Seeing red: a story about learning the hard way

Twenty years ago, in the late nineties, the Eurozone and the introduction of the new Euro currency was the BIG topic of conversation. I was Head of Internal Comms at Thomas Cook Financial Services at the time, my first big corporate IC role, and learning a lot on the job. You could say I was a little ‘green’.

I reported directly into the MD and was lucky to work closely with him on a speech and accompanying materials for the annual Europay Conference in Cannes. Following this very well-received insight on the impact of the Euro on the travellers cheque and foreign exchange, TCFS were asked to speak at another conference. Working with two directors who were speaking jointly, we followed a similar story as before but made the slides much more visual, using simple imagery on a bold background with minimal text. For example, a photo of a Magnum ice-cream to illustrate the impact of the Euro on the cost of one of life’s simple pleasure in different countries…on a bright red background. Yes. Vivid, full glorious technicolor, red. The directors loved the red! It was very on-brand.

Living the dream

After numerous iterations and lots of hard work getting the talking points just right, I set off for Cannes, a few hours ahead of the speakers. It was another world, staying at the exclusive Carlton Hotel, the setting for the famous ‘To Catch a Thief’ movie featuring my idol Cary Grant with Grace Kelly on the beautiful French Riviera.

The exclusive Carlton Hotel

On arrival at Palais des Festivals for the run-through with the production team, I handed over the file (probably on a disc or two) with great excitement and much pride, both of which quickly evaporated when I saw the look of horror on the producer’s face. Turning to look at the big screen, it was immediately clear we had a problem. The red was a big no, no. While the slides had looked great on PC screens back at the office (if perhaps a bit bright???), they were completely overwhelming on the big screen in a dark conference room. Eek! “No problem,” I said. “We can fix this.” Not actually that simple. On closer inspection of the slides, each image was embedded in some way into the background as one file, which meant we needed to recreate the presentation. We didn’t have the images as separate files, so I made a quick call to the UK design team. No problem. They would send the images over.

The good old days

Now remember, this was 20-plus years ago, in the days of dial-up internet, where the best connection you could hope for was around 56Kbps, and we needed to download a large number of big image files on a very expensive hotel landline that kept cutting out.

                                                                 Remember the sound of dial-up internet?

Long story short, the AV guy and I were up literally all night waiting and checking, redialling, waiting and checking, for the files to come through. I got back to my room with just enough time to freshen up and get to the conference centre.

You’ll be relieved to know the presentation went extremely well and everyone was very happy. I even received flowers and a lovely thank you message from the directors the next day.

Why am I sharing this horror story?

Because today is 22 October, National Color Day in the US and the chosen topic for this month’s blog. And, although I’ve given a light-hearted take on how to get a presentation horribly wrong, how we use colour in internal communication is hugely important.

With around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide being affected by colour blindness, the use of colour is an important consideration for those responsible for workplace communication.

Help is at hand

 Microsoft Support shares the mistakes to avoid (such as using a solid red background…) when combining colours in PowerPoint.

More great advice can be found in this article on Medium from Kirsty Sullivan.

Or for a more entertaining take on the impact of colour blindness on everyday life read this article from Geoffrey Hope-Terry.

The morale of this story?

Simple, be prepared, always have a plan B.

Thanks for reading.


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