The art of crafting the perfect executive summary

One of the hardest things to produce as a management consultant is an executive summary.

The more effort you put into a presentation, the harder it is to summarize.

I’ve been there and I get it. After all of the iterations, you made it so that every word had to be justified. Every single word is important to telling your story.

This is where people have things all mixed up. An executive summary isn’t about putting all of the important details on the page. It is about

What was the objective of the presentation? Hopefully, you thought about that before starting the presentation but if not, think about it as you’re preparing the executive summary. (I know some people who start with the executive summary and others who save it for last.)

What if you only had enough time to share one slide? Have you ever been to a meeting that got cut short after you went through your first slide? I have…and what I learned from that experience is you have to prepare for presentations with that possibility in mind.

Three types of things you should always include in the executive summary:

1) Actual impact of completed work or expected impact of work to be completed. This can be qualitative or quantitative but the more quantifiable the result, the better off you are.

2) New findings or changes to previously communicated information. One of the hardest conversations you can have with a client is one explaining why some new info wasn’t brought to their attention sooner. Don’t be that person.

3) Action you want from the audience. If you need another meeting to follow-up on the review of the material you are presenting (or were supposed to present), say so up front.

To address those 3 points, you can think of client presentations in a couple of useful ways.

First, think of presentations like you would an English paper, where you have to write a thesis (executive summary) supported by compelling analysis (all the other slides) to support that thesis.

Second, you can also think of the executive summary in terms of your presentation objectives I mentioned above, with the summary containing the key takeaway related to each objective.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have more objectives than will fit on a single page, you may want to focus your content more and schedule a separate meeting to cover additional topics.

Having a more singular objective keeps your audience engaged instead of having them attempt to multi-task (remember what happened to me?) and process information on multiple topics at the same time.

Next Step

If you found this article helpful, you can learn more by downloading the 12 habits of highly successful management consultants.