How to Write an Executive Summary for Business Presentations

Imagine you’re a busy executive. You’re tired. Haven’t eaten in hours. Just came from a 30 minute meeting that went overtime. 

Now you’re sitting in a new 30 minute meeting about who knows what led by someone you’ve never seen.

Cue the first few slides and you shake your head in disappointment. They’re gigantic walls of text. And…there’s 113 more to go. 

You leave the room and slam the door. Game over.

How do you avoid that situation when presenting to executives

In this article I overview how to create an effective executive summary that convinces your audience to stay and give you their undivided attention:

What is an Executive Summary

The executive summary is a concise decision document:

  • It is typically a slide included at the beginning of a presentation that acts as a high-level overview of the presentation’s main messages
  • Often, it is the only slide that is actually read and must therefore be able to stand alone from the rest of the material  

As an analogy, think of the executive summary like a well-designed dashboard. 

In a well-designed dashboard, you have a high-level overview of main messages from the data:

  • Key performance indicators of how the company is performing
  • Charts showing metrics over time, and breakdowns of top categories

Based on this snapshot alone, the audience should have just enough information to understand the context and make data-driven decisions. But if they desire more detail, they can zoom into additional pages, tabs, and tooltips – just like they can look through the rest of the slides in a presentation. 

For more information on creating effective slides, read more here.

What Should an Executive Summary Include

An executive summary should include 3 ingredients: 

  1. Background Details
  2. Key Findings 
  3. Recommended Actions

Background Details

You need to help your audience quickly get up to speed with why this topic is important – so they care about it. 

Continuing our dashboard analogy, a big number at the top of a dashboard like “$1000 in sales” is meaningless without background details. “$1000” could be: 

  • A good number if sales last month were $800
  • A bad number if sales last month were $1500
  • A horrible number if sales last month were $10,000
  • A fantastic number if sales last month were $1

In an executive summary, you similarly need to give relevant information about the company, market, industry, issues, etc. that help the audience understand the problem being addressed. 

Remember the priority here is being concise. The executive summary is essentially a one-pager intended to be easily scanned and read by the audience to help them make a decision. Therefore, use short, full sentences and highlight important points with formatting.

Here’s an example of the Background Details Section in an Executive Summary for a fake board game company called No Boardom: 

Note: The formatting used above is one example of how an effective executive summary can be designed: bolded headlines with bullets beneath. 

No matter what your eventual formatting looks like, it must guide the viewer’s eye through the material, just like the organization of charts and numbers on a dashboard guides the viewer’s eye through the data. 

Key Findings

Continuing our dashboard analogy, a well-designed dashboard never shows all the data available. It instead chooses key subsets of the data for the audience to interact with and visualizes salient trends and patterns within. 

In the same way, an executive summary needs to curate the most important takeaways from your presentation.

Consider this Key Findings Section in the same Executive Summary for the No Boardom company: 

The rest of the slides in the presentation can go into vastly more detail. But the information here is what is most important for the audience to remember. 

Recommended Actions

As a last extension of our dashboard analogy, a well-designed dashboard doesn’t just show what’s wrong with key performance indicators. It indicates what levers can be pulled and actions taken to bring those key performance indicators back into alignment. 

In an executive summary, the Recommended Actions section is the most important part. You must explicitly say what your audience should do with the information provided and what the benefits are. Otherwise, nothing will change and this presentation will have no tangible impact. 

Consider this Recommended Actions section in the same Executive Summary for the No Boardom company: 

Let’s look at it all together:

Things to be Careful Of

Every company has different preferences for the layout and organizations of its executive summaries. While the 3 ingredients of Background Details, Key Findings, and Recommended Actions must be included, they can be mixed, matched, expanded, and shrunk in different ways to fit different audiences and needs.

For example:


  • Some companies prefer lengthier executive summaries that span even two slides
  • In these cases, additional headlines with bullets expanding on the Benefits of the Recommended Actions, Objective of the Key Findings, Complication of the Background Details, etc. may all be included


  • Some companies prefer the order of sections changed, so the Recommended Actions are placed first, for example
  • This lets the audience immediately get the point, and then listen to the supporting detail


  • Some companies prefer paragraphs instead of bullets, and may even want data visualizations or diagrams featured to support the material
  • To make sure you meet the expectations of your audience and align with your company’s style guidelines, be sure to check out previous executive summaries in your company as templates for your own work


Executive summaries are an excellent way to help a busy audience immediately understand the main messages of your presentation

Executive summaries are concise, high-level documents that help your audience make informed decisions

Executive summaries contain 3 key ingredients: Background Details, Key Findings, Recommended Actions

Be sure to check past executive summaries at your company for inspiration and see how they used the 3 key ingredients above 

If you’re looking for further guidance on how to differentiate your communication skills and stand out in the workplace, reach out to me here.

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