10-Minute Executive Brief

presentationSo you've been asked to provide a review or summary for the boss' boss or even higher up. Top, middle or bottom... your rank is moot! You have been chosen for a reason. That reason could be technical, social, or political. The most important thing for you to know is that -- IT IS A BRIEF.

Prime Directive: Simple, simple, simple.

  1. "Today." Where are we now?
  2. "Tomorrow." Where are we going?
  3. "When in doubt - Leave it out."

Executive Reviews or Summary Presentations don't "win" or "sell" any more than a resume gets you a job. They are strictly informative -- purposeful and meaningful. These tools exist to create, focus, redirect, or kill interest. Make sure you understand your purpose and don't stray.

Depending on your objectives and the mission of your target audience, the purpose may be to secure an action or the next meeting (job analogy: resume --> interview). Other desired outcomes for a review or summary: break-out session, follow-up meeting, all-hands safety notice, agenda item added to staff meeting, do nothing, etc.

This is a good time to point out -- this may be a significant moment in your work-life, but this is a normal day for Joe or Jane Executive. Why is this important? Too many people get freakishly anxious about the potential do nothing "desired outcome." You probably don't have access to all the political realities, the executive calendar, or their private dialog (or how you are being used to further their agenda).

Don't ever assume too much... and don't get freakishly anxious; it's just unhealthy.

Yesterday has no place in your summary. Executives RARELY want to waste facetime on where they've been. Send them an email if you want to grouse your post mortem issues or parade accomplishments. However, before you go lobbing potentially career ending email, you may wish to clear any lobbing with your immediate chain-of-command first. :-)

You are the presentation. You are the VALUE.

  • The slides are a prop...a tool... to support YOU.
  • The audience should be listening to you, not reading and understanding the slides.
  • A slide should have no more than 4 or maximum 5 bullets, or a simple uncongested diagram.
  • The audience should be able to digest a slide in 5 seconds or so.
  • Bullets points should be "abbreviated" or "cliff-note" versions of your talking-points. Demand eye contact.
  • Don't make the slide content such that the audience has to think to deduce your points; you need them to focus on what you are saying, not thinking. Demand their attention.

If the brain sees garbage...it thinks "garbage."

  • Use 24 point fonts or larger whenever possible
  • Make sure the text or graphic is a sharply contrasting color to the slide background.
  • A slide's title should be the conclusion you want the audience to reach from your pitch and the slide's content.
    e.g., Servers Hardened, not System Security, Software Self-Service Improvements, not Desktop Provisioning, etc.
  • Avoid animation! If you use it, do it in moderation and make DAMN sure you are really well rehearsed (or everyone will roll their eyes and you will look like an ass and everyone will laugh at you and you will be butt hurt... whaaa). Honestly, we are talking about an Executive Brief...a SUMMARY! Leave animation to Hollywood and pre-schoolers!
  • LASTLY, NUMBER YOUR SLIDES (or pages). If you have more than one, number them.
    1. This helps your pre-presentation reviewers.
    2. This helps your presentation audience (with Q&A and follow-up).
    3. Never under-estimate presentation traction and post-presentation follow-up from 3rd parties who may only receive a single page from a slide deck - page numbers are important.

On the subject of Images / Graphics...

  • Images must be simple.
  • Images must require ZERO explanation.
  • Images must NEVER make an audience think!
  • Images must IMMEDIATELY and CLEARLY (without cultural bias) support the VERBAL component of the presentation.
  • Final caution -- images can get out in front of you and STEAL YOUR AUDIENCE! One wrong (or well placed) image can make everyone in the room virtually deaf for 5 seconds -- or send the room off into a circus of side conversations!


  • Not HOOKING the audience.
    1. No energy and passion in the presentation
    2. Nothing to rapidly get the attention and interest of the reader in the first paragraph of the executive summary.
  • Reading your slides, or reading your pitch
  • Too much about the technology, product, or idea and not enough about the business, market, or revenue
  • Not caring about audience "triggers" -- agenda, pain points, relationships, point-of-view, preconceptions, fears, etc.
  • Articulating anything that can "possibly" derail the presentation -- facts/figures, slang/jargon, tools/techniques
  • More than one presenter. Remember the scope, this is a 10-minute (or less) presentation. Don't dilute trust or focus. ONE presenter.

Rich Wermske

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