Memory is a funny thing. It can be helped by emotions, visuals and by colour theory. So applying colour theory in presentations might help your audience’s recall. Previously, we’ve written about using emotions and stories in a presentation to hold attention.  And about the importance of using visuals to help your audience to remember key messages. Now it’s the turn of colour!

Here we talk about using colour theory in presentations…

The psychology behind colour theory in presentations

Colours can evoke emotions, both positive and negative, grab attention and increase interest.
When used alongside effective visuals colours also help people retain information.

colour theory presentations

What do different colours symbolise?

Blue is calming. It is associated with peace, tranquillity, confidence, wisdom and security. Studies show blue can slow breathing and pulse rates. It’s perfect for topics relating to cleanliness & hygiene. But avoid it when talking about food as blue suppresses appetite. Blue is very popular in corporate colour palettes.

Red is an emotionally intense colour. It also carries negative associations, so use carefully. Red symbolises passion, love, fire and anger. It increases respiration rate, raises blood pressure and has high visibility. It often highlights importance messages, for example in road signs. However it has negative connotations when used in financial information or charts. Different cultures have different associations with colour. In China, red is lucky and prosperous.

Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. It is associated with royalty, wealth, spirituality and mystery. It uplifts us, calms the mind and nerves and encourages creativity. Purple is seen as a feminine colour. Almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors. Indeed, it’s long thought to best suit feminine designs or children’s products. However, purple is enjoying a business resurgence and is used by more and more brands.

Yellow is a very cheerful, sunny colour. It is associated with optimism, happiness, idealism and imagination. Yet research shows people are more likely to lose their tempers in yellow rooms! Bright yellow is great for attention, we use sparingly for highlight. Yellow might be viewed as childish or fun, so not always suited to prestigious products or luxury items. Beware also of using yellow font on white. It’s hard to read onscreen.

Green symbolises nature, freshness and fertility. It is the most restful colour for the human eye and can improve vision. So green is best used for medical and eco-friendly themes due to it’s associations with safety and the environment. Yet use light greens with caution on projectors. They don’t project well and can be hard to see.

Black is a powerful colour. It has both positive and negative emotions such as power, elegance, formality, death and evil. Black is associated with fear and mystery, as well as strength and authority. A black background diminishes readability but makes other colours stand out.

White represents purity, innocence, cleanliness and simplicity. It has mostly positive connotations and is best used for promoting high-tech products, charities and safety. Plus, it prints well on white paper and saves ink 🙂

Whilst the information here on colour theory in presentations covers the basic colours, there are a thousand hues and tones to analyse. And not only that, but also how combinations of different colours can work (or fight) together. 

For branding, it’s surprising how many times we’ve seen a colour palette be very limiting when colours can’t be overlaid on top of each other. But branding is a big subject to cover in this short article. Enough said for now!

Lastly, I bet reading this list you’re thinking of other brands and how they might have fully taken ownership of that colour. They might be colours to avoid or to consider: whether you do or don’t want to look like your competitors. For example, an insurance company we worked for wanted to use yellow – because no (or very few) other insurance companies did (at the time). A bold move and a strong one!

In summary, know your colours and plan well!

You can read more about colour combinations in this article.