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Use These Colors To Convince A Decision Maker

Blue-eyed painted face.  Communicate with FINESSE!
Blue and black are the best color to use when time is limited (photo by Sharon McCutcheon)

The boss’s boss does not have a lot of time to make decisions. The boss’s boss also does not have a lot of background knowledge in the details of your subject area. The communication approach impacts how well your “no more than 5 minutes” will be received.

Keep it simple and traditional when it comes to colors. Yes, we all like colorful, elaborate visuals. The key issues are whether we have the time for the decision maker to quickly understand the visual and whether the visual provides a distraction from our message. The solutions is to adjust the approach to the 5-minute format we have in most business situations with executive decision makers. Stay with the basics.

Black and Dark Blue

The Thin Blue Line. The Intimidator. Blackbeard the Pirate. The Grim Reaper.

Black and dark blue are typically associated with finality, credibility, and calmness. Big decisions and unusual problems require serious reports and presentations to decision makers.

Recently I saw a short but very elaborate PowerPoint presentation dominated by many different colors. It looked like something that the art or marketing department was very proud of. It even made me feel a little warm inside. However, the next presentation was dominated by black and dark blue. That one felt definitive and final. More importantly, the second presentation felt like where we should put our green (our money).

You have one shot at credibility. Keep it old school. There is a reason that the great law firms, accounting firms, and medical practices use foundational colors of black and dark blue. Black and dark blue are colors that are taken seriously and that are underscored by finality and calmness. If you have five minutes to communicate your message, use back and dark blue.

Red and Green

If you have 5 minutes to make your technical pitch, how do you know whether or not one of the decision makers has a disability? Are you planning for that in your reports and presentations? Remember 1 in 12 males are color blind so hues of red and green present problems.

Red has several different contextual associations. On one hand, it is the color of financial loss, blood, fire, and danger. On the other hand, it carries connotations of passion, boldness, and energy. It is a powerful color for adding emphasis because it can simultaneously appeal to both passion and loss.

Green is associated with nature, finance, and wealth. Although the naturalist and the financier may be at different ends of the political spectrum, green has positive meaning for both. Traditional logic is that lighter shades of green indicate growth and vitality, while darker greens represent prestige and wealth. Green promotes discussion and interaction since it generates positive emotions.

Yellow and Orange

Yellow and orange are useful highlight colors in a short presentation to a decision maker. Yellow and orange as font colors are usually distracting and may be difficult to see.

Yellow is an attention-grabbing color. It is the most common color for highlighters. Yellow can communicate energy and happiness, and has also been found to stimulate mental activity. It is also used universally for caution lights, marking hazards such as steps or slippery surfaces, and even the color of crime tape used by police. It produces too much glare for use in text and as a background color; however, it can be used for its strongest purpose — to highlight and draw attention to key points.

Orange is a blend of the positive attributes of red and yellow. It traditionally has been associated with vitality, freshness, and youth. Similar to yellow and red, it is good for highlighting and drawing attention to key points. It is not typically associated with business, seriousness, or finality.


Avoid purple in your reports and presentations to decision makers. Use purple to decorate your kitchen, as an alternative shirt color, for your favorite sports team, or maybe as a highlight color when recruiting a college student. Otherwise, stay away from it in your serious work.

Purple is rarely found in nature. Purple is traditionally associated with royalty, spirituality, and mystery. Behavioral psychologists have found it to be a low arousal color. Purple has the effect of being associated with things that are either optional or whimsical because it is a mysterious and uncommon color. Stick with black and dark blue as your base colors because they project the image of finality and credibility.

Remember too that people with color blindness are impacted by hues of green and red, and not necessarily just those colors. Purple in a color that has some of those hues. Purple can be a highlight color. Avoid purple when presenting important and complex information to decision makers.

When Only You Have Five Minutes with a Decision Maker

Black, dark blue, and white are always effective. Black is psychologically associated with finality and when used with grayscale can be effective in adding emphasis. Dark blue is associated with calmness, credibility, and a business-like approach. White is a great background as well as great as text on black or blue backgrounds. The first goal is to keep the graphics neat, clean, and simple.

Use colors primarily for emphasis. Stay with grayscales and pastels to the extent possible and use bolder colors to draw the decision maker to the key point you are trying to make. Red, yellow, and orange are suitable for adding emphasis. As a rule, they should not be used as primary colors when communicating technical information to decision makers in a short time period.

Remember that people who have disabilities may have trouble with a quick understanding of elaborate visuals. Colorblindness is just one example. Using traditional color schemes is one way to avoid poor interpretation when there are only a few minutes to make the point.

Colors do matter. That is one reason the question is often asked. When you have only five minutes to communicate to the boss’s boss, keep it simple. Traditional approaches are most effective. Let the information tell the story.


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