Executive Summary: A Guide to Writing and Presentation

Executive Summary: A Guide to Writing and Presentation

Executive summaries precede nearly every type of business document. Despite being the shortest part, they often leave the biggest impression on the reader. Yet, many writers choose to treat an executive summary as an afterthought. (And some presenters too!). Why? Because writing an executive summary is a seemingly hard task. But our mission is to prove otherwise! 

What is an Executive Summary?

An executive summary is a preface to a larger business document such as an annual report, business plan, or whitepaper, succinctly summarizing the key discussion points. Effectively, an executive summary offers a “preview” of the content, so that the reader could form a baseline opinion about the contents prior to diving into a deep reading session. 

The University of Arizona offers a more elaborated executive summary definition which also notes that an executive summary should:

  • Restate the purpose of the follow-up document
  • Highlight the key discussion points and most notable facts 
  • Relay any notable results, conclusions, or recommendations

Though an executive summary is just a foreword to a bigger report, it’s one of the most labor-intensive items as you have to condense a lot of information into a high-level summary. Oftentimes, an executive summary also gets prominent placement in the follow-up presentation, done on the report.  

Executive Summary Examples

Nearly every type of business document will have an executive summary. Some are better structured and presented than others. Below are admirable several examples you may want to use as an inspiration for writing. 

Accenture: Gaming: The Next Super Platform 

Executive Summary Slide Presentation
Source: Accenture presentation – Gaming The Next Super Platform (click here)

This executive summary for an industry report opens with some big quantifiable claims, clearly communicating the main agenda — describing the size and state of the global gaming market. The pullout texts on the sidebar further detail the scope of the document. Plus clarify for whom this report is intended. 

IBM: Cost of a Data Breach Report 2020 

Executive Summary Report Example Presentation PDF
Source: Capita – IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021 (click here)

IBM conducts an annual joint report on cybersecurity with Ponemon Institute. They open the executive summary with a brief recap of their mission and past research. Then dwell on this year’s findings and methodology. If you are writing an executive summary for a similarly massive original research, it’s worth focusing more on your techniques for obtaining data and arriving at the conclusions as IBM did. 

Deloitte Digital: Exploring the value of emotion-driven engagement

Executive Summary Design Slide Deloitte
Source: Deloitte Exploring the value of
emotion-driven engagement (click here)

Deloitte selected a more narrative style for this executive summary, mixing some key data points and methodology with the core messaging of the report. This is a good example of structured data presentation. On one hand, you have an engaging narration flow. On the other, the summary covers all the important discussion points. 

Executive Summary Format

As the above executive summary examples illustrated, there is no one fit-it-all format for writing an executive study. The best approach depends on your report type, purpose, and contents. 

That being said, an executive summary needs to fulfill several earlier mentioned criteria — offer a preview, provide key information at glance, showcase any results, recommendations. That’s what most readers expect to see on the first page after all. 

The easiest way to approach writing is to draft a preliminary executive summary outline featuring the following subsections:

  1. General introduction, explaining the key problems discussed) 
  2. Main problem statement(s)
  3. Selected findings or recommendations 
  4. The importance of discussed points 

Since you’d also be likely working on presenting the executive summary to other stakeholders, it helps you keep the above structured as bullet points at first. So that you could easily transfer the main ideas to your executive summary PowerPoint slide. 

How Long Should an Executive Summary Be?

As a rule of thumb, an executive summary should not go longer than one vertical page. That is an equivalent of 300-500 words, depending on the typeface. For longer reports, two pages (a horizontal split) may be acceptable. But remember, brevity is key. You are working on a trailer for a movie (the full report). 

How to Write an Executive Summary: a 3-Step Framework 

You can start with the aforementioned loose format and then adapt it to your document type. Remember, you don’t need to follow all the recommendations to a T. Instead, mix some ideas to make your executive summary sound both professional and engaging. Here are several tips for that:  

1. Start with a Problem Statement 

Think of the first paragraph as if of an opening slide for a presentation: you need to make a big compelling statement that immediately communicates your agenda. Set the scene for the reader. There are several ways to do so:

  • Answer the “why now” question in the opening paragraph 
  • Address the urgency of the matter 
  • Highlight the importance of the discussed issue 

Alternatively, you can also go for a more traditional opening and explain the background of the research and discussed issue. For example, if you have conducted a go-to-market strategy evaluation for the team you can start by saying that “This report analyzed online furniture brand performance in 5 target EMEA markets in terms of market share, local brand recall, brand preference, and estimated online sales volumes.” Afterward, briefly communicate the main aim of the report. 

2. Present the Main Discussion Points 

Next, flesh out what’s included in the scope of this report to properly manage the reader’s expectations. You can use the report’s section subheads as key discussion points or come up with snappier, more descriptive statements. 

Here are several good writing practices to follow: 

  • Use bullet points and numbered lists to break down text blocks. 
  • Quantify the biggest findings when possible. Style them as “call-outs”. 
  • Mention the limitations of your report and what it does not account for. 
  • Discuss the used research methods and data sources. 

Finally, summarize the findings in one concluding paragraph if you have space. Or style it as a featured quote to draw the reader’s eye towards crucial information. 

3. List the Recommendations or Next Steps 

The bottom part of the page, around 100-150 words should be allocated towards underlining the results, conclusions, and follow-up action expected from the reader. Summarize what you have found during the course of your research. Mention if you have identified any specific type of solution or a type of recommended action. 

Once you are done, send over an executive summary draft to a team member who hasn’t seen the complete report. Ask for their feedback. Can they tell what the report content is after reading the summary? Does the summary intrigue them? Is it descriptive enough for someone without any other context into the matter? Use the critique to further improve the document. 

Executive Summary Presentation Meeting

How to Prepare an Executive Summary Presentation 

High chances are that you’ll also be asked to write the copy for the executive summary presentation, and perhaps even design it too. So let’s get you up to speed on this aspect as well.

How Does an Executive Summary Slide Look Like in PPT?

There’s no ultimate look for an executive summary slide as most presenters customize it to best reflect the content they’d want to showcase. But if you want some universal example, here’s our executive summary slide template

Executive Summary Slide Template for PowerPoint
Source: Executive Summary PowerPoint Template by SlideModel

What Makes a Good Executive Summary Slide?

A good executive summary slide visually communicates all the important information from the full report. Typically, it’s an even more condensed version of the written executive summary, prefacing the document. Thus to create a good executive summary slide, be prepared to do some ruthless editing.

Include a condensed version of the: 

  • Main problem statement or report agenda 
  • Key findings. Prioritize quantifiable ones
  • Recommendations and next steps.


Also, you will need some PowerPoint design mastery to ensure that an executive summary in your PowerPoint presentation looks compelling, but not cluttered. Prioritize white space. To minimize the number of texts, add icons and other simple visualizations. Trim headers and subheads to give the slide even more breathing room. 

How to Write an Executive Summary for a Presentation

Most likely you won’t need to write a brand new copy for this slide, but rather adapt the text at hand. That already makes your job a lot easier. Still, you don’t want to mess anything up. So stick with the executive summary template you’ve chosen and fill in the gaps using our tips. 

1. Keep the Tone Consistent 

Use the same tone of voice and word choices in your slide deck as you’ve adopted in the report. If the tone of your presentation speech differs too much with terms used on the slide and in the report copy, some audience members may get confused, and then disengaged. 

2. Focus on Telling a Story 

Stakeholders will have the extra time to read the “dry” report. During the presentation, your main goal is to draw their attention to the most important issue, showcase the value-packed inside the report, and make them eager to learn more by actually flipping the full copy afterward. 

3. Chop Full Sentences into Bullet Points 

Go snappy and present information in a snackable manner. Remember, our brain can only keep 3-5 items at once in the working memory. So you shouldn’t try to overload the audience with a long list of “very important points” in one sitting.  

Also, per a recent presentation survey, among the 3 things that annoy audiences most about presentations are slides that include full sentences of text. So trim those lengthy texts and move on some of the other points to separate slides. 

4. Don’t Go Data Galore 

Including numbers and data visualizations is a great way to present your executive summary. However, overloading your data slides with data nuggets makes your presentation less impactful. 

As presentation design expert Nancy Duarte explains

“Data slides aren’t really about the data. They’re about the meaning of the data. It’s up to you to make that meaning clear before you click away. Otherwise, the audience won’t process — let alone buy — your argument.”

It’s a good idea to spotlight 3 main data points on your executive summary slide. Then use some extra minutes to comment on why you’ve chosen to present these. 

To Conclude

An executive summary is the first page and/or slide a reader will see. That’s why the stakes are high to make it look just right. Granted, that shouldn’t be an issue. Since you now know how to write, design, and present a compelling executive summary to others! 

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