What colour is your speech?

presentation skills Sep 13, 2021

What colour is your speech? That’s the eyebrow-raising headline over a new blog by the always-interesting Nick Morgan. Nick is one of North America’s top communication theorists and coaches, and someone who has been a guest contributor to our blog in the past.

In this new article, Dr Morgan argues that humans are powerfully influenced by colour.

By the time we are adults, we have a rich set of symbolic meanings that we attach to colours.  Red can mean good fortune, or something hazardous. White can be the colour of death, or purity. And think about the emotional charge we get from a spectacular sunset. 

So, he argues, it’s surprising that we don’t spend more time thinking about the colour content of our communications.  “What’s your thought leadership colour palette, and how does it show up in your speeches?” he asks.

“If we do think about this issue, it’s mostly a design challenge for our slides, or our speaker website, or, if we’re really firing on all speaking cylinders, our overall look, the design palette we use to express our brand in all the various ways it shows up.

“And yet, colours have an effect on our psyches, and given that audiences are looking to speakers to provide a top-notch experience for them, it might make sense to pay more attention to how the colours we use make our audiences feel.”

Dr Morgan’s research into the power of colour led to these snippets:

  • Blue light relaxes people three times as fast as white light
  • Pale colors help learners relax more than bright colors
  • Blue, green, and purple colors reduce heart rate more than yellow and red

“Think carefully about the effect you want to have on your audience, and then pick the colours appropriate to the emotional underpinnings of your message," writes Dr Morgan. "In general, it seems that paler colours are more soothing, with pale blue perhaps being the most relaxing.  If you’ve got bad news to deliver to your audience, then, perhaps blue tones are the best.  Accountants take note for discussing annual tax bills!

“But if you’re trying to keep your audience stimulated and entertained, bright colors might be best, with an emphasis on yellow and red.  If you’re a trainer who works with an audience for a half-day or a day, then you might think about a progression of colours. 

“Try relaxing shades when you’re attempting to ease an audience into the beginning of the day, perhaps, and peppy colours when you’re trying to help them through that long stretch post lunch when the energy is low.”

You can read Dr Morgan’s article in full here.

And his website, Public Words, is a great resource for all speakers and thought leaders.