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The Effective Way to Write an Executive Summary

The Effective Way to Write an Executive Summary

Executive summaries are important when you’re looking for funding for an idea. Yes, you have to have a business plan or investment proposal that does into all the details, too, but an executive summary is meant to hit the highlights so that people reading it will quickly know whether yours is an opportunity they might be interested in.

Here’s how to write an executive summary that will get your idea noticed by the right people.

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Open Strong

You want to catch your reader’s attention. CEOs, investors, and others who might be reading your executive summary are busy. They want to know what’s in it for them right away. So start off with an interesting fact, hook, or problem that your company or product aims to solve.

Don’t start with a long story that’s going to take a few paragraphs to resolve. At best, your summary is probably going to be skimmed, so if the reader can’t get at your point right away they probably won’t read any further. But if you can surprise them or get them interested from the beginning they’re more likely to hang on to the meat of your proposal.

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Watch Your Tone

How you write your executive summary will depend a bit on the product or business you’re trying to launch, as well as who you’re targeting with your proposal. If your proposal is very technical, you’ll want your language to be more serious and technical than if you’re launching a clothing company or a toy line, for example.

You don’t want to slip too far into informality even if your tone is light, but it’s fine to show your passion, confidence and enthusiasm and to really try to sell your idea and yourself and your partners as the people to move the idea forward.

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Lengthy Matters

This is an executive summary, so you don’t want it to be too long. All the numbers and big details can be in your proposal. But you do need to include enough information to allow the reader to determine if he or she even needs to read more. A good rule of thumb is to keep it four pages or fewer, but it will depend on how complex your idea is how much detail you need to go into right off the bat.

In general an executive summary should include the following information:

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  • a description of the company,
  • the problem that your customers have,
  • how your product/offering solves the problem,
  • why now is the time to act, and
  • a brief overview of financials/estimated value of the deal.

What Not to Do

Remember that an executive summary is not an introduction to your plan, it’s a mini version of it that will allow readers to determine if they want more information and details. Don’t waste time and space with warm-ups or superlatives. Instead, you need to be able to have someone read your summary and know what it is you and your business are about.

You need to catch their attention, make them want to read more, and give them an idea of what they’ll see if they read your more detailed plan.

Yes, It’s Hard

You probably have the sense that how to write an executive summary is not an easy thing. It’s hard to write concisely about something you’re passionate about, to include the right details but leave out the things that don’t really belong. If it helps, go ahead and write a long summary to start with, then pare down to the essentials. Include only what a person really needs to know about your business.

Give the summary to someone who doesn’t know anything about your business and see if they can explain what you do from reading it. If not, try again. It’s worth it to take all the time you need to get it right.

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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