Error! Can’t get your PowerPoint to work?

Anyone who uses PowerPoint in the classroom has at one point or another faced that moment where things don’t seem to work.

Your computer is on, the projector is on and your cable is plugged in but there is nothing on the screen. What do you do?

When I wrote an article offering 10 PowerPoint tips for teachers, Dave Dodgson commented that setting up the presentation is one of the most common problems he hears. I didn’t find this especially surprising as it is a problem that I have experienced as well.

Unfortunately technology isn’t always plug and play, so it’s useful to understand the different options and a few tricks to solve any problems that come up.

Here are a five things that I have learnt over the years. I hope that some of it will be useful for you.

1. Check the Cables

Cables - Flickr @ Dom Pates
Image used under the Creative Commons license – Flickr @Dom Pates

I know I’m stating the obvious but never assume that everything has been set up for you. You’re a teacher and you’re walking into a classroom, not a conference hall.

Check the connections before your lesson.

Whether you teach in the same classroom or you move between classrooms, it is important to check how to connect your computer or the classroom computer to the projector.

The ‘how’ is important because the cables can be taken out before you get to the classroom. If they haven’t been reconnected (or reconnected properly), you need to know how to do it.

Once you know, it only takes a few seconds to have quick look and make sure everything is plugged in before you start the lesson, and if it’s not, you know what to do.

This advice also applies to Wireless Display Adapters likes Google's ChromeCast or Microsoft's MiraCast. Even though there are no cables, check the adapter's connections.

2. Check the Projection Options

If you are having problems projecting to the screen, try the projection options first. The projection options determine the relationship between your PC and the second monitor.

Press Windows Key + P

The windows key is on the keyboard between Ctrl and Alt. The symbol on top of the key is usually the Windows logo.

When you press the windows key and ‘P’ together, you will see the projection options. There are 4 options to choose from.

Projection Options
The Projection Options – Windows 10

Each version of Windows shows the projection options differently, but the keyboard shortcut remains the same.

PC Screen Only

The presentation is only shown on your PC and the second monitor or screen remains blank.


Whatever is shown on your PC monitor is duplicated (copied) onto the second monitor. This means whatever files or folders you look at can be seen on the second screen.

And if you edit your PowerPoint, it will be visible on the screen.


This option is different to duplicate. When the screen is extended you have a second desktop. Which means folders and programs are displayed on your PC but the presentation is shown on the second monitor.

The only way a folder or program will be seen on the second monitor is if you drag it beyond the right-hand side of the screen. 

The other way is to press Windows Key + Shift + Right Arrow.

Personally, I think extending the screen is better than duplicating it.

Second Screen Only

The presentation is only shown on the second monitor or screen and your PC remains blank.

These keyboard shortcuts only work on Windows. Refer to this site to learn more about keyboard shortcuts for the Mac.

3. Check PowerPoint’s Presentation Options

Check the presentation options if you are have started a PowerPoint presentation but don’t have the view you were expecting.
Slideshow Options
View of the Slideshow Ribbon – PowerPoint 2013

Go to the Slideshow ribbon and make sure that Use Presenter View is checked. This means that when you connect to a second monitor or a projector, the presenter view will be shown on your PC while the presentation is shown the second monitor.

If Use Presenter View is left unchecked then your PC will be left in edit mode and the presentation will appear on the second screen. This has its advantages, which I will discuss in a later post.

Alternatively you can open the Slideshow Options dialog.

Slideshow Options Dialog
The Slideshow Options Dialog – PowerPoint 2013

In the blue area you have three options for how your PowerPoint is displayed.

  1. Presented by a Speaker (Full Screen)
  2. Browsed by an Individual (Window)
  3. Browsed at a Kiosk (Full Screen)

In the yellow area you can choose the monitor for your presentation and the resolutions that are available for you to use.

You can also check if you want to use the Presenter View.

 4. The Display Settings

If your projection settings and presentation options are okay, you could try checking the display settings as long as it is your own personal computer. The display settings will help you detect and identify an external monitor.

My home PC is often connected to a second monitor. When I plugged everything in there was no signal on the second monitor. I was a bit disappointed because I felt I had wasted the money on the new cables.

After a while, I decided to change the resolution settings to see if that would have an effect. It worked! I was then able to extend my screen to the second monitor but I wasn’t able to duplicate it.

I later realized that extending my screen and duplicating my screen, required different resolution settings. Now I can use both settings.

Normally you can plug in and play, but it just goes it prove that sometimes you have to play with your computers settings to get the result you want.

I don’t recommend changing any settings on school or university computers without checking with the system administrator or the person responsible for them first. 

Press Windows Key + I

When you press the windows key and ‘I’ together, you open the settings for the computer.

PC Settings – Windows 10

Each version of Windows show the settings differently, but the keyboard shortcut remains the same.

Choose the display settings. You will be able to see if your PC has detected the other monitor if there are two screens visible (1 & 2). If you want to double check click on detect.

Display Settings
Display Settings – Windows 10

Scrolls down the page and click on Advanced Display Settings. It may be that your screen resolution is not suitable.

You could try changing it to see if it has an effect. However, remember your original screen resolution when you have to change it back.

Advanced Display Settings
Advanced Display Settings – Windows 10
This keyboard shortcut only work on Windows. Refer to this site to learn more about keyboard shortcuts for the Mac.

5. Turn it on and off again

On-Off - Flickr @uncoolbob
Image used under the Creative Commons license – Flickr @uncoolbob

The stereotypical advice used to cure all computer related problems:

‘Have you tried turning in on and off again?’

This is something I rarely have to do these days, which is why it is at the bottom of the list. The reason I have included it, is because it can help you work out if the computer is at fault or not.

And if nothing seems to work, there is always Plan B!

Leave a comment on the site if you have any other tips about setting up presentations before class.

Alternatively you can send me a message on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Featured Image made using a photo taken from used under a CC Attribution license,

Cables Image made using a photo taken from used under a CC Attribution license,

On/Off Image taken from used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

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