average score for college students in 2006 is 65% higher than it was in 1982, and 25% of respondents show higher-than-normal levels of narcissism, scoring high in vanity, entitlement, exhibitionism, and superiority. In fact, some students scored as high on the NPI as a celebrity would.

These findings prompted me to reflect on how concepts related to narcissism, self-esteem, and an exaggerated sense of self-worth may impact presentations.

Narcissism. What is your narcissism level and how often do you cultivate it? Those who have a me-centered mindset in presentations find it difficult to connect with an audience. I recently coached someone on virtual presentations and advised her to allow the audience to contribute more during the presentation; she refused, saying that the presentation “would get out of hand” and she would “not be in control.”

I’ve met many presenters smitten with the notion that they are in charge. While this can work to your advantage when presenting to very large audiences, for smaller crowds consider creating spaces for others to interact and take control. Ask them to get involved and shape your story. Give them the opportunity to play a part rather than simply watch the show unfold. This creates instant connection, which contributes to your cause and prevents you from falling in love with your own reflection.

Self-esteem. There is a fine line between self-esteem and narcissism. We operate in a culture that protects our self-esteem too much. In some schools, tug-of-war has been changed to tug-of-peace. Some teachers don’t use red pens any more to avoid hurting kids’ feelings. Lavender is considered a more “calming color” (seriously?).

We are grooming generations with an exaggerated sense of uniqueness, and excessive need for admiration. Self-esteem, instead of being used in its healthy scope to help you have a realistic sense of self and handle negative feedback, turns into an inflated sense of self-worth, and demand for special treatment.

This is why, in many social events, you see business professionals interact with others with the goal to self-actualize, to express and validate their own sense of self, with little regard for the other person. In presentations, this is detrimental. The more you focus on others, and validate their own self-worth, the more you benefit.

Modern presenters seem to have it backwards. Give your audience a voice whenever possible. Recognize that anyone in the room, regardless of how small or large, may have just as much wisdom as you do.

Trying too hard. I recently attended a stand-up comedy show in Monterey, CA. Despite the low-key, mediocre performance, one comedian said something that rang true to all 10 audience members. He remarked that applause felt great but its impact lasted for a split second before he met the audience’s gaze, silently announcing, “That was ok, now what?”

This is true in many presentations. Have you shown up in front of an audience who looks at you, closing their laptops (if you’re lucky), crossing their arms, leaning back, and silently announcing, “Amuse me”? Modern audiences seem to be changing from a dog mentality (responsive, eager) to a cat mentality (hard to impress, independent).

It is increasingly difficult to get and maintain attention. And to top it all off, look at the slogan for Gossip Girl, a TV primetime drama: “You’re nobody unless you’re talked about.” Ouch. No wonder presenters often think they have to try harder. But in this quest to please and receive social approval and attention, you may end up trying too hard.

Presentations these days are often pure theater. You may have been taught or asked to display emotions you don’t feel.  Dry content? Sound enthusiastic. Unrealistic promises? Brush through them with a confident voice. A question on the NPI is “I find it easy to manipulate people,” a question that gets increasingly high scores.

To you, it may matter what you say, but to an audience, what matters is what you mean, and they can quickly detect fake behavior and emotions. Reflect on the content you share and present only on those topics where fakery does not play a major part.

Why is it important to pay attention to narcissism, self-esteem, and avoiding fakery? Psychologists are confirming that ours is a society that finds it increasingly difficult to create connections. We live in fragmented worlds, tucked away safely in our condos, building and maintaining an insular existence, surrounded more often by seductive electronic devices rather than other people. But, while we enjoy autonomy and bohemian lifestyles, laced by high ceilings and hardwood floors, this unrestricted individualism prevents us from truly connecting with others.

More people have less friends (despite Facebook claims). More people live without a spouse than with one. This type of sealed lifestyle does not groom your skills to make connections in real life, skills that are instrumental in successful presentations. Consider giving up some of your seductive toys in favor of spending time with people and getting to know what others say and do in real life.

The NPI also contains questions such as “I wish somebody would someday write my biography.” If that wish ever crosses your mind, reflecting on the concepts included here may get you there faster.

About the Author:

Dr. Carmen Taran is an executive coach at Rexi Media, a company that teaches eye-opening presentation skills to professionals who wish to elevate the way they deliver presentations and ultimately do business. For more information about Rexi Media’s services, visit

Think PowerPoint is Your Only Option? Try These Design Alternatives

By Jon Thomas

While I am clearly a fanboy of Apple, as I write this on my MacBook Pro, my slideware of choice is actually Microsoft PowerPoint. I do have Apple’s Keynote on here, but I have never come across a compelling reason to use Keynote instead of PowerPoint. (Do you have one?)

However, using PowerPoint isn’t always an option. Even if it is, sometimes you don’t want the same old slides or you may need to collaborate with a dispersed team online and sending files back and forth doesn’t cut it. Here are a few alternatives to PowerPoint, both in the online and offline world. Neither the list nor the descriptions are exhaustive, but hopefully it gets you started in the right direction.

 Keynote. It has the same functionality as PowerPoint but was created by a company that actually wants to make things easier for its users. If you’ve got a Mac, Keynote may be a great choice. You can also save your Keynote out as a PowerPoint file, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.

• Prezi. Prezi takes the design off the rigid, standalone slide and creates a presentation in its own environment. This product considers itself the “zooming presentation editor.” It’s a pretty cool application and it has been used successfully during TED presentations, but I’ve rarely seen it used well anywhere else. It can be used as a collaborative online tool and viewed online or locally as well.

• SlideRocket. SlideRocket is an online presentation software that takes the basics of PowerPoint presentation design but puts them in an online environment that enables team collaboration and access anywhere, including mobile. They have a free version and also include an Inspiration Gallery (complete with a template designed by yours truly.)

• The Spoken Word. My presentation colleague Adam St. John Lawrence would kill me if I didn’t put this in here. But of course, you don’t always need slideware. If you have a compelling story and fear you can’t design an effective presentation, consider other routes. It can be a simple as pulling up a stool and talking with your audience, or as intricate as rehearsed skits, improv, props or live music!

These are some of the better-known alternatives, but there are other smaller players as well. If you run into the issue where you have designed slides but can’t use PowerPoint, consider saving them as a PDF and presenting them that way (albeit without animation or video) or posting them to SlideShare.

About the Author:

Jon Thomas is the founder of Presentation Advisors,  a presentation design and training firm in southern Connecticut.  The firm was founded to help companies of all shapes and sizes realize the true power of an effectively designed presentation. To learn more about the company’s services visit

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