Top executives from three of the area's largest firms -- Martin Marietta Corp., MCI Communications Corp. and Washington Gas Light Co. -- yesterday presented optimistic growth pictures.

"We feel reasonably confident that we can surpass our 1980 performance," said Thomas G. Pownall, president of Martin Mariett, at a forum sponsored by the Washington securities firm Ferris & Co. While Pownall's counterparts preferred not to project revenues or earnings, they left the approximately 100 investors and analysts with the impression that any storm clouds hanging over their companies' balance sheets would not last long.

Pownall said Martin Marietta "is considering another dividend increase later this summer together with expanding our common equity base." He based his predictions on Martin Marietta's strength in defense-related aerospace industries, which comprised 47 percent of 1980 revenues.

However, the conglomerate's aluminum and cement and construction divisions face slow growth, Pownall said.

MCI President V. Orville Wright pointed to the telecommunications company's rapid revenue growth during the past five years and said "the size of the telecommunications market is so absolutely huge. We welcome any competitor to this marketplace who's willing to make the investment."

"We don't mind competing head to head with AT&T," Wright said. "We think that we'll be substantially able to beat them as far as service for lower costs." MCI challenges Bell in the long-distance market with its own network of transmission stations.

Wright said MCI may have a small equity offering in the near future, but expects to finance most of its own investment program with additional debt.

Washington Gas Light Co. may make a new debt offering, but the company has not yet chosen its debt instrument, said Chairman Paul E. Reichardt. The Washington area gas utility has an expanding gas-drilling program, which met with a setback early this month when mechanical problems forced the abandonment of a major well. A new well is being drilled near the site.

"We're very interested in oil and gas, which is a little better in return on equity than the utility business," Reichardt said in response to a question.