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The Basics of an Executive Summary

Consider using an executive summary when presenting to senior management, executives, or key decision makers.

An executive summary is a handful of slides summarizing crucial information and key decision points. When included, your audience will clearly understand your core point, the arguments you make or evidence supporting that core point, and your call to action.

When presenting to executives or others in senior management the most important thing is time. One sure way to discredit yourself and your presentation is to waste that time. Executives are almost always interested in hearing new proposals or recommendations but may only need to know the underlying logic of your argument to make sense of the situation. The executive summary will give them the clear and concise information they need to quickly determine whether they’d like to know more or spend their time elsewhere.

The object of your executive summary will depend on your audience and their prior knowledge or exposure to the project or information. If your audience is external or unaware of your work, the purpose of your executive summary will be to share enough information and evidence to entice the recipient to want to hear more. If your audience is internal or already aware of your work, the focus should be on providing a clear and concise summary of your information so an immediate decision can be made.

One way to organize an executive summary:

  • Recommendation: Based on the problem or opportunity, describe the business case for your solution or recommendation

  • Options considered: Show you’ve done your research

  • Why: Connect your recommendation to your audience, the current business state, or business objectives

  • Decision points: Clearly outline what decisions need to be made

  • Next steps: Who does what, by when


Best practices when using an executive summary:

  • Slide headlines should indicate what the slide is about

  • Keep slides lean

  • Language should be simple and to the point, avoid jargon

  • Indicate if supplementary information can be found in the appendix and on what slide

  • Include an appendix for supplementary information

  • Always include next steps (who does what, by when)

  • Be sure to include your contact information

Jenny Dziubla