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Writer Tip: Use a Slide Deck for an Outline





Here’s a tip for writing a business book, an ebook, a lengthy report or a whitepaper.  Use a slide deck as your outline.

Some people who write books do it like I do. I keep thinking about the order of things, the structure, even as I write up the draft. This might seem disorganized, but it’s worked for me through a number of books and a lot of years.

I tweak as I go.

With the book I’m working on now, it’s even worse. My Plan-as-You-Go book is due early next month. So I’m pretty deep into it, as you might imagine.

As I write it, I’ve been posting parts of it on my blog.  I’ve done interviews on it.  And I do presentations on it.

As I do, the book changes. I reshuffle the cards. I can’t help it. Rewriting and reshuffling is part of maintaining interest in writing.

Just today I realized how much I’m using a presentation slide show as card deck and as book reshuffler.  So much so that I decided to pause briefly to make it a practical tip for you.

How to Use a Slide Deck to Write a Business Book

The writing technique I’m about to describe is really very simple.

Use a slide deck in place of an outline.  Any presentation program such as PowerPoint will do.  In my case, much as I’m loving my new Apple computer, I’m still mainly on Windows with PowerPoint.

A slide deck as outline is a technique well-suited for writing a business book or other non-fiction book.  Typically, chapters are arranged by distinct topics.  So it lends itself to moving a topic around here and there.

Above is the view of the book I am writing, as displayed in a presentation slide deck.

Of course I realize as I write this that you can’t make much out of that postage-stamp view of a book in process.

But you get a sense of the overall picture.  What’s happening is that I have almost all of the different segments of the book tied to pictures. The pictures are slides.

Each picture you see in the slide deck view means a topic to me. A topic is usually a significant piece of one of the 30 (or so) chapters in the book.

My discussion about the elevator speech, for example, is part of the book. The section is pretty much written as I pen this, so much so that I posted most of it as a 5-part series on my main blog.

But I keep changing where I want to put this topic in the book. Yesterday it was in the heart of the plan section, where I talk about core strategy of positioning and differentiation. Today I moved it down to the “address it as needed” section.

That’s what prompted this post. Today I decided it should appear later in the book. I’m slotting it in where I’m trying to make the point that a business plan is a core thing that you can then use to create an elevator speech, an investor pitch presentation, or a formal plan document. Or you could use a business for none of the above — just use it to manage your company.

I doubt I’m the only one who reshuffles content as the book gets closer to completion.

Some writers would say that’s crazy. They say you should set the outline and follow it through until the complete first draft is done. I don’t. If you share my approach, then you’ll probably like the way this works.

I have two reasons for using the slide deck view.

  • First, because it’s easier. I drag a piece from one place to another using the slide sorter view in PowerPoint. I can drag it back if I want. And I can drag a collection of pieces too, if I want.
  • Second, because I’m working on my presentation at the same time. I’m off to New York tomorrow. Then I give a workshop for SCORE in Eugene, Oregon next week. So I use this presentation while keeping it conceptually linked to the book.

Why a Slide Deck Instead of the Standard Outline?

presentation outline view to organize writing a business book

The one thing I miss is the ability to hang slides into an outline view by title, with a hierarchy built in. Aldus Persuasion, which was king of slideshow software before PowerPoint took over,  used to let me indent some slides underneath a section title holder.  It would give me a visual something like a standard outliner, as an alternative to the slide view.

PowerPoint’s outline view, however, (see screenshot above) keeps slides flat, all at the same level. Indenting a group of slides turns them into bullets.

For example, in the outline view above, I’d like to make slides 14-16 subsets of slide 13 by indenting them. But I can’t. PowerPoint turns them into bullets on slide 13, essentially deleting them.  (At least it gives me a warning before it does, so I can reconsider.)

I miss the combined power of the card deck  — called slide sorter view — for some things, and a more powerful outline view for others. If you know a PowerPoint product manager, please send her or him the link. Let’s get that into the software.

I keep thinking maybe Keynote on the Mac will do that, but I haven’t had the time to go explore yet.  My latest Mac is still barely a month old.

In the meantime, this is still so useful for authors who plan to write a business book, that I wanted to share it. And if it’s absurdly obvious, sorry.

Image credit: the author

9 Comments ▼

Tim Berry


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

9 Reactions

  1. Shirley George Frazier

    This is fantastic.

    Before I wrote my first book, I learned from a mentor to write each part of the outline beforehand, as you mention here. But that didn’t set the outline in stone, and it shouldn’t for any writer.

    I’m now author of three best-selling books. Never did I consider creating visuals as part of the outline. It’s a fabulous addition or alternative for writers and authors to ensure that each part of the puzzle fits, and it certainly makes the book or any writing project rewarding for its audience.

  2. Jen, writer MembershipMillionaire.com

    You can’t really predict how things will turn out in the end. Sure, you can make a guide of some sort but they are just that– guides. While it’s a good idea to be organized, we shouldn’t forget that these guides are not rigid structures. And if we should find something more suitable in front or by the end, what is to stop us from re-arranging them?

  3. Tim Berry,

    Fascinating how your book is developed.

    I recommend you to check out Ayn Rand’s book, The Art of Nonfiction:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0452282314/

    Best Premises,

    Martin

  4. Jonathan Fields

    Hey Tim,

    Funny, I am wrapping up a book, myself, and have restructured it so many times, I just put the whole thing into Keynote to make it visual and it’s really helped.

    Great suggestion! Thanks!

    Jonathan

  5. Tim,

    This is a very efficient tool. Outlining is a must when taking on any big project.

    -Shama

  6. Tim, this is a neat idea and very effective. BUT my question for you is why are using Powerpoint if you have a MAC. If you get the chance do like i did and give Apples Keynote software a chance. Ill admit there is a leanring curve BUT its well worth it primarily of you do alot of presentations. I taught Powerpoint for years but when I gave Apples Keynote a try I never turned back. Wanted to give a tip since you shared a tip 🙂 Mario

  7. I am very comfortable with PowerPoint and anything that would help me write the book I’ve been threatening to write will be useful. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Tim
    The absurdly obvious to one person is the light-blub moment to another so keep on telling us — with no apologies!
    I used to use a content management system for long reports but since I don’t do any these days I’ve probably forgotten how!

  9. This is a fantastic tip!

    I’m going to apply this in my next writing project.

    Thanks!

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