You’ve spent weeks polishing your presentation. You’ve honed your timing to Olympic perfection. But when it’s finally time to deliver your magnum opus, your first slide is barely legible, and then, a few minutes later, the screen goes completely dark. It’s every presenter’s nightmare, and it may even make you wish you’d left your Mac at home and brought that dependable old slide carousel instead.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With some ahead-of-time preparation and a few tweaks to your Mac, your software, and the on-site hardware, your next computer-based presentation can run like a dream.
Before You Go
A little planning before you hit the road can make a big difference when you’re giving your presentation.
Find Out What Kind of Projector You’re Going to Be Using
Even if you run your presentation off your own laptop, you’ll probably be using someone else’s video projector. Like desktop computer monitors, projectors support different resolutions and different types of connections. The more you know about the projector you’ll be using, the better off you’ll be, so ask about its resolution and physical connections in advance.
Match Your Slides to the Projector
Presentations look best when the slide size is the same as the projector’s native resolution, so images and text don’t have to be scaled up or down for display. Apple’s Keynote lets you choose a resolution of 800 by 600 or 1,024 by 768 when you select a theme for your presentation. You can change the resolution later (File: Slide Size), but you’ll have to resize all your text and graphics to fit. Microsoft PowerPoint defaults to a resolution of 720 by 540. To change it to 1,024 by 768, go to File: Page Setup and enter
inches for the width and height of on-screen slides. (For 800 by 600, enter
inches for the width and height.) Ignore the warning about exceeding your printer’s margins. If you can’t determine for certain what kind of projector you’ll be using, you’ll probably be OK using 1,024 by 768, which most projectors support.
Burn Copies to CD
You never know what might go wrong on your way to the presentation. Just in case the worst happens and your laptop can’t run your slides, make Mac- and Windows-friendly copies of your presentation and burn them to a CD you can then play on any handy computer. If you use Keynote, save the presentation as a QuickTime movie so it’ll run on any QuickTime-enabled system.
Make the Right Connections
Most video-projector cables have analog VGA connectors, so you can hook them up to any iBook or PowerBook that has VGA ports, using the adapter that came with the computer. The mini-DVI ports on current 12-inch PowerBooks and the DVI ports on recent 15- and 17-inch PowerBooks can also make VGA connections using the adapters that accompany them. Some newer video projectors sport digital DVI inputs; you can connect them directly to the DVI ports on 15- and 17-inch PowerBooks, or to the mini-DVI ports on current 12-inch PowerBooks, with the supplied adapter. (The first 12-inch models came with VGA ports like the iBook’s.) When in doubt about what kind of connector you’ll need, bring along both VGA and DVI adapters.
Juice It Up
Even if you plan on plugging your laptop into an AC power source, make sure that your battery is fully charged. You’ll be able to keep going if someone accidentally yanks the power cord.
At the Venue
Don’t wait until the last minute to connect your laptop to the projector—show up at least 30 minutes early and do a dry run to make sure your setup is working properly.
Hook It Up
Newer iBooks and PowerBooks work fine if you hook them up to a projector when they’re already running, but it’s wiser to make the video connection before you power up the computer. Even if you don’t normally tighten thumbscrews, do it now, just to ensure that everything holds together. If your presentation includes audio, or if you’re presenting to a big room, figure out how to connect your laptop’s audio-out jack to the room’s PA system.
Test It Out
Power up the projector, wait a minute or two for it to warm up, and then boot your laptop. If you don’t see your desktop on the projection screen by the time it appears on your computer’s LCD, check your connections and use the projector’s push buttons or handheld remote control to verify that you’ve chosen the correct video input.
Keep Your Mac Awake
One of the most annoying things that can happen in the middle of a presentation is for your screen saver to start up when you pause the slide show for a bit. To prevent that from happening, disable your screen saver—in System Preferences: Desktop & Screen Saver, select the Screen Saver tab and move the slider all the way to Never. While you’re in System Preferences, go to the Energy Saver pane and move the sliders for computer and display sleep all the way to the right, so your Mac won’t nap while you’re talking to the audience. Note that some video projectors also have power-saving features; if that’s the case, disable them, too.
Adjust the Mac’s Display Settings
The Displays preference pane’s Display tab is where you specify the settings for the projector. The box on the left lists the available resolution and refresh-rate combinations—simply choose the proper resolution (1,024 by 768 or 800 by 600) from the list. For most video projectors, the refresh rate should be 60Hz, but you can try a higher rate if the image looks distorted.
Disable Video Mirroring
Most PowerBooks give you the option of running in
video mode, which means that the internal and external screens are independent. If you turn mirroring off when you’re using PowerPoint 2004 or Keynote, you can display notes and upcoming slides on your laptop while your slide show stays up on the big screen. To disable video mirroring, open the Displays preference pane and deselect the Mirror Displays option under the Arrangement tab. iBooks support only
video, where the LCD shows exactly what the audience sees. Because of that, iBooks in mirror mode may not be able to keep up with presentations that include lots of complex movies and transitions. In that case, leave them out of your presentation.
Tweak the Projector
Most modern projectors optimize the image automatically every time a new video source is selected. This sometimes takes a few seconds, so don’t panic if you don’t see an image right away. If you’re the only one using the projector, you may get even better results by manually adjusting the color, contrast, brightness, and other settings using the projector’s built-in controls.
Nothing is more embarrassing for a speaker than to have a dazzling computer presentation ruined by technical glitches. Our tips won’t keep your audience from falling asleep—but as long as they’re awake, they’ll see exactly what you planned.
Franklin N. Tessler is a radiologist and longtime
writer who lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
A VGA projector shows up as a generic VGA display in the Displays preference pane.