Helping my wife prepare for a meeting for a new startup that she is working on, reminded me about a very important lesson (and tool) that i learnt early on in my career from someone who was a senior brand director at a major international retailer…. And it is something that i believe all HR leaders need to learn and implement ASAP.
What was the lesson learned?
If you are presenting to senior executives , you may sometimes only have between 15 and 20 minutes to present your analysis, so it is vital to invest time in building a executive summary.
The Art of the Executive Summary:
The executive summary should answer three important questions:
- What’s happening?
- Why should the CEO or other execs care?
- What should they do about it?
I am a firm believer that HR leaders need to trim their Metrics , and become storytellers. The executive summary plays a central role in your storytelling by tying everything together. The best analysis that i ever saw someone deliver, resulted in the 15 minute time slot generating important (to HR and the business) discussions that filled the entire hour-long meeting, and more than 50% of that time was focused on the executive summary.
How to distil down the key points
You should start by going through your presentation and identify ONLY one key takeaway on each slide. Your main points need to be only facts from the data that will be able to hold up under fire.
Sometimes as HR leaders we have a really strong urge to fill up our slides with tons of data and takeaways.
Fight the darkside , and resist.
Limit each to just one line at no less than a 20-point (and don’t use a wide-screen template either). You may be wondering whether i am teaching you how to do a executive summary, or whether i am teaching you how to use powerpoint.
Just stick with me for a second.
By limiting your slide to just one line, you are ruthlessly forcing yourself to economise your words. Also make sure that you are translating your “HR” and “analysis” speak to “exec speak” by minimising the jargon and acronyms. Try to stay out of the details and summarise the main idea as succinctly as possible.
For each main idea, add an accompanying assessment line that indicates why the point is important or what action should be taken. What you are doing, is looking for a theme to emerge that becomes the basis for your story. Once you have a central theme or thesis you can then go back and remove points that no longer fit and move less relevant slides to your appendix.
I know that letting go of great insights and slides that no longer fit is hard.
You need to be strong.
Your executive summary should be no more than one slide if possible. This is where your great writing skills are put to the test as your insight-to-word ratio should be extremely high.