Hardware

10+ things to check when your presentation runs into technical problems

Sometimes, it's the little things that derail a presentation - and it's easy to get rattled and overlook them. This list will help you troubleshoot some common presentation glitches.

Sometimes, it's the little things that derail a presentation - and it's easy to get rattled and overlook them. This list will help you troubleshoot some common presentation glitches.


Someone introduces you as the next presenter. The audience sits expectantly, awaiting your arrival. You step up, prepare to begin your talk, launch your presentation -- and nothing appears on the screen. Or equally disconcerting, no sound emerges from the speakers.

Think it can't happen to you? Think again. I hope it doesn't, but if it does, here are some things to check.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Is the projector plugged in?

Of course you have checked the end of the power plug that goes into the outlet or the power strip. Make sure, though, and follow the line all the way to the end. If you have a number of cords going into a strip, it's possible that yours, the one for the projector, might have been disconnected. Also, remember that old song that Judy Collins sang, "Both Sides Now." Check the OTHER end of the power cord. If it isn't hard-wired into the body of the projector, it will have a plug connection. Make sure that connection is in place as well.

2: Is the switch turned on?

I'm really sorry if these first two points are insulting you, but they're too important to skip. Make sure the switch to the projector really is On. Chances are, the projector uses the international symbols for On and Off. Keep them straight by remembering that the symbol for On, the vertical line (|), looks like the number one, which is close in spelling to on.

3: Is the outlet live?

Even if the projector is plugged in, and even if the switch is on, the projector might not be getting power. Check any power indicator lights on the projector. If there aren't any, check the outlet itself. Are other devices from the outlet or strip getting power? If so, your projector should as well. If your projector is the only device, test the outlet or strip by using another device. Remember too that a strip itself can have an on/off switch.

4: Is the video connection physically in place?

Your projector needs more than just electric power. It also needs video signals from your computer. Usually, that connection comes from a cable with a D-shell connector or a USB connection. Make sure it's in place and it's tight.

5: Is the computer sending a video signal to the projector?

Maybe a video cable is in place, but your computer might not actually be using it. The computer might not be sending a video signal to the projector. To resolve this problem, look on your keyboard or in your computer documentation on how to enable such sending. For example, on many Dell laptops, pressing the function key along with the F5 key toggles the display mode from PC only to projector only to PC and projector simultaneously.

6: Is the projector set for input from the computer?

Even if the video cable is in place, and even if the computer really is sending a video signal to the projector, the latter might not be expecting it. Such displays often are designed to receive input from other sources, such as a DVD player. You may need to use a setup menu for the projector to change the source of input.

7: Is the projector sleeping?

Projectors often are equipped with an energy-saving sleep or hibernate mode. In such cases, hitting the power button once or twice quickly will take the projector back to active mode.

When I'm working with a projector, I try to avoid putting it into (or allowing it to go into) a hibernate mode. Instead, if I want to hide the projector display from the audience, I will simply put a piece of paper against the lens or loosely cover the lens with a lens cap. I want to take no chances with the projector and its hibernate mode.

8: Forward or reverse projection?

Projectors generally are set up so that they display images from the front of the screen. However, sometimes, for aesthetic reasons, you might want to display images from behind the screen. In that case, the projector needs to display images "backward." If you see such backward images, check the forward/reverse projection setting.

9: Right side up or upside down?

Similarly, projectors can be designed to hang from the ceiling. In such cases, they are upside down, and their displays have to be adjusted accordingly. Therefore, if your image appears upside down, check the appropriate setup menu on the projector.

10: Is the display resolution compatible?

If you're still getting no display, make sure that the projector can handle the resolution settings of your computer. You might need to make your computer display less fine - that is, setting it to lower numbers. You can do so in Windows via the Control Panel Display icon (in classic view) or via the Change The Screen Resolution task under Appearance And Themes.

11: Are the sound settings correct?

If you're not getting sound, the problem could arise in any of three areas. First, look at the application that's generating the sound -- for example, Media Player. Make sure the volume setting is greater than zero. Second, check the sound settings for your computer itself, via the Control Panel's Sounds And Audio Devices applet. Make sure that the volume here is also set to greater than zero. Most important, make sure that the Mute option is not selected.

12: Are you using the right sound jack?

If you're planning to get sound by plugging a 1/8" minijack cable into your computer, make sure you're plugging the cable into the headphone jack, not the microphone jack. The latter might be labeled with a headphone icon, and it probably will resemble the letter "C" on its side.


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About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

21 comments
shawncollins24
shawncollins24

You don't need to use a lens cap or a piece of paper in front of the lens to temporarily hide the presentation from the audience (if you using PowerPoint). You can simply press "B" or "W" for a black or a white background, respectively.

jevans4949
jevans4949

Had a presnter turn up with Powerpoint on a floppy recently. Does the computer on which you are running the presentation have a floppy / DVD / USB reader? Does it have compatible software? If using your own laptop, does it interface to the site's Projector / Sound system?

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

The power to the projector, making sure it's powered up, the power to the power strip, the video connection -- those are things the organizer should take care of. The number 1 tip to prevent those snags -- as well as the screen resolution issue -- is to come to the venue at least 15 mins, maybe even half an hour ahead of time, way before you're introduced to the audience, to check the tech details. Second, a piece of paper to cover the screen is messy, and so 20th century. All projectors I've worked with have a button on the remote to either freeze or blank the screen.

kevaburg
kevaburg

I have written a polite note or telephoned 2 weeks (if possible) beforehand to ensure that the presentation suite is how I need it to be. That means asking if power is present, is the projector ceiling mounted or sat on a desk (important for image inversion), is it connected by DVI or SVGA and so on. There is a responsibility for the presenter to ensure the necessary resources are available and for the person benefiting from the presentation to allocate the correct resources. I have my projector with me anyway so even if the bulb goes, I have a backup. My important presentations are heavily summarised and printed on a A1 flip-chart, also in the car. If push comes to shove and my presentation is in a room networked and with netmeeting installed, then that is a good fallback if all else fails. Turning up with plenty of time to check and test is sensible. Of that there can be no doubt. But the responsibility to ensure the presentation runs smoothly does not rest on one side of the fence or the other. If a presenter can only present in one type of environment and is as inflexible as his/her resources might be, then perhaps that presenter needs to look at whether they need to learn to be more adaptive.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Sorry, have to disagree. Every problem is the presenter's problem. Yes, getting there early helps in detecting the problem, but doesn't actually solve it. These tips still come in handy.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Typical - I guess you never organize a meeting then.

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

Could'a been any one of removable media types -- USB thumbdrive, CD/DVD, SD (!) card.

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Thanks, I appreciate your comments, and I agree with them. However, is it possible you're attacking a straw man? Nowhere do I suggest that a speaker should deliberately wait until the moment of presentation to fix problems. Lol I wrote the opening as I did merely for dramatic effect, and I apologize if you took me literally. Even when we do arrive early, and find problems, wouldn't these suggestions help? Also, I agree with you that a presenter needs to be flexible. However, before giving up and going to plan B, don't these suggestions have at least some value in trying to resolve a problem?

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

Be prepared, especially for contingencies. Calvin, don't get me wrong, I thought your tips were helpful, but most of them fall into the equipment failure category, which should be solved before you go up the stage. Or did I take your opening too literally? That was your lead: that you're introduced, then go up the stage to discover all those tech snags. They should've been looked at before you go up the stage.

kevaburg
kevaburg

if one of those problems exist then your entire presentation is a no go. No power to the socket? What can you do if that socket has been disconnect for a reason? Panic? It is the presenters job to present. Period. That presenter should have his/her own fallback strategy (handouts, printed A1 flip charts etc;) to ensure they aren't accused of bad planning. A presenter should be able to present regardless of the problems they encounter. If they are unable to do that, they have failed.

robert
robert

If it's your presentation, it's your problem. And you better know how to fix it. And as for checking it 30 minutes ahead of time...yeah, so what? Several times in my career I've seen presenters do that successfully, only to cry out to the audience looking for a tech when it doesn't work live. Good article, Calvin. I'm checking out your site. Thanks. Take care, Robert

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

I've organized my share of meetings, from a group of 10 people to about 50, and I make sure my presenters don't run into any trouble.

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

<quote> The article was well-written, but (I can hear the flame-throwers warming up) I think more emphasis on what can be done if things go wrong DURING the presentation and not before may have been more appropriate. </quote> My point exactly. I do find the tips useful, but for preparing for the presentation and not while you're in the middle of it. What actually threw me off was the article's lead: you're called to the stage, then things go wrong. I'd have preferred to read about things that can go wrong during a presentation and what to do about them.

kevaburg
kevaburg

I have my own ideas but it is always good to see how others deal with the issues as well! :)

Calvin T Sun
Calvin T Sun

Hey thanks lol. I appreciate it. How about I handle this topic for my next article?

robert
robert

...it kind of seems like a non-point. I think the article was sweet, Cal, and Kevaburg, maybe your point of a slight shift in focus is valid. In my experience, mostly as an audience member who is first up to fix it when it fails during a presentation, but also as a secondary presenter in a popular local seminar, if things go wrong, you turn into a Marine: Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. I don't know. I'm tired. *yawn* Interesting discussion, and first one in which I think I've participated. Loved the article, Cal. Digging your blog. Hey all, I've got my first solo 1.5-hour seminar on CRM usage at the end of the month. Can I get some "good luck", my brothers and sisters? LOL Have a good day, all, Robert

kevaburg
kevaburg

But as you are no doubt aware, there are those in this world that are happy to blame their own failings on other people. My own point (although somewhat harsh perhaps) is that within IT and in this instance, presentations, every eventuality must be calculated in. Those that don't are doing nothing more than heading for a fall and the drop can be a long way...... The article was well-written, but (I can hear the flame-throwers warming up) I think more emphasis on what can be done if things go wrong DURING the presentation and not before may have been more appropriate. Thanks for the article though. It was well-written and articulate but like I said, maybe more emphasis on what to do when things go wrong when you are talking maybe have been a little more helpful.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Your points are as good as gold -- as good as when the presenter explained how Thagomizer came to be.

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