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You don't say whether or not the "adapter" is simply a gender-changer, or if it actually converts the digital signal from the HDMI port to an analog one for the VGA port. Some monitors have both analog and digital input capability and can automatically adapt to the the digital signal, even if applied to the VGA (analog) port. Other devices are not so smart and need an actual digital-to-analog converter style adapter.
Ensure the projector is plugged in and on BEFORE the laptop is turned on.
The laptop should then detect the newly connected display and windows will enable it for you.
You may need to open the Display settings in windows control panel, if the display needs to be set as a mirrored or extended desktop.
Try holding down the Function key (Fn), then pressing F5. Wait a few seconds. On most laptop, each press of the F5 key will toggle between laptop display only, projector only and Dual (same image on both - my favorite).
You'll probably see a little Monitor-shaped icon on the F5 key. It's possible it's another function key - on Dells it's usually F8.
The default to enable the external VGA is Fn+ F8, it toggles between LCD, LCD + External and External only.
You may need to wait up to 15 seconds for the switch to occur.
There also may be issues with the resolution of the projector and or detection if using some type of adapter in the connection.
Resolution of the projector is 800 x 600, so you may need to reduce the system resolution to that too.