5 keys to creating effective executive reports

It seems with increased frequency I have been asked by customers to assist with the development of Executive and Board reports on their marketing and service activity. Here are 5 guidelines I use and recommend to our customers.

  1. Consider your audience – They are usually called Executive Reports or Executive Summaries for a reason. An executive or board audience usually does not wish to understand all the nuisances of your tactical execution, if they want to learn more or have more detail, they will ask. For the most part, they have limited expertise in your area of responsibility and rely on you to present them with the information that demonstrates progress toward the organizational goals.
  2. Define your objective – What action do you want your audience to take as a result of your report- support, resources, continued confidence or other next step? Ask yourself and your team what information is needed to compel to this action or desired conclusions.
  3. Standardize the format, and use an appropriate amount of data – Bad reports typically are a result of too much data, and/or seem to change in design or content every month or quarter. Hone in on a standard layout, and be sure to track and trend a few data points of most significance each report. Often we want to justify every investment we make and share their outcomes. However, you should use the data you need to tell your story objectively, in a concise manner. Too much data will make their eyes cross and often lead to confusion.
  4. Craft the story – Again, many reports are poor because they are just data dumps. Plan to tell your story in no more than 1-2 pages. Additional data is always available on request. As an expert, you should share observations or insights on your data that help tell the story – however be sure to offer objective insights.
  5. Keep it simple – A well-crafted report is 1-2 pages, concise, easy to read and understand at first glance and uses visual illustrations to support the data.  Consider sharing the report with a trusted college in advance – ask them what conclusions they draw from the report and see if they match your planned objective.

Creating an effective report is like writing a compelling story with a great headline. It should capture your audience, present pertinent data objectively and concisely, and draw your audience to an actionable conclusion.

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