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Executive Summaries: How to Say It All in One or Two Pages

2 min read

Nothing challenges our analytical skills more than attempting to distill a report, proposal or presentation into a compelling executive summary. Many times all our ideas seem vital and equally important. We invest time fleshing out every concept and persuasive point until the document hangs strategically together, and then we have to reverse the process and capture its essence into one or two pages. Not easy!

What is the best way to make sure you hit the mark every time? You can avoid the nagging voice of your internal critic if you use a planning tool that guides you through the process. While not every question will apply, the process below will give you a strong framework for an executive summary.


First answer these questions:

  1. What is the situation, challenge, or opportunity?

  2. What is your key message?

  3. What are the benefits of your offering to your audience? Include logical and emotional reasons to buy or agree.

  4. What is the cost? The ROI?

  5. Why choose you over the competition? Or, why go with your alternative over another?

  6. How can you make it happen?

  7. How will you measure success?

  8. What other points do you want to include in your executive summary?


After you write your answers to each question…

1. Select the sections that most strongly support your key message. Your executive summary needs to stand alone and sell your point of view—you may not be there to present it.

2. Once you select your priority sections or answers, write specific headlines for each section. Here is an example of a generic headline rewritten to tell a more detailed story:

General: Recommendation
Specific: Convert from the current manual system to a custom-designed digital imaging system.

Your reader should be able to get the essence of your proposal or recommendation just by reading the headlines.

3. Write one or two short paragraphs that support one of your headlines.

4. Repeat this process for each headline. Don’t be tempted to add new information that is not already in your document.

5. Sequence your executive summary to match your presentation or proposal’s sequence.

6. Resist editing until you have a complete draft.

7. Take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes for the final edit.

Now you are ready for any agenda surprise or the failure of your biggest influencer to show up at the meeting. Any executive summary you write using this process will be strategic and effective—a must when it’s the only thing circulated after the meeting.

Visit our Before and After samples to see more examples of specific or expanded headlines:


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