Interview with Scott Schwertly: The Importance of Design, Content, and Delivering a Great Presentation

About Scott: Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University.

Follow the conversation and connect with Scott on LinkedIn.


Tell me a little bit about your background (work or personal).

I suppose every story has a beginning. I started my career working in marketing. I served as a Marketing Director at a few organizations before finally getting the nerve and courage to go off on my own. This was in 2006, just a few years before the recession, so those first few years of owning and operating a company created one crazy adventure.

Could you tell me a bit about your book How to be a Presentation God?

My book, How to be a Presentation God, was a book I published back in 2011 with Wiley. It essentially covers the three main principles of any presentation: Content, Design, and Delivery. It other words, it details how you should build it, design it, and ultimately deliver it.

Day to day, you are working to slay the dragon “Death by PowerPoint”.  Could you explain why this is so necessary for presentations? 

Presentations are all about adding value, and the last time I checked…bullets, headers, and templates don’t accomplish that goal. Instead, this approach creates the opposite impact. It puts people to sleep, reduces retention, and often is not memorable.This is all testament to why we do what we do here at Ethos3. We want to eliminate “Death by PowerPoint” by eliminating the waste and illuminating the essential.

How fast do you see business adopting some of these new presentation design technologies? Do you think Prezi or HTML5 presentations are going to overtake PowerPoint over time?

Prezi and programs like Microsoft’s Sway are on the rise. I believe Prezi is boasting that they have 50 million users at the moment. Does this mean the end of PowerPoint? I don’t think so. PowerPoint is definitely fading but it is still the behemoth. In fact, 6-7 out of our last 10 projects were done in PowerPoint. Let’s give it another 3-5 years and that number may flip flop.

What is the biggest problem you see with people’s attempt to create engaging presentations?

Content. Every presenter always seems to rush through their narrative so they can start designing and practicing their deck. It’s the most important process but also the most neglected. Makes me sad.

What advice can you offer those who want to take their presentations to the next level?

I’m going to copy Dan Pink on this one. He often states that presentations are about 3 things: brevity, levity, and repetition. Keep it short. Keep it big picture. And, repeat the important stuff.

How much time and money do you think organizations waste developing effective presentations?

Honestly, I think most organizations don’t spend enough time or money on presentations. This energy always seems to go towards their websites or marketing collateral instead and then they shortcut the most critical item – their presentation.

Do you think poor visuals can negatively impact great content?

Yes. You can have the best content in the world but if you utilize bullet points, templates, or poorly chosen stock photography it’s going to hurt your credibility. I’m always looking for seamless and consistent quality across the board.

How can visual aids help a public speaker? Can visuals simplify a complex topic?

The latest research states that slides with visuals increase retention by 42%. Also, the human brain processes visual information 60,000x faster than text based information. Visuals add a ton of value in any situation.

Do you think visuals can be a replacement for content in some situations?

In the case of replacing bullets or bulky paragraphs on slides then “Yes.” In the case, of taking a shortcut with your content and message…absolutely not. Design and visuals should never be a back-up plan. Your message should always be primary.

As companies build content, should they involve a creative department so that they can have visuals that align with their content? 

Absolutely. Presentations are a make or break moment. Every department should capitalize on an opportunity to collaborate and utilize a separate team’s design strengths.

Is there any further advice can you offer our readers – presenters, designers, or public speakers?

Always pursue continuous growth and learning. If someone is an active presenter, they are in the business of adding value. And, if one is not growing as an individual, how can they expect to continue to add value in other people’s lives? Read. Journal. Do all those things that will help you process your new lessons, surroundings, and life experiences so you can share them at a later date.

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