Ah the classic font size debacle. Anyone who has ever made a deck (read: nearly everyone on the planet) has experienced the struggle of choosing the right font sizes for different elements of the deck.
Set the font size too small and people will complain about readability. Set the font size too large and you can’t get enough information on the slide to communicate your point.
The classic recommendation is to keep your font size to a minimum of 30pt for any text in your presentation. Or the even more vague suggestion to “make the font big enough so even the person in the back of the room can read it.” These are ok recommendations, but are not the most helpful, especially considering the broad range of use cases for decks these days.
Fear not! Some simple rules can be used to make sure you are using the right size fonts for the right reasons.
Decks have become one of the most widely used communication mechanisms across work and life. However, not all decks are used for the same purpose.
Sometimes you want to throw together a deck to quickly share visual inspiration for a new website design. Sometimes you put together a deck to stand up in front of a room of people to present something inspiring. Sometimes you have to put together a detailed deck sharing the results from your latest project.
Across these use cases, the decks are sometimes meant to be viewed by an audience while you are speaking over the slides while, other times, the deck is meant to read independently. So first things first, make sure you determine whether the deck you are building is meant for a live presentation or meant for someone to consume on their own.
If you are building a deck with the intention of presenting it live, you do need to do some thinking about your audience and the “room” you will be presenting in. To some extent, regardless of whether you are presenting in a physical room, over a web conference, or in a hybrid situation, the same principles apply.
When you are presenting live, sometimes you don’t even need a slide title - you may be using the entire slide to communicate one big point via one sentence or statement. Either way, you want your titles and main points to be large and easy to read. We recommend that these titles and main headlines are at least 60pt font.
After your titles or main headlines, most of the text in your deck will be “supporting text” that makes up the body of the content. Supporting body text will be the most common, highest volume text in a presentation deck. Typically, we recommend that supporting text for a live presentation is at least 40pt as this is a size that is generally very readable for almost any attendee.
Outside of your titles and body, you will also need to use smaller fonts throughout your deck for things like captions, footers, and labels, as well as other key notes. This text is meant to simply be reference text, not the main content of a slide. Even though the readability requirements for this type of text isn’t as important as titles and body, it is still important to use a font size that is reasonably easy to read. We recommend that you use 20pt font size for all captions, footers, and labels in a live presentation deck.
Not all decks are meant to be consumed in “presentation” format. In fact, one of the most common use cases for decks is for a “leave behind” or a “read ahead” where the content is consumed by an individual asynchronously. If your goal is to build a deck that’s meant to be consumed by someone async, not in a presentation format, the rules around font sizes do change compared to the best practice sizes for live presentations.
For a leave behind format, the title will typically serve the traditional need of being a short summary of the content on the slide. Slide titles look best when they are positioned in the upper left hand corner of the slide and stay on one line. Sometimes titles will be long and need to go into two lines, but we recommend keeping slide titles relatively short. You have the rest of the slide to provide additional detail, so keep the title very focused. For these use cases, title text can be slightly smaller, around 40pt font.
When you are building a deck for a leave behind or read ahead use case, you will probably have a lot of body text. The body text will most likely be on every slide and is where the consumers of your deck will spend most of their time. We recommend that supporting body text in leave behind decks is set to 20pt font. This aligns with the best in class web design standards for body text readability, so it is a safe bet.
In this use case, you can get away with fairly small font size for captions, footers, and labels since you know the reader will be able to zoom in if they need to read small text. Since this text is more reference text and not the main content, you shouldn’t have nearly as much of it in your deck. The best practice here is to make sure the font size for captions, footers, and labels is set to at least 12pt font.
Decks are used for many different purposes, ranging from a keynote presentation in front of thousands of people to a read ahead report on the latest marketing campaign. Depending on your use case, you will have very different font size requirements, so it’s most important that you define and understand your use case before you dive into the details on how you should size your fonts.
If you are performing a live presentation, keep your title fonts to 60pt or more, your body text to 40pt or more, and your captions, footers, and labels to 20pt or more. If you are creating a leave behind deck, keep your titles to 40pt or more, your body to 20pt or more, and your captions, footers, and labels to 12pt or more.
Choosing the right fonts can mean the difference between frustrating an audience and really connecting, so choose wisely!