The Psychology of Color


When designing a presentation you have seven basic colors to choose from, but that doesn’t mean that your color selection should be completely random. Colors are tightly linked to emotions and the colors you select for your presentation will set the “mental mood” for your audience. This has been studied in education, advertising, and yes, in presentations too. So it’s important that the colors you pick for your presentation match the mood you are creating for your audience.

Red: Passion, bold, power, but also signify anger, death, or error.
Orange: Optimism, confidence, freedom, and warmth.
Yellow: Fun, energy, and humor; it also signifies intellect.
Green: Fresh, innovative, harmony, and collaboration; it also signifies nature and environment.
Blue: Calm, serenity, and dependable.
Indigo / Violet: Reflection, wisdom, and creative.
Black / grey: Calm, neutrality, and factual.

You’ll notice that within each color there are some differences in mood (i.e., there is some emotional “wiggle room”), so what you say will certainly help determine the context of the color you use. However, I generally try to determine what the “theme” of my talk will be first, and then select my colors accordingly.

Now that you’ve learned about the psychology of colors, go watch a few really good TED talks and see if you notice a correlation between the “emotion” of the talk and the colors of the presentation. Need more proof of this phenomenon? Ever wonder why the most popular “stock” templates in PowerPoint and Keynote are blues and grays? It is because they are soothing and neutral in emotion; they are so non-specific that they can be used in a variety of talks.

So, for your next talk you could just simply use the blue stock template and be neutral and safe…or you can be bold while strategically using colors to enhance the message you are conveying. Here are a few examples of how you can select presentation colors that will harmonize with the message or theme you are giving:
  1. Giving a talk meant to inspire your team? Green or orange would be a good choice.
  2. Giving a talk on research? Try using indigo or violet.
  3. Want to point out increased morbidity or mortality or a negative outcome? Highlight the graphical data with red
Remember that this post is just a guideline, not an absolute rule for color selection. However you should be aware that the colors we use in our presentations give psychological overtones to what we are saying. Strongly consider linking your presentation’s main colors to the general emotion you would like to convey.

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