Have you ever seen a presentation where something went wrong? Have you ever worried about whether something would go wrong with your own presentation when you were on stage or in front of a class?

I have worked at a large university supporting instructors and presenters for almost two decades and have seen and fixed just about everything that can go wrong with classroom and event presentations. Listed below are some of the top tips I give our presenters to avoid presentation meltdown. In future articles I plan to cover other aspects of preparing and giving solid presentations.

Following these simple steps can help to ensure that your presentation is not derailed by technology problems.

Success Starts With Planning and Preparation

There are several things you can do to before you even start creating your presentation that help to minimize the possibility of technological problems. Some of them are are hardware related, some are software related and some are basic file management strategies.

Gathering Information

  1. Will you be providing the projector you will use or will someone else?

  1. Find out what resolution the projector is. This will be important when you start creating your presentation.

  2. Will you be using your own laptop or will you be required to load your presentation onto another computer.

Buying Supplies

  1. If you will be providing the projector, do you have a spare lamp for it? If not, you need to order one right away and learn how to change it (from your owner's manual). Keep the spare lamp in the case with your projector.

  1. If you are using a Macintosh, buy two of the correct type of video adapter for your model of laptop. Keep the second one unused in your laptop case. These adapters break more often than they should and usually at the least opportune time.

File Management

  1. Before you start creating your presentation, create a folder on your computer that your presentation will go into. Put all of the images and movies you will include in your presentation into that folder.

  1. Start creating your presentation. Create it in the resolution that matches the resolution of the projector you will be presenting on. If the projector is 1024 x 768, create your presentation at 1024 x 768.

  1. When you start to gather images to use in your presentation, save a copy of each image at the size of your projector's resolution. Again, if your projector is 1024 x 768, save each photo at a size of 1024 x 768 pixels. It is not too much of a problem if they are smaller than this but if they are much larger (such as the size they come out of your digital camera at) the file size of your presentation may get too big and run slowly on your computer. Save the photos into the same folder as the presentation.

  1. When you are done creating your presentation, make a backup copy onto a thumb drive and another onto a CD. If you will be traveling to your presentation site, print a third copy on a color printer. Carry the thumb drive in your pocket and the CD and print copies in a different case from your laptop. That way if your laptop gets lost, broken or stolen, the show can still go on.

Equipment Testing And Last Minute Checks

  1. Test your computer with a projector at least a day or two before you present. Make sure you know what to do if it doesn't display properly.

  2. Instructions for controlling its display should be in the user's manual but in general, for Windows 7, holding down the Windows icon key at the bottom left of the keyboard and pressing the “p” key should make it project. Once this is up, select the icon that shows a display on the projector and the laptop.

  3. For older versions of Windows, hold down the blue “fn” key at the bottom left of the keyboard and press the “f” key at the top of the keyboard that either says “crt/lcd” or has an image of two monitors.

  4. For Macintosh, go to the Apple icon at the top left of the screen and pull down to “System Preferences”. Select “Displays” and click the “Detect Displays” button.

  1. If your Macintosh shows a different image on the projector than on its own screen, with the menu bar at the top and the icons missing, with the projector still connected, go to the “Displays” preferences again, click on the “arrangement” tab and check the box that say “mirror displays”.

  1. For Windows computers, unfortunately, the controls to correct the sort of problem described in the last bullet are slightly different on different brands and models of computers but in general, right clicking on the desktop of your computer and selecting a menu option something like “nVidia Display Preferences” (or whatever the name of your video card manufacturer is) will get you to the place to change this. The specific setting that fixes this is also slightly different on different models but often uses a word like “clone” or “duplicate.

  2. Create a short checklist to go through every time you leave your home or office to give a presentation. Do you have your laptop power supply? Your video adapter? Presentation remote, spare projector lamp, thumb-drive, etc.?

Following these tips faithfully can help you avoid the vast majority of presentation problems. Stay tuned for next article where I will discuss the basics of creating a presentation your audience will find informative and compelling.