Imagine you’re at a fancy restaurant and the chef brings out a sampler platter with small portions of all their best dishes. That’s what exactly what an executive summary is about – a bite-sized version of a longer document that gives you a taste of what’s inside.
And just like you wouldn’t want to miss out on the best dishes at the restaurant, you don’t want to miss out on the benefits of a well-written executive summary, learn how to write an executive summary here.
How to write an executive summary
If you are often leading presentations to either top management to top levels, implementing an executive summary at the beginning of the presentation, it is most likely something you may want to consider, let’s discover first what an executive summary is about.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a brief and concise overview of a larger document (for example a PowerPoint, Word document …)
You can imagine the executive summary as the document that provides in one shot the most important information that the reader needs to know. The main benefit of using an executive summary is that the reader does not need to read the entire document to get a flavour of what is inside the extended document.
Why use an executive summary?
At this point you may have a clear view of what an executive summary is about,
it is important to understand why you may want to consider using an executive summary in your next presentation.
The main purpose of using an executive summary is to provide a high-level understanding of the document’s content, so the reader can quickly assess the value of the information presented and decide what to focus on during the meeting and if needed whether to read or not the full document.
The content of an executive summary varies depending on the type of document it summarizes.
For example, it could summarize the status of the business, growing plans … anything.
Top 5 reasons why to use an Executive summary.
If you are still doubting about implementing an executive summary in your next presentation,
I bring you 5 reasons why you may want to consider it and not wait any longer.
Writing and reading lengthy documents can be time-consuming, especially for busy executives who have limited time. An executive summary provides an overview of the key points in a document, saving the reader time by allowing them to quickly understand the main ideas and determine whether the full document is worth their time to read.
Clarity and Conciseness
An executive summary forces the writer to distil complex ideas into a concise and clear format that can be easily understood by a non-expert reader. This clarity and conciseness help to eliminate ambiguity and confusion, ensuring that the main message of the document is conveyed effectively.
An executive summary provides a high-level understanding of a document’s contents, making it easier for readers to comprehend complex topics. By presenting the most important information in a clear and concise manner, an executive summary helps readers to better understand the context, significance, and implications of the document’s contents.
Provides a snapshot.
An executive summary acts as a snapshot of the main ideas and findings of a document, providing a quick reference point for readers who want to understand the most important information without having to read the entire document. By providing an at-a-glance overview of the document’s contents, an executive summary can help readers quickly grasp the document’s purpose and main message.
An executive summary helps decision-makers quickly assess the contents of a document and make informed decisions based on its findings. By presenting the key information in a clear and concise manner, an executive summary enables decision-makers to quickly understand the implications and significance of the document’s contents, allowing them to make well-informed decisions based on the information presented.
When to write an executive summary?
It is important to understand that executive summaries should not be used for each and every interaction you are having with a manager or leader in your organization.
To put some framework when to use it, an executive summary is typically written for decision-makers, such as executives, managers, investors, or stakeholders while sharing documentation (for example PowerPoints)
In any case,
if you are leading a presentation that has a lot of content (let’s say >20 slides), you may want to consider including at the beginning one slide that summarizes the top elements that will be covered in the document.
Which language to use when writing an executive summary?
When writing an executive summary, it’s important to keep in mind the audience and the purpose of the document. The summary should be concise, clear, and focused on the most important information. It should be written in plain language, without jargon or technical terms that may be difficult for the reader to understand.
The structure of an executive summary typically includes an introduction that provides context and background information, followed by the main sections that summarize the content of the document. The summary should end with a conclusion that highlights the key takeaways and recommendations.
An executive summary is a short section of a larger document like a business plan, investment proposal or project proposal. It’s mostly used to give investors and stakeholders a quick overview of important information about a business plan like the company description, market analysis and financial information.
It contains a short statement that addresses the problem or proposal detailed in the attached documents and features background information, a concise analysis and a conclusion. An executive summary is designed to help executives and investors decide whether to go forth with the proposal or not, making it critically important. Pitch decks are often used along with executive summaries to talk about the benefits and main selling points of a business plan or project.
Unlike an abstract, which is a short overview, an executive summary format is a condensed form of the documents contained in the proposal. Abstracts are more commonly used in academic and research-oriented writing, and act as a teaser for the reader to see if they want to read on.
Parts of an executive summary
While writing an executive summary, there are three main parts you need to ensure you have spot on.
When stating the header of your Executive summary – make sure you clearly answer these three questions:
- Which meeting is this Executive summary part of?
- What this slide is about?
- Which time frame is covered here?
The reason why answering clearly these three questions, it is because chances are high the executive summary will be getting forwarded to other people in the organization, by answering these three questions whoever will be reading the executive summary will know what it is in there for them.
If you are covering a brand-new topic, for example, a new project proposal, it will be difficult to show any trend versus past meetings.
However, if you are having a drumbeat, for example monthly, where you are covering some business results, it would be very interesting to include some trends (for example some arrows with colours) showing the direction versus the last review.
This is very powerful, as in one view, the reader will easily understand if the business is or is not moving in the right direction.
Less is more. Try to keep it concise and to the point.
Start the content, by clearly stating what you are talking about. If you are talking about Sales – the state is as such. The first word of the content should show the reader what the rest of the information that follows is about.
Conclusion on executive summary
In summary, an executive summary is a brief and clear summary of a larger document that provides decision-makers (for example your boss, the boss of your boss, or even up to the CEO) with a high-level understanding of the content.
It is an essential tool for effective communication and decision-making, and it requires careful consideration of the audience and the purpose of the document being summarized.
FAQ Executive Summary
Some often-asked questions regarding Executive summaries, you can find them down below.
What would be the appropriate length of an Executive summary?
The ideal length of an executive summary should be somewhere around five to ten per cent (5-10%), of the length of the whole document.
Which language should be used in an Executive Summary?
The language to use in an Executive Summary depends to a big extent on your target audience. Adapt your language based on the group of people you are addressing. It is not the same to write to a group of marketers, a group of engineers or a group of executives.
Shall I use Executive Summaries for all my meetings?
The answer is clear, no. You should not use Executive Summaries for all your meetings, you should use them mainly when addressing decision-makers such as Vice Presidents, Senior Vice Presidents… high-ranking people in the organization.
Is the executive summary applicable only for PowerPoint presentations?
No, not only. The executive summary is applicable to any large document that will be shared with a larger audience. No matter if it is for a decision or for sharing some information. The main benefit of using an executive summary, is that the person reading it, in one read will know what the key elements of the document are and what to focus on.