• open panel

Connecting Your Computer to a Projector


Connecting Your Computer to a Projector

by Kelly Vandever

I arrived at the venue at 7 AM, hoping and praying that the employee who was scheduled to let me in would arrive before her scheduled 7:15 start time.

I hate cutting it so close.  The workshop was supposed to begin at 8 AM.

She pulled into the parking lot at 7:13.  I greeted her with genuine warmth and followed her into the building.

Once in the training room, I whipped out my MacBook computer, fired it up, plugged in the VGA cable adapter, plugged it into the projector — and nothing.  The projector didn’t recognize my computer and nothing shown on the screen.

The early bird employee tried to help.  She went to get one of the “tech guys” but they weren’t in the office yet.  We tried turning off the computer, turning off the projector, then alternating which one we turned on first.  Nothing worked.

The clock kept ticking so I pulled out my back up computer, a PC. I transferred the slides onto the PC.  Plugged the PC into the projector cable, and it worked.  Thank God!

I quickly reviewed my slides, correcting those small burps that happen when you transition between Apple and PC versions of PowerPoint.  And I was ready to go… just barely before the participants for the workshop began filing in.  I really, really hate cutting it that close!


The More Things You Use, the More that Can Go Wrong

That’s the challenge with using PowerPoint, isn’t it.  There are things beyond your control that can go wrong.

The example above was the first venue where I couldn’t get my MacBook to work but it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered issues.  You just can’t predict what will go wrong where.

This post provides a summary of some of the things that can go wrong when connecting your computer to a projector or monitor and what to do to recover when it does.


Preparation Is Your Best Ally – Arrive Early

Test Equipment the Day Before

If you can visit the venue the day before and test your equipment, that’s your best option.  That way you have some time available to resolve issues the night before rather than rushing around when you’re getting ready to present.

Be warned that even if you test the equipment the day before, you still want to arrive early.  Things can still get messed up in the hours that pass overnight!

Arrive at Least an Hour Early… Two Hours or More Hours Early Is Even Better

Two hours gives you time to set up, check to see how the slides will look and test your audio.  How your slide look when you create them on your computer can look vastly different when projected on a screen.  Two hours gives you time to adjustment images that are too dark or too light or adjust the light intensity of projector itself.

Arriving so early and getting the technical mumbo jumbo out of the way gives you time to get in the zone and mentally prepare for the presentation, instead of sweating bullets praying that everything comes together before the audience arrives.  So arrive as early as you’re able.

Whoops!  Someone Else Is in the Room

As you’re making arrangements to arrive early, be sure to ask if anyone is going to be in the room.  If you’re presenting at a conference, it’s not uncommon for there to be only 15 minutes between sessions when you need to switch out your computer with the previous presenter.

That’s why you might want to be at the venue super early, like before the first session even starts or over the lunch hour.  Test your equipment hours ahead of time so that when you’re in that 15 minute crunch, you at least know what to do if it’s not a quick and easy switch.

Quick Tip:  Be assertive.  One of the challenges when you only have 15 minutes to switch between presenters is that the presenter who is leaving is probably being approached by people in the audience with questions (especially if it was an engaging presentation).  If I’m that second speaker, I will help myself to unplugging their computer and plugging in mine.  It may seem rude.  But I think it’s ruder to keep my audience waiting when they’re expecting to start on time.  I will unplug the previous presenter’s computer and move it to a safe spot out of the way and get myself ready to speak.

The Good News:  It Usually Just Works

With most newer computers and new projectors, everything works automatically.

The projectors or monitors come with the cables you need.  When you plug in the computer to the projector, the project recognizes it, the computer recognizes the projector, and everyone plays nicely together.

VGA Cable

The VGA stands for video graphics array.  Its cable looks like the picture below.

VGA Cable

Quick Tip:  The VGA cable has 15 pins in it.  Look at the middle row of cable and the middle row of pins and notice that one of the pins will be off center to the row above and below it.  Line up the off center pin with the off center hole when you go to plug it in.  Other wise you could get frustrated and bend a pin, which reduces quality of your connection.  

With VGA cables, if you’re in a room that will accommodate sound, you also will have a cable that you can plug into the earphone jack of your computer to get sound on the sound system.

HDMI Interface

HDMI stands for high definition multimedia interface and it’s used in projectors, TVs, computer monitors and so on.

I have had problems with audio when using HDMI cables.   Another reason to arrive early!

Quick Tip:  Assuming you’re speaking to a fairly small group, bring a pair of computer speakers with you.  That way if you have problems with the HDMI playing your audio, you’ll have a way to project the audio so your audience can hear it.

Find Your Tech Support

Ask you contact at the venue or at the customer site to have their expert standing by in case you have any problems.  The tech support will usually know any quirks with their particular system and be able to problem shoot faster than you can.


Select the Correct Input Device

If the computer doesn’t automatically project, you may need to select the correct input device.  Projectors usually have a remote or buttons on the projector.  Find the button labeled input or source.  Cycle through the options to find the one that looks like it should be connecting to a laptop, VGA, HDMI, or desktop computer depending on what you’re using.  Wait a few seconds for the projector to “find” what it’s looking for.  (I sometimes get impatient and have to cycle through a couple of times before I slow down enough for the projector to recognize that it’s found what it’s looking for.)


Older Projectors

With older projectors, there is sometimes a voodoo dance you have to go through to get the projector and lap top to speak to each other.

With these older systems, there’s a specific sequence you have to go through for the projector to work.  For example, with some systems, both the projector and the computer have to be off when you connect them.  Then you turn on the computer, then the projector and they synch.   Or vice versa, you have to turn on the project and then the computer.  Try these permutations to see if they work.

With older computers, you may also need to press the FN key along with one of the “F” keys along the top of the keyboard to get the computer to talk to the projector.  It’s not consistently across computers which F key to press, some it’s F5 or F8, so look for key with a picture that looks like it could be a screen — or a rectangle within a rectangle.  (Or buy a newer computer :0)


Back Up Plans

In my story above, I had a second computer which saved my bacon.

I know not everyone has the luxury of bringing a second computer.  What you probably have though is the ability to save a copy of your presentation on a thumb drive.  Do that.  You’ll likely find someone else who is willing help you out by using their computer.  Save yourself the step by having the slides ready on a thumb drive.

Quick Tip:  If you’re using Apple’s Keynote software, also save a back up in PowerPoint since most offices use Microsoft Office products.  

Decide how you’ll present if you have no computer at all.  You may want hard copies of your slides printed out.  If you have a handout that goes along with your presentations, that might act as a guide through your material too.  Have something available that you can use to still deliver your content even if technology fails you all together.

Technology Is Awesome

Technology is awesome and most of the time, it works.  Plan ahead to maximize your chances of success and be ready with your backup plan when it doesn’t.





Kelly Vandever is a leadership and communications expert who helps leaders and organizations thrive in today’s attention-deficit, entertain-me-now, wait-while-I-post-that-on-Facebook world.   Connect with Kelly and discover how opening up and speaking practically can bring you better business results. 

Contact Kelly by phone at 770-597-1108, email her or tweet her @KellyVandever.