An executive summary is a crucial document that summarizes the essence of a business proposal, plan, or project. It is the first thing an investor, partner, or executive reads to determine if a project is worth investing in. Because they’re looking for high level updates, it should be concise, clear, and convincing.
It’s one thing to write a killer executive summary and another to translate it into a presentation that keeps your audience engaged and interested. In a presentation, an executive summary is usually a “too long, didn’t read” slide at the end of the deck (although it can be an entire presentation, too). If your summary is effective, executives should be able to pick up the key takeaways from the presentation in just a few points.
In this blog post, we'll explore the key elements of a winning executive summary and how you can include it in your deck.
How to write an effective executive summary
If an executive summary is foreign to you, let’s start with how to write one. Keep these 3 things in mind when writing your next executive summary.
Understand your audience
The first step to crafting an effective executive summary is to understand your audience. Who are they? What are their interests, goals, and challenges? Pinpointing what they care about most, and answering those questions, will help you tailor your summary to their needs. If you're presenting to investors, for example, you'll want to highlight the financial benefits of your proposal. Similarly, if you're presenting to executives, you'll want to focus on the strategic implications.
Focus on the biggest wins
Your executive summary should highlight the biggest wins or benefits of your proposal or project. Think of it as a high level overview— or sparknotes— of your story. What's in it for your audience? What problem does it solve, or what opportunity does it create? Highlight these wins upfront and organize them in a logical and compelling way. You might opt for bullet points, graphics, or charts to emphasize key points and make them easier to digest.
Keep it simple and clear
A good executive summary should be concise and easy to understand. After all, the whole point is to summarize your content. To keep things simple, avoid jargon, technical terms, or complex charts that may confuse your audience. Remember, your goal is to communicate effectively and get to the point quickly, not to impress your audience with your vocabulary.
Adding an executive summary to your presentation
Now that you know the basics of how to write an executive summary, let’s add it to your presentation.
As we mentioned, you should limit your executive summary to one slide and only include the most important and meaningful information. Usually, this slide will live at the end of the deck so your audience can refer back to it for a quick recap of the presentation when they need to make a decision.
Tell a compelling story
Imagine your audience skimmed through the entire deck and is relying on the last slide to tell them exactly what they need to know— will it make sense? Even though an executive summary is short and sweet, it should still maintain a nice flow.
People love stories, so use that to your advantage. Compile your key takeaways in a compelling story that captures the essence of your proposal or project. Use anecdotes, examples, or data that demonstrate its value and impact. You might also include one or two visuals, or videos, that bring your story to life and grab the attention of your audience.
Practice and prepare
As with any presentation, practice makes perfect. But chances are, if you’re including an executive summary, you’re presenting to a powerful audience and the stakes are high. Take the time to rehearse your presentation in front of a mirror or a friend to eliminate any kinks. Pay attention to your body language, tone of voice, and timing.
You’ll also want to ensure your presentation is well-organized, and your visuals or videos are working correctly. Lastly, be prepared to answer questions or objections and have backup data or evidence to support your claims in your executive summary.