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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Back in Black
Colin Rowan

November, 2009

PowerPoint (and how people use it) has spurred hundreds of books about how to use it well. Everyone’s got their PowerPoint opinions, and I’m no different. So in the next few posts, I’ll share some of the best practices and tricks of the trade I’ve picked up giving and making presentations.

A few years back, I realized that nearly every presentation I created from scratch was based on a black background. Why? Maybe it’s personal taste. My car is black. My phone. My computer. My t-shirts. My dog. But there’s more to it, I think.

1. Microsoft template colors are painfully ugly. So anything is better than what PowerPoint serves up. And no matter how much you like your organization’s pre-approved template, chances are your audience would rather see a black slide. Look at these examples…all the same slide but with a white, blue, and black background. Which one looks the best?

2. Black doesn’t get old. Most colors age and fall in and out of fashion. Black will always be the new black.

3. Black is consistent across computers. PowerPoint colors look slightly different on different computers, whether they’re PCs or Macs. Black looks black. So you won’t open your slides on another computer and say “that looks different.”

4. White is blinding. And distracting. When you display a blank white slide in front of a group, everyone stares at it (and not you) waiting for you to fill it with content. White also creates an unmistakable square on the wall. So if you don’t fill it up with graphics, you feel like the slide is incomplete.

The borders of a black slide blend smoothly with the color of the screen you display your presentation on. So when a slide is blank, it simply looks like the projector is off, and the eyes in the room focus on you, not a blank screen. This allows you, the savvy presenter, to insert a few blank slides into your presentation when you want the audience to stop looking and start listening…like at the beginning and end of your presentation, or when you are about to make an important point.

5. Black is an easy color to match. I like to delete the backgrounds of my photos and graphics so not all of my graphics are rectangles and so they appear to “hover” above my slides. To do that, I use PowerPoint’s “transparent color” feature, which works pretty well but always leaves a few traces of color around the edges. These “traces” can stand out on color slides, but blend right into a black background. See examples here and here.

6. Simplicity speaks volumes.

7. Black makes other colors look more vibrant and vivid. You’ll be amazed at how the same colors look so different when suspended over a black background. Use the same shading effect as before, but use white as the shade color instead of black and the shapes or line charts seem to jump off the screen. Check out this example inwhite and black, and this one in white and black. Both versions look pretty good, but I think the black slide gives the colors more impact.

8. At least for the time being, it’s different. I assure you, your presentation will stand out. People will ask you what software you’re using, because they’ve been inundated with the template wizard’s rainbow of bad colors.

Colin Rowan owns Rowan Communication, Inc., an Austin consulting company that helps non-profit organizations hone their messages, tell better stories and build stronger communication plans. He is conducting a one-day training session in Austin that will cover this and other core communication topics on December 10. He can be reached at


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