Fonts, typefaces, and typography are topics covered in numerous books and articles. The majority of them describe fonts, typefaces, and how they appear in print. However, there are few books and articles that explain how to choose fonts for workshop presentations. I did some research and testing and found the five best fonts for presentations.

The 5 best fonts for presentations are Frutiger, Futura, Gill Sans, Helvetica, and Verdana. These fonts work because they are sans-serif fonts, with large x-heights and they are sharp and legible when displayed on a screen.

This article will show you how I choose these fonts that I use in my workshop presentations.

What are the five best fonts for presentations?

Over the years, I read a lot of books and articles about fonts, typefaces, and typography. Many of these books and articles explain the history and characteristics of numerous fonts and typefaces. These books and articles, however, are not particularly useful when I am looking for fonts to use in my development workshops.

Of the hundreds of fonts available, I choose fonts simply by selecting fonts that work for me. Below is what I did, and you may want to try variations of it in your search for the best fonts.

1. Find fonts that are suitable for presentations.

This is most important because different fonts are designed for different tasks. For example, fonts designed for display purposes, such as those that are used in posters, advertisements, and billboards are not particularly suitable for use in books and magazines.

Since my task is to deliver an interesting development workshop, I want fonts that are good for displaying text clearly on the screen without being outlandish. This means sticking to serif and sans-serif fonts and excluding display, script, freehand, novelty, and calligraphic fonts. If you are new to fonts and typography and don’t know what are serif and sans-serif fonts, below are two examples of serif fonts and two examples of sans-serif fonts.

Serif and san-serif fonts
Serif and San-Serif Fonts

A serif font has small strokes (or serifs) attached to a longer stroke. Please see the serif fonts in the diagram above. Some examples of serif fonts are Baskerville and Times New Roman. A sans-serif font, on the other hand, does not have these small strokes. Some examples of sans-serif fonts are Frutiger and Gill Sans.

Since there are quite a large number of serif and sans-serif fonts, I need to narrow them down to a few. To find out which fonts are ‘better’, I showed many PowerPoint slides using serif and sans-serif fonts and I asked my workshop participants which fonts they preferred. Many preferred the slides using sans-serif fonts like Frutiger and Helvetica instead of slides using serif fonts like Baskerville and Times New Roman.

You may want to try out different fonts, including the newer Google Fonts like Roboto and Open Sans, and find out which fonts your workshop participants prefer.

2. Find fonts that are legible on the screen.

A font is legible if its characters are easily distinguishable from other characters. A common example is the letter ‘I’ should look different from the number ‘1’. Another example is the letter ‘O’ should look different from the number ‘0’. Yet another example is distinguishing between the letter ‘c’ and the letter ‘e’.

Unfortunately, many sans-serif fonts have the upper-case letter ‘I’ looking very similar to the lower-case letter ‘l’. For example, in the phrase “I like to …”, you can see the first two characters are identical although they are different letters. By the way, the font used in the phrase and in this article is Open Sans, a sans-serif font.

Unfortunately, many sans-serif fonts have the upper-case letter ‘I’ looking very similar to the lower-case letter ‘l’. For example, in the phrase “I like to …”, you can see the first two characters are identical although they are different letters. By the way, the font used in the phrase and in this article is Open Sans, a sans-serif font.

Font’s x-height

A font’s x-height is the height of a lowercase ‘x’ character, measured from its baseline. Fonts with a large x-height are more legible than fonts with a small x-height. Below are the x-heights of three fonts.

Five best fonts for presentations x-height
Font x-heights

In the above diagram, the bottom black line is the baseline, the red line is the median line, and the top blue line is the ascender line. The x-height is the distance between the black baseline and the red median line, and the font height is the distance between the black baseline and the blue ascender line.

Frutiger has a larger x-height than Gill Sans and Times New Roman, making it more legible, especially at a distance than the other two fonts. So, choose fonts with an x-height for legibility.

Font size

For a classroom setting where participants are seated facing a screen, sans-serif fonts with font sizes from 24px to 32px are quite readable. So, choose fonts with sizes 24px and larger.

Although using this font size suggestion for readability is easy to do, the projector screen and the venue are usually beyond your control. A screen that is too big for a small classroom is ineffective. Neither is a small screen in a large room. There are many poorly designed lecture theatres that can seat 300 students but have screens that are meant for classrooms.

If the screen and the projector are movable, you can adjust the distance between them to get the sharpest text images that are readable on the screen. However, if the screen and projector are fixed on the wall or ceiling, there’s not much you can do to improve readability. You can enlarge or reduce the size of the fonts in your PowerPoint layouts, but that is likely to end up in a mess if you try to do that just before the start of the workshop.

Font’s line spacing

Line spacing is the space between two lines of text and it has an impact on readability. If the line spacing is small, it is harder to read, as shown in the diagram below.

Five best fonts for presentations line-spacing
Line-spacing

A 1.1-line spacing is easier to read as compared to 1.0 (or single) line spacing. A 1.2-line spacing is even easier to read. However, the larger the line spacing, the few lines of text you can put on the screen.

Font and background colors

Many studies recommend using dark text on a light background. The most commonly used combination is black lettering on a white background. This combination is also recommended by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services in their usability guidelines.

There are also studies that recommend using very dark gray (hex #444444) instead of black (hex #000000) for lettering on a white background, or using black lettering on an off-white (hex #F5F5F5) or ivory (hex #FFFF0) background.

The font and background color combination I find most readable are black letterings on a white background. Many of my workshop participants have no complaints about this combination. One interesting feedback I received from my participants is that many of them prefer black lettering on a white background over white lettering on a black background.

4. Fonts with special characters

If your workshop deals with numbers and mathematical equations, then you will need a font that has numbers, symbols, mathematical symbols, subscripts, superscripts, and Greek characters, to display mathematical equations effectively. Although most fonts have special characters and symbols, some may not have the ones that you require. So, you need to double-check.

A simple way to check whether the font you selected has the character you want is to go to the font’s Character Map.

Five best fonts for presentations character map
Character Map

To do this in Windows 10, click the Start button, scroll down to the Windows Accessories folder, expand the folder, and select Character Map. Select the font and see if it has the character that you want. If yes, select the character and copy it to your Powerpoint presentation.

Another way to get mathematical symbols is to download the Math Symbol Font (maths.ttf) and install it.

How to test the fonts you selected

Now that you’ve chosen a few fonts for presentations, the ‘best’ way to test them is to use them in your workshop and see which font your workshop participants prefer. So, when would be the best time to do this?

I do my font testing after the Q & A (Questions and Answers) session. Once I finished the Q & A session, I usually ask participants if there is anything that they think will make the workshop better, such as more examples, more individual exercises, more group activities, or more videos. Following that, I will show two PowerPoint pages with the same text but with different fonts and background colors, and ask which one they prefer. This test is far from perfect but it works for me.

The best fonts for workbooks and handouts

Many trainers give out handouts and notes during workshop sessions. Can those fonts for presentations be used in these printed materials? Yes, they can, although I prefer serif fonts for this.

Here’s why: I read Drew Whitman’s book Cashvertising a few years ago, and he quoted a font study that showed that people understand a paragraph set in a serif typeface better than the same paragraph set in a sans-serif typeface. That piqued my interest, and I did similar tests. I gave my workshop participants workbooks that used serif and sans-serif fonts. Surprisingly, many participants preferred workbooks using serif fonts like Minion and Times New Roman.

So, for printed materials like handouts, workbooks, and a list of references, I use Minion which is a serif font.

Font typeface, users, and designers

Here are some fun facts about the fonts I like to use in my presentations:

Frutiger, designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1975, has a humanist sans-serif typeface. The font is very legible from a distance and it is used on signs at numerous transportation hubs. Amtrak, National Health Service, Charles de Gaulle Airport, Port Authority of New York, Schiphol Airport, and Union Bank of Switzerland use Frutiger in their signage.

Futura, designed by Paul Renner in 1927, has a geometric sans-serif typeface. The font is based on geometric shapes, especially circles and ovals. Futura is used by companies such as Fox News, HP, Royal Dutch Shell, Swissair, and Volkswagen.

Gill Sans, designed by Eric Gill in 1927, has a humanist sans-serif typeface. It is a highly readable font and many people say that it has a distinctively British look. Initially designed for display purposes, Gill Sans is now used in posters and advertisements by companies such as Benetton, British Rail, and John Lewis.

Helvetica, designed by Max Miedinger in 1957, has a neo-grotesque sans-serif typeface. This font is very popular and it is highly legible because of its large x-height. BMW, GM, Lufthansa, Nestle, and Verizon are among the companies that use Helvetica.

Minion, designed by Robert Slimbach in 1989, has a neohumanist serif typeface. The font is designed for extended reading of body text and is used in many books.

Verdana, designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft in 1996, has a humanist sans-serif typeface, similar to that of Frutiger. The font has a large x-height, making it very legible. It is also wider than most sans-serif fonts. Verdana is very readable on computer screens and many websites use it. Aston Martin, Concorde, and Jaguar are among the companies that use Verdana.

To sum up

My five best fonts for presentations are:

  • Frutiger for business and management workshops
  • Futura for creativity and innovation workshops
  • Gill Sans for workshops with lots of content
  • Helvetica for workshops that are “conservative”
  • Verdana for IT and high tech workshops

I select these fonts for presentations simply by displaying PowerPoint slides with these fonts to my workshop participants and asking them which ones they prefer. This way of selecting fonts is not scientific but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it worked for me. I have been using these five fonts for years.

Try these fonts in your workshop presentation and let me know what your workshop participants think about them. Most importantly, have fun with fonts.


References

  • Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Hardley & Marks. 1997.
  • Whitman, D E. Cashvertising. Career Press. 2008.