I watch teams as they structure decks for executive consumption all the time.  It can be painful to watch. Hundreds of unnecessary words get crammed into each PowerPoint slide as subject matter experts try to fit years of understanding and expertise onto single pages. Complex, meandering storylines appear, and consistent vocabulary… does not. During the subsequent presentation, where deck after deck is brought forward, the executive team tries to appear alert and interested, all the while drowning in an ocean of unnecessary information that makes their job more difficult, and the ultimate decision-making process both frustrating and exhausting.

Executives are paid to make decisions.  They want you to state the question, explain the options (briefly!), and tell them what will happen if they approve, disapprove, or postpone deciding.  Anything other than that is not necessary.

A comms deck for executive consumption is based on three (and only three) questions:

  1. What specific action(s)/decision(s) do we need the executive team to take?
  2. What specific information do we need to give them in order for them to be able to take this(ese) action(s)/decision(s)?
  3. What will happen if they approve, disapprove, or postpone deciding.

That’s it.

It can be structured as three very simple slides.

  1. The ask: We need you to provide x resources (dollars, people, land, money, whatever) or y decision.
  2. The reason: We need these resources or this decision so that we can <compelling outcome that is measurable and matters to the organization>.
  3. The consequences: If you say yes, x will happen. If you say no, y will happen. If you make no decision, z will happen.

Bring backup slides, sure.  With as much extra-important or good-to-know information you think might be helpful – if they ask.  Be prepared! But that extra information is not what you use to communicate to executives.  And when you use complex stories as the basis of your communications to them, the presentation becomes irrelevant and they’re thinking about something else. And their answer – whatever it is – will be borne of apathy, not conviction. Don’t bore them with what brought us here today, or the story of how your team assembled to tackle the problem.  It’s a nice story, but it’s not what they need.

Provoke them with a clear and definite ask. Give them the essential information that they need. Explain – clearly and specifically – the risks. Then ask them to decide. Their JOB is to decide – to understand risks and to make decisions in the best interests of the organization. So bring them the big issues, with crispness and clarity, and enable them to do what they do best – decide.