PowerPoint – giving a presentation – what can possibly go wrong?

Often when I’m watching other people present using PowerPoint I see them making the same errors that I’ve made (and no doubt continue to make) on many occasions. This post isn’t about the design of the presentation, just some hints and tips to help cope with what can sometimes go wrong. The golden rule is to take two of everything and have some sort of plan for if you can’t get the technology to work – even if it’s spontaneous laryngitis.

Start from current slide

PowerPoint alt-tab

Often people exit from their PowerPoint presentation in order to demonstrate another application by pressing the ‘Escape’ button. Having done what they want outside PowerPoint, they then need to resume the presentation. More often than not, they will click the menu option Slide Show, View Show or use the ‘F5’ keyboard shortcut (PowerPoint 2000 and later) to start their presentation from the first slide, then advance through each slide until they get back to the right slide. There are some more elegant ways to do this:

  • Don’t exit from the presentation with the ‘Escape’ key but use ‘Alt+tab’ to cycle through to the other application, then cycle back again when you have finished
  • Use the ‘shift-F5’ (PowerPoint 2003 and later) shortcut key which starts from the current slide rather than the first slide
  • Use the ‘Slide show from current slide’ button at the bottom of the navigation panePowerPoint - current slide button
  • If you have started from the first slide, right-click on the slide and choose ‘Go to slide’ from the shortcut menu and choose the required slide. If you have decided to use the right mouse button to go back rather than display the shortcut menu (see below), then you can access the menu from a semi-visible ‘pop up toolbar’ at the bottom left of the slide screen (this icon is completely invisible until you move the cursor into the bottom left hand corner of the slide) or use Control-s (PowerPoint 2003 and later) to display the list of slides.

Right-click to go back

Go to Tools, Options and the View tab. In the ‘Slide Show’ section you can turn off ‘Show menu on right mouse click’. The right mouse button will then operate as the ‘PageUp’ button to go back an action.

Keyboard shortcuts

As well as F5 and Shift+F5 you many find the following other PowerPoint shortcuts useful:

B or W – show a Black or White screen – useful if you suddenly notice the slide displayed is one you meant to delete or hide!

Number + Return to go to that number slide (if you know it!)

Power management settings

If you’re prone to talking a lot, you might experience that worrying feeling that something strange has just happened on the screen behind you. Often this is because your screensaver has started up. So, before you start your presentation make sure you turn your screensaver off, and also check your ‘Power Options’ in Control Panel – you should find a ‘Presentation’ option which keeps everything turned on.

Remote control

Depending where on the Bill Wyman to Mick Jagger continuum your stage presence lies, you might find it useful to invest in a device to control the presentation remotely –without the indignity of walking around holding a wireless mouse. I recently bought a USB ‘Sweex’ Wireless Media Presenter for about £15 that does the job simply and effectively and includes a laser pointer – lots of more sophisticated options are available.

Nothing on the screen?

Most of these are an insult to your intelligence – but it’s always worth checking – I’ve been guilty of a few in my time….

Assuming everything is plugged in and working OK independently:

  • Have you pressed the key combination that shows your notebook screen on the external projector?
  • Have you plugged the monitor lead into the correct output of your notebook? (Usually not much choice – the normal analogue monitor port is usually blue, and the more recent ‘DVI’ port is white)
  • Have you plugged the monitor lead into the correct input of your projector – some projectors have an input and an output port – easy to choose the wrong one!Projector back
  • Is one of the monitor cable pins bent or broken? If so panic, or carefully bend it back into position – though it might just break off completely – then you can really panic. (Refer to the golden rule…)
  • Have you selected the right input option from the projector’s menu? Perhaps the last person to use the projector had it connected to a DVD player to watch the footie – is it still looking for the s-video rather than PC input?
  • These days the notebook will probably adjust itself to the projector resolution automatically, but if you can’t get the screen to appear it would be worth reducing the resolution of the notebook screen to that of the projector – right-click the desktop, choose Properties then the Settings tab and adjust the slider as appropriate. As a final desperate measure, try turning the notebook off, connecting everything up and turning the projector on, and then turning the notebook back on. If this has already failed try doing the opposite – disconnect the notebook and projector, turn everything on and then connect.
  • A more recent problem is the ‘too clever by half’ notebook that insists on you using the projector screen as a second screen rather than showing the same image on both – sometimes the Advanced button on the Settings screen will take you to a screen that includes a tab that will allow you to select ‘clone’ mode. On other systems there might be a graphics-card specific management program that will allow you to select the appropriate setting. One of my notebooks seems to make its own decision on clone v. multiple monitor mode…


Beware of PowerPoint version compatibility issues. It’s quite irritating to have spent hours on a particularly complex animation effect only to find that the notebook you end up using has an earlier version of PowerPoint that can’t cope with the animation. Though it must be said that most particularly complex animation effects are pretty irritating for the audience when they do work.

Try the built in presentation ‘packaging’ option within PowerPoint – different versions have different names e.g. in PowerPoint 97 it’s ‘Pack and Go’ and in 2003 it’s ‘Package for CD’. With USB storage devices being so cheap, putting the packaged presentation on one of these, rather than a CD is probably better – though doing both is better still.

Favourite PowerPoint stories and tips

Oh for the days of overhead projectors where all you had to worry about was dirty fingerprints and a spare bulb!

If you’ve got any good PowerPoint horror stories (preferably not relating to presentations that I’ve done!) or good tips, please add them as comments.

5 responses to “PowerPoint – giving a presentation – what can possibly go wrong?

  1. hi how can i get my projector to work, it works on my other computers just but sticking the vga cable in but its a different type on this so iv got a adapter i think its the right one but still no image, is there a shorcut button i need to press to get the image much thanks jules

  2. Hi Jules – if it’s a laptop there is usually a key combination – often indicated on the keys themselves in blue – to switch between internal display, external display and both. If not, or you’ve already done this, try just connecting to a normal monitor to check that the problem isn’t with the cable or adaptor. Might also be worth manually setting the computer resolution to the native resolution of the projector. If all else fails try changing the order in which you turn on the projector and computer to see if this forces the computer to recognise the projector. Good luck. Regards. Simon

  3. Pingback: Powerpoint Jump To Slide | More More Pics

  4. Question: Can I use my Android phone to connect to a projector that has a USB cable port and control the slide show from my phone? Thanks for your imput. Best, Jim

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