Writer Tip: Use Slide Deck for an 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.

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. I’m posting part of it on this blog, I’ve done interviews on it (links are on the sidebar), I do presentations on it. And as I do, it changes. I reshuffle the cards. I can’t help it. I think rewriting and reshuffling is part of the interest in writing.

So today I realized how much I’m using the slide show as card deck as book reshuffler, so much so that I decided to pause briefly to make it a practical tip for you. This can help you with a book, a white paper, a long memo, or whatever. It’s really very simple: a card deck instead of an outline. In my case, much as I’m loving my new iMac, I’m still mainly on Windows with PowerPoint. Here’s the view:

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 what’s happening is that I have almost all of the different segments of the book tied to pictures, which are slides. Each picture you see means a topic to me. A topic is usually like a significant piece of one of the 30 (or so) chapters.

My discussion about the elevator speech, for example. It’s pretty much written, so much so that I posted most of it as a 5-part series on Planning Startups Stories, but I keep changing where I want to put it. Yesterday it was in the heart of the plan section, where I talk about core strategy of positioning and differentiation. Today I moved it — that’s what prompted this post — down to the “dress it as needed” section, later in the book, where I’m trying to make the point that the plan is a core thing that you can then use to create an elevator speech, a pitch presentation, or a formal plan document, or 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. Some writers would say that’s crazy, you should set the outline and follow it through until the complete first draft is done. I don’t. If you share that behavior, then you’ll probably like the way this works.

Why this instead of the standard outline? 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, and I give a workshop for SCORE in Eugene OR next week, so I use this presentation and I keep it conceptually linked to the 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, giving me a visual something like a standard outliner, as an alternative to the slide view. PowerPoint’s outline view, however, (the illustration here) keeps them flat, all at the same level, and indenting a group of slides turns them into bullets. For example, in the outline view at right, 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 that I wanted to share it. And if it’s absurdly obvious, sorry.

* * * * *

Tim Berry, Entrepreneur and Founder of Palo Alto Software, bplans.com and Borland International About the Author: Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and co-founder of Borland International. He is also the author of books and software on business planning including Business Plan Pro and Hurdle: the Book on Business Planning; and a Stanford MBA. His main blogs are Planning, Startups, Stories and Up and Running.


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:


    Best Premises,


  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!


  5. Tim,

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


  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.


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