People often ask me what an appropriate summary presentation is to send a head of the actual presentation, the dreaded "Executive Summary".

Executive summaries and web landing pages have similar objectives. Keep the user hooked long enough to transfer the idea/messages and get her to do something at the end (click "BUY", or reply to the email and set up a meeting).

In web design, people have learned a lot. Use lots of white space, attractive images, links with inviting text that scream "click me", cut out boring non-essential information and put that on pages for people who want to look for it.

The Executive Summary though is still in the 1990s:

  • We expect tat our story is so boring that we need to drag the reader through it as long as we can
  • The solution: cut the amount of pages (maximum 2), anyone can read just 2 pages right?
  • Whoa, how do fit all this information on there: reduce font size
  • We need a big bold vision statement upfront (1 paragraph at least), a big bold vision statement really encourages the reader to keep on reading. Maybe there will be more big bold statements on page 2? Good stuff!
  • The it is important to link our idea to all the latest buzzwords, readers love to hear more of the things they read on the latest tech blogs. Even if it is vaguely related to your idea, put them all in there. Wow, this Executive Summary is all about these great trends? I have to read on!
  • After rereading the Executive Summary, we find that it sort falls out of the blue. We need to tie it into the big things that are happening in society. Mobile phone penetration is huge right now. Social media is changing the way we consume content. (This is especially true for younger people). Gartner and IDC have some good stats and quotes on this, let's add them. The reader must think: I want to read more about this!
  • The broader market (TAM) is just absolutely big. We are the only company in this space but the market will grow from $15b (2011 data) to $32.67b in 2014. This size market? These guys have discovered something that I completely missed, must read on.
  • Our technology is absolutely amazing. Let's start with the bottom architecture layer, and build it right up step by step. The "secret sauce" that makes us so scalable and flexible
  •  We are 1.5 pages in, time to introduce the idea. 
  • Oops, what about the team? Five bullets with CV summaries (don't forget the undergraduate degrees, and our hobbies).
  • Squeeze the margins a bit, it just fits.
  • Now copy paste selective paragraphs to put in the cover letter of the email.

This is clearly going to get someone excited (not). Think about your Executive Summary as a landing page that competes for the reader's attention. Make it visual. Make it presentation slides instead of text. Introduce what is you do early. Intrigue her on every page so she clicks through to the next one.

Force feeding Executive Summaries have not resulted in a lot of follow up meetings.


Art: Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (circa 1841-1871), Taming the Donkey1868