Six Common Problems With Displaying Your Presentation

Too often, we plug all of our computer presentation equipment in, fire up our presentation and … we don’t get what we expected. It might be that we can see our presentation on our laptop computer, but the screen or projector won’t show the presentation. Maybe we see the presentation on both our laptop and the projector but we want to see Presenter View on our computer so we can see our notes. Before you get that panicked feeling and think the projector is not working properly, check these six most common problems with computer presentation displays.

Problem #1 – Display toggle

Laptops have multiple display modes. The four most common are: 1) laptop display only, 2) external display only, 3) duplicate the laptop display on the external display, and 4) extend the laptop display onto the external display. The computer may not be in a mode that displays the presentation on the external display properly.

There are two typical modes that presenters use. The duplicate displays mode allows the laptop and the projector/TV to have the same content. This is the mode that most presenters use. Some presenters use the extend display mode because the Presenter View option in PowerPoint requires this mode. Presenter View allows you to show your slides on the external display while the laptop has a view that contains the current slide, upcoming slides, and your notes (This Microsoft article explains how to use Presenter View in more detail). While this mode sounds appealing, it does depend on the hardware capabilities of the laptop and the projection system, which most presenters have no control over. I don’t suggest you rely on this mode working all the time. This article gives you different options for your speaking notes.

Some laptops default to extended display mode when they are connected to some projectors or TVs. To switch display modes in Windows 8 or 10, press Windows+P (hold the Windows key and press the letter P). You can now use your arrow keys to select the mode you want and press Enter when done (or use your mouse to click on the desired mode). Many laptops also have a key combination that will allow you to rotate between the display modes. If you have Windows 7, this will be the method you use to change display modes. Look for a key (usually one of the function keys) that has a picture of a display on it. You usually have to hold a special Function key (usually labeled Fn) and press this key to switch between the different modes. After you press the key combination, wait at least five to ten seconds for the new setting to take effect before you toggle to the next setting.

Problem #2 – Cables Loose

It is amazing how many display problems are caused by loose cables between the computer and data projector. Make sure all cables are securely connected to the appropriate port. With many laptops requiring dongles to convert between mini DisplayPort or USB-C ports and a VGA or HDMI cable, check each connection is secure. Remove and re-seat each cable/connector to make sure.

Problem #3 – Projector/TV Input Source

On data projectors or TVs that are often used with multiple input sources, the input source selected on the data projector/TV may be using a different input source than the one your computer is connected to. There is usually a button on the top of the projector, side of the TV or on the projector/TV remote control which allows you to toggle between the different input sources. You may have to go into the data projector/TV settings menu to change the input source on some older projectors/TVs.

Problem #4 – Power Switched On

Incredible as it seems, power being turned on is one of the common problems. This happens because when we turn on our laptop, if it is not plugged in, it will still run on battery. We don’t realize that the projector has not been plugged into the power outlet and when we turn it on, nothing happens. Check that the power cord is in the wall outlet if the data projector does not turn on.

Problem #5 – Projector Standby Mode On

If you plug your computer into a projector that someone else has just been using and your display does not come up, check if the projector’s standby mode is on. This standby mode keeps the projector fan running but does not light the bulb. It is usually used for cooling a projector after a presentation.

Problem #6 – Projector Cover Loose

When data projectors are moved or transported, the cover can sometimes come loose. When this happens, they will power up but not turn on the bulb for safety reasons. Turn off the projector and check to see that all covers are securely on. Never check for loose covers with the projector on, you will risk being electrocuted or burned by hot components inside the projector.

Next time you have everything plugged in and you don’t get what you expected, check to see if one of these six problems is the cause.

Want a more comprehensive checklist you can quickly refer to the next time your presentation won’t display? Click here to get my Presentation display problem checklist.


Are you looking for a customized workshop where your staff can learn to create PowerPoint presentations that have a clear message, focused content, and effective visuals?  Click here to learn more about my customized in-house workshops. If you are an individual who wants to learn these skills at your own pace, check out my guided self-study course.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.