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The Impact of Color

The following summarizes an article by Karen Kornegay, ATM from the August 2000 edition of The Toastmaster magazine.

Police officers have a reputation for stopping red cars more frequently than cars of any other color. Mental hospitals paint walls in a vivid pink- a color proven to calm agitated minds.  Child development experts recommend bright colors, not pastels, to inspire  children's creativity.  And Toastmasters choose "power colors" to make an impact before an audience.

The principles of color psychology are used daily by big business- advertisers, politicians, and other influencers. You can add the advantages of proper color selection to your speeches, too.  Once you've written your speech and determined the color- whether it be "feeling blue" or "green with envy"- focus on visual aspects of color.

Red: The Action Color

In most cultures, red- the color of blood- is the color of action.  Our bodies release adrenaline and change physiologically when we see red.  Our heartbeat quickens, our temperature increases, and our breathing becomes shallower.

Wear a red dress or tie when you want to arouse strong feelings in your audience or when you're issuing a call for action.  Use red lettering in visual aids that should affect your audience. 

The shade of red is important.  Researchers have found gender difference in the perception of different shades of red.  Men are more attracted to orange-based reds, while women are attracted to blue-based reds.

Yellow: The Attention Color

Yellow is the easiest color for the human eye to process.  Caution signs, taxi cabs, "new and improved" labels are yellow to catch your attention.

Wear yellow when you want to be memorable.  Use the color- with black or another dark color for contrast and readability- to create visual aids that demand attention.

A note of caution: too much yellow can trigger anxiety or agitation.  Researchers have found that babies cry more in yellow rooms.  Try adding yellow in small doses- a tie, handkerchief , or piece of jewelry.

Blue: The Authority Color

Most uniforms- from the dress blues of military and law enforcement officers to the blue business suit- are blue, usually navy.  Blue says, "I'm the authority here".  Blue instills trust.  Blue communicates agreement. In many cultures, blue is seen as a color of spiritual protection.

Our visual perception of blue initiates the release of calming hormones in the body.  Blue can lower the body temperature.

Blue clothing is ideal when you want to be recognized as an expert or a credible speaker.  Blue lettering is a good choice for text or figures that may be questioned by audience members.  Blue adds authenticity to you visual aids.  

The calming effect of blue makes it a poor choice for occasions when you want your audience to take action.

Green: The Amity Color

Ocean waves, open fields, and spring gardens are powerful images, and the color green holds strong associations to nature, harmony, and living things.  The associations help us perceive green as calming and nurturing.  Our heart rate slows when we see green.  

Green is the perfect color to wear if you want your audience to see you as amenable and likable.  It is also a good color if you are the last speaker on the agenda, and you want the audience to keep thinking positively about your message.

Like blue, green has a peaceful influence on those who see it.  Unlike blue, green has no connotations of authority.  Avoid green if you are asking for a raise, participating on a panel discussion, or competing in a speech contest.  Be aware that in some Middle Eastern cultures, green is a holy color and may not be appropriate for clothing.

Neutral: Not So Neutral

Messages from neutral colors, such as black or white, can be conflicting.  In business, a black suit represents power and sophistication.  In more casual settings, someone dressed in black can seem withdrawn or shy.

When you choose neutral colors for clothing and visual aids, your audience will need to rely on other visual clues to determine your meaning.  Be sure that all elements of your visual look are consistent.

Neutral colors are particularly subject to cultural interpretations.  For example, in the US, the color white is used for wedding gowns, and black is worn to funerals.  Conversely, in Asian countries, white symbolizes mourning, and black is often used in weddings. If you are speaking in an unfamiliar setting, take some time to research the audience's culture.

With these basic tenets of color psychology, you have the tools to enhance the visual impact of your presentations.  You will be able to choose clothing, accessories, and visual aids that complement your message and help ensure a successful presentation.


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