"I can't read the yellow text on this slide."
That was a chat comment I received recently while moderating a client's webinar. On my screen, the text was a nice dark orange, clearly visible against the white slide background.
Not much of a story, is it? Where's the punchline? Where's the payoff? There really isn't anything more to say about that particular incident. But it illustrates a valuable lesson for people who present via web conferences, webinars, or webcasts. You must resign yourself to the fact that you can't control the way your information is seen on your attendees' devices.
Some audience members will have their brightness or contrast settings cranked up completely out of whack with reality. Some people will be watching on small tablet or even smartphone screens, possibly in bright sunlight outdoors. Some people will be watching on laptop screens opened at a poor angle that washes out colors or reflects overhead fluorescent lights in their office.
You can complain all you want that these are their own individual problems, and if they want to view information on the web, it is their responsibility to set up their environment correctly. But I prefer to climb down off the soapbox and take responsibility for making my visual information as clear and visible as possible for the widest range of viewing conditions.
That means thinking about contrast at all times. Does the text or image I want the audience to see have the widest possible difference from the background it is sitting on? If my slide uses a white background, I never use anything in the yellow spectrum for text, arrows, or shapes. That means no orange either. It is too easy to get washed out and disappear on a poorly setup attendee monitor. Actually, anything in the "bright" color spectrum is forbidden. No light blue, no bright green, no light red. Instead I go with navy blue, maroon or brick red, and dark green that errs on the side of blackness.
If the slide uses a dark background (I don't like these, but I have clients with blue or black templates), I go with foreground colors of bright, vibrant yellow, red, green, or white.
Try to stay away from using background colors in the middle of the darkness spectrum. If you place a shape on your slide with a background fill of medium-intensity orange, green, blue, or red you will have a hard time coming up with text overlays that "pop" against it.
Corporate graphic designers violate this principle depressingly often. I see company-standard templates that specify the use of orange text on white backgrounds or light blue text on dark blue backgrounds. "We need to stay within our official company logo color palette." No, you really don't. I would rather have the audience be able to see my information on their screens than have them subconsciously build associations between my company and some colors a logo design company once chose based on how good they looked in print.
In a physical room presentation you have more control over how the image is seen. You can run a test before your session and adjust the room lighting or the projector's brightness and contrast. You lose that power with remote attendees and like it or not, it becomes your responsibility to make your content work on whatever crazy, suboptimal configuration they have created.
By the way, these same considerations apply to the size and density of text or data you place on the slide. If a person can't read it on a small laptop screen or mobile device, it probably doesn't belong in your web presentation. Make the details available in an electronic document that attendees can download. Present something that can be clearly and quickly seen and interpreted by ALL audience members, no matter how much their setup varies from your giant 32" desktop monitor.
Honestly, these principles are the same as you would find in any best practices guide for presentation slide design. They simply become more significant and problematic in the uncontrollable and variable world of web conferencing.