Defining a Presentation Color Palette

Color is a powerful tool for communicating meaningful and important ideas. Learn how to use it effectively. Give our free color palettes a try.
Taylor Risner
Taylor Risner
Director of Ops at Superchart
April 13, 2023
Presentation Color Palette

Good slide color palette example
Slide Design - Professional Color Palette

Bad slide color palette example
Slide Design - Distracting Color Palette

Which of the above slides better captured your attention? Which one was easier to read? What emotions or reactions did you feel? Where were your eyes immediately drawn? 

These are the types of questions that you should be asking yourself when designing presentations. You can have two slides with the exact same content, but color can dramatically change the way the information is perceived and retained. 

The goal of any presentation is to communicate an effective message to your audience through the use of key information, data, insights, and supporting stories. Color is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal to help communicate the ideas that hold the most meaning and importance. If color is used effectively in a presentation, the audience will be more likely to engage with and retain the most important information.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of color in presentations, best practices to leverage color as a powerful tool, and provide some free examples of professional color palettes to use in your slides. 

The Importance of Color in Your Presentation

Appearance and Brand 

Everything that lives in your slides is a reflection of your personal and company brand. The content you are putting in front of your audience is in fact being judged. When presenting to potential clients, your boss, and even your peers, it is critical that you present slides crafted intentionally to support your message. 

As seen in the example above, color plays an obvious role in making your slides appear more visually appealing and polished. This certainly reflects on your brand and should be your first gut-check to ensure that the colors used in your presentation help you to come across as professional. 

It’s also important to understand that colors hold universally accepted meanings. Red is most often associated with stop signs, stop lights, teacher’s pens, warning signs, ambulances, and more objects that signal a sense of alert and danger. The red in these objects help us to understand what actions to take and what emotions to feel. Similarly, the use of color in presentations can also prompt the audience to react with emotion, infer actions to take, and associate certain meanings with your brand.


Color is an important bridge to help you communicate a narrative by influencing tone, affecting viewer’s emotions, and drawing attention to insights.

Imagine you’re listening to a presentation on why sex trafficking is a serious problem that requires immediate attention and support. If the presentation primarily uses a yellow theme with orange supporting colors, it may subconsciously appear upbeat and light-hearted, creating confusing emotions and reactions in the audience. Ultimately, the power behind the story will be diminished because the colors don’t complement the narrative. 

Storytelling through data visualizations is also a critical part of presentations. Applying color correctly in visualizations can draw attention to the insights that matter and help the audience understand the meaning behind the data. If you’re telling a story about opportunity and growth, then blue or green may be a great choice to use in your visuals, whereas using red or orange may cause the data to be misinterpreted as having a negative meaning.

Your audience will either listen to you or read your slides. Obviously, the goal is to get them to listen to you. This is accomplished by limiting the content on slides to only essential information. 

Using speaker notes to capture the additional information helps your audience to focus on listening to you and for you to avoid coming off as inauthentic, like reading a script. 

Best Practices for Using Color in Your Presentations

Use High Contrast Colors

All elements in your slides including text, graphics, icons, visualizations, etc. need to be highly readable for your audience. Using high contrast colors can help achieve optimal readability. High contrast means picking colors with significantly different tones, brightness, and visual interest. As seen in the example below from Canva, using a color combination with similar hues and brightness results in an unimpressive, low contrast color scheme.

The easiest way to create a high contrast color scheme is to select various tones of a single primary color to then combine with an accent color that’s at least 3 spaces away on the color wheel.

Canva Example High Contrast Color Palette
High Contrast Colors - Canva Example

Here are some more simple tips for using high contrast colors in your presentation: 

  • If you are using a dark background, use a lighter tone for your font and other elements. Ensure headers and key insights are displayed in white or a very light shade of gray or blue. 
  • If you are using a light background, use saturated colors to create high contrast between elements. Headers should always be displayed in black or a very dark shade of gray or blue. 
  • If you are using a monochromatic color scheme, then use an accent color at least 3 spaces away on the color wheel.

Be Consistent

When it comes to design, often times less is better than more. It’s important to choose a consistent color scheme for your presentation to maintain a tone and avoid over stimulating your audience. Our best advice is to keep it simple. Two to four colors is generally sufficient for a presentation. 

A simple and consistent scheme will ensure that your colors hold their value, maintain the appearance of your brand, and that the audience can identify when color is used to call out key information. 

Use Color to Draw Attention to Key Data Insights

Color in business presentations slides professional color
Using Color for Data Visualizations - Numerro

Chances are that not everyone in your audience is well versed in gleaning insights from charts and graphs. Identifying the key insights can be difficult, especially if color is not used effectively to focus the viewers’ attention. In the example above from Numerro, the chart on the left provides a good example of how too many colors can be distracting and leave the audience wondering what they are supposed to be focusing on. Yet the chart on the right makes it obvious that you should be analyzing the trends for the blue line in the graph.

Here are some more simple tips on how color can be used to help the audience better understand the key insights being shown in data visualizations: 

  • If you are telling a story about negative data points, consider using red for the negative data and a neutral color for the other data points. 
  • In contrast, if you are telling a story about positive data points, consider using a green or blue color for the positive data and a neutral color for the other data points.
  • Different shades of the same color can be effective in showing strength and weakness of a specific value. 
  • If you are comparing data across categories, use high contrast colors from your theme. Remember to not use more than 4 colors per visualization. 
  • Use a single color for continuous data

Leverage the Meaning of Color to Trigger Emotion

Slides Carnival has an excellent guide on color theory that is helpful for understanding how to use colors selectively to evoke emotions. Here the helpful highlights: 

  • Blue should be used carefully. It can be perceived as soothing or represent sadness. If you have a consistent message that leans on either end of these spectrums, then blue may be an effective color to use. Try using lighter shades of blue to deliver a gentle message and use darker shades for more serious details. 
  • Green is associated with nature, peace, and many other calming elements. It’s a great choice for calming and eco-friendly presentations.
  • Red is the most alarming color, guaranteed to grab attention. Harness the power of red to grab the audience’s attention for the most critical and alarming points of interest in your presentation. 
  • Yellow is a nice warm and happy color that signals joy. It’s a great choice for upbeat presentations. 
  • Black can represent many things from sophistication to evil. In business presentations it can be used to display professionalism and class. Black is always a great choice to include in presentations. 

Free Color Palettes for Your Next Presentation

Free color palette business presentation slides examples free
Free Slide Deck Color Palette #1
Free color palette business presentation slides examples free
Free Slide Deck Color Palette #2
Free color palette business presentation slides examples free
Free Slide Deck Color Palette #3

In Conclusion

Color is a magical thing. As we learn more about the power of color, we can continue to learn new ways to leverage it as a tool to create more compelling presentations. Using color effectively is a surefire way to level up your presentation design skills and better engage your audience. Start improving your presentations today by giving one of our free color palettes a shot!

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