Fonts Matter

A Presentation Management strategy delivers a consistent brand and message; however, without a strategy for fonts, you can get tripped up in delivery.   In this post, Microsoft MVP Geetesh Bajaj helps us understand some of the best practices, as well as pitfalls when dealing with fonts in PowerPoint slides.


Observe people creating PowerPoint decks, and you can easily divide them all into two distinct groups, based on their usage of fonts:

  1. Those who never change fonts, and use whatever PowerPoint defaults to.
  2. Those who change fonts all the time!

People in the former group are those who just need to finish creating their slide decks, or those who have strict corporate guidelines that prevent them from changing fonts. Everyone else is part of the second group.

Fonts Matter

Quite often, people also move from one group to another. For example, business presenters may often move to the latter group if they are creating a personal presentation. Or people may join a new company, where there are more or less strict guidelines on using fonts.

In today’s post, we will look at the second group of people, who change fonts all the time. And while I do respect their freedom and their spirit of adventure, changing fonts is not really freedom. It is truly adventurous though—an adventure in which you take along people who never intended to join you in the first place! How is that possible? Read on to learn more.

No one really creates slide decks for themselves, although there can be rare exceptions. In many ways, slide creation is an activity that encompasses more than just an individual. So what makes creating slides a non-individual endeavor? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Slides are sent to others to make changes and collaborate.
  2. Slides are also sent to superiors and bosses for approval, especially for high-stakes presentations.
  3. Slides are shared via email.
  4. Slides are also shared on sites such as SlideShare.
  5. Slides are also sent to slide design agencies.
  6. Slides are uploaded to slide library and managing services such as Shufflrr.
  7. Slides are used for webinars.
  8. Slides are delivered in front of audiences—the most common use. You may have to deliver on a computer other than the one used to create your slides.
  9. Slides are also created for personal use and shared with family and friends.

As you can see, slides need to be shared with others. Here are some scenarios on how your slides will be opened, based on our thoughts in the earlier list:

  1. Your slides will frequently be opened in PowerPoint on computers where they were not created.
  2. Your slides will be opened in an operating system that’s different from where they were created. PowerPoint files created on Microsoft Windows will be opened on Mac systems. Heck, many people even open PowerPoint files in a browser using OneDrive, and you don’t even know if they are using a rare flavor of Linux, or if they are opening it on their Android or iOS phones!
  3. Your slides will be opened in an application that can open PowerPoint files, such as Apple Keynote, OpenOffice, or Google Slides.

And then finally it happens! Your carefully chosen fonts that show your typographic prowess end up not showing at all. Instead, you see fonts that you do not recognize, and worse, this may happen two minutes before you need to start presenting to an angel investor!

So now you know why large companies insist that their employees don’t change fonts. If you work in a marketing department, you know what a huge risk it is for consistent branding, when fonts are switched unknowingly.

So clearly, choosing fonts wisely is no longer an option, it is a necessity. Do you remember the two groups of people we discussed right at the beginning of this post? The people in the first group suddenly do seem to appear wiser. But that’s not really true. Just because a font is used in a PowerPoint template that was created by Microsoft, a theme or template developer, or anyone else is not reason enough to believe that the fonts used will work everywhere.

You really need to follow a two-pronged approach:

  1. Ascertain where your presentations need to be shown and seen.
  2. Create a list of safe fonts that can be used in such an environment.

As you must have understood by now, the term “safe fonts” is used to denote fonts that are available on all platforms where PowerPoint has a presence. These days, this list of platforms comprises five platforms:

  1. Microsoft Windows
  2. Mac OS X
  3. iOS
  4. Android
  5. Windows Phone

Most of the time, you may have to worry about the first two: Windows and Mac, and if you know that recipients of your presentations and the platforms where these slides will be shown are still limited to the first two, then your task is easier.

Let’s now look at the other three platforms, used mainly for tablets and phones. Of these three, only iOS and Android may be significant as Windows Phone is not really a platform that’s common. Having said so, you will still need to decide which platforms your safe fonts list needs to encompass.

For the sake of this post, we will use the first two platforms: Windows and Mac as an example.

Do note though that there are multiple versions of PowerPoint that can be installed on either Windows or Mac. PowerPoint installations, rather Microsoft Office installations have always been generously bundled with many high-quality fonts. However, the fonts have differed from one version of PowerPoint to another. Additionally, there have been many fonts bundled with both Windows and Mac operating systems.

You can head over to this PowerPoint safe fonts list on Indezine.com (scroll down the page) to find which fonts are safe to use.

Well, choosing safe fonts is not an easy task. Sometimes, you really want to use a font that’s not on the safe font list. How do you do so? In our next post, we will explore alternatives to safe fonts.


About the Author

Geetesh BajajGeetesh Bajaj is an internationally acclaimed PowerPoint, storyboarding, info-diagramming and presenting expert who has been awarded the Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) every single year for 16 years now. As an MVP, Geetesh interacts and collaborates with the Microsoft PowerPoint product development team.

He is also on the Board of Directors for the Presentation Guild, a presentation industry trade association, based out of Cincinnati, USA.

Based out of Hyderabad, India, he believes that any presentation is a sum of its elements—these include abstract elements like story, concept, color, interactivity, and navigation—and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. Geetesh has authored six books.

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