I am a big fan of the executive summary, there are no two ways about it. It’s the nub of whatever content it prefaces; it demands verve, brevity, style and business nous, all combined to deliver an easily understood reason for the reader to carry on.
Whether you are preparing a piece for your content channels or creating a persuasive proposal for a particular service or product, the objective is the same – to deliver a knockout opening salvo of valuable and beneficial information or commentary that simply demands that the reader carries on reading, and ultimately responds to your call for action.
The reason I love the challenge of an executive summary is because of its similarities to the successful elevator pitch. Let’s look at why, and what tricks, tools, and key elements should be front of mind when crafting those vital first few paragraphs.
Remind Me: What Is an Elevator Pitch?
And why is it relevant to me? I’m not a salesman – I’m a writer, don’t you know…
So first a simple definition:
An elevator pitch, or statement (my italics), is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.
There is no mention of “sell” or “sales” – the concept is to define your product, business or service and then immediately deliver the value proposition or benefit. After that, deliver a means to act upon your summarized information. In the case of the executive summary or first few paragraphs of an article or whitepaper, the goal is to ensure continued reading and then persuade the reader to take an action. Like, call you. Or find out more. Or register online for more updates. You know the score.
Top Tips for Tempting and Snaring Your Audience
1. Be brief and to the point. A ‘traditional’ elevator pitch is commonly accepted to be best if limited to around 30-60 seconds. Once you have crafted your opener, read it aloud. Try it out on friends to see how quickly they get to the meat of the matter and if they grasped the key points.
2. Limit your lexicon to words that are understood. Once you have mastered being brief, make sure you are also being clear. Use language that everyone understands. Using fancy words is stroking no one’s ego other than your own. If you can’t help but use techno-babble, get someone else to translate for you.
3. Give them some pizzazz, some oomph, some power. The use of powerful, strong and positive words adds a bit of vim to your introduction. It suggests to the reader that you are actually excited to bring them this news/service/product or business advantage. And if you’re excited, there’s more of a chance they will be excited too.
4. If you can’t actually use one, paint an image for the reader with your words. Use your words to stimulate the creation of a memorable visual image in the reader’s mind. New kitchen? Let them – no, make them – imagine it. Are cloud computing services your bag? Allow the reader to picture the locations he or she will be able to work.
5. Make sure you have a beginning, a middle and an end. All good stories have this in common, so structure the piece as not only the beginning of the larger article but as a little potted tale in its own right. Imagine that the first page is being sent on up the food chain to the CEO – if he has to call the guy who sent it to him to explain it, then we have failed.
6. I have argued this before, and I will again: be focused on a specific audience. Not all audiences who find your piece will possess or recognize the same vocabulary; not all will need to know the detailed financials or technical details. Tailor what you write and how you write it to each audience, using their tone of voice, pressing their emotional buttons, and recognizing and solving their specific needs.
7. You gotta hook ‘em to net ‘em. We all know and are constantly reminded about how quickly readers give up and move on. Stop them from doing this by hooking the bleeders early, creatively, inescapably and of course, memorably and persuasively.
The hook is what snags them and makes them sit forward in their seats. To make this happen you really need to unlock that hidden creative potential in you (or borrow some from somebody else) to give your message the WOW factor that suddenly makes the complex problem simple, makes the accountants numbers finally add up, and makes the CEO demand: “I really want to talk further with these guys. And soon!”