What Do You Do if Your Backup Plan Fails?

My heart was in my throat.


After seven years of blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe not actual blood, but enough sweat and tears to compensate), the day had come for me to defend my doctoral dissertation.


It was early Monday morning, the day after Easter, and I was looking through the printouts of my slides while on the Amtrak coming home to Philadelphia after spending the weekend with my family.


My defense was scheduled for 5pm so I had plenty of time.


Around 11am I walked into my apartment, put my bags down and turned on my computer. It started to boot up… and then I heard a rattling noise, followed by a click.


Then… nothing.


Yup – it was dead. This was before everything was in the cloud, and it pains me to admit it, but I had no digital backup.


There was no time to have the meltdown I desperately wanted to have. In an 11th-hour “hail Mary” pass, I ran upstairs to a neighbor’s unit and begged her to let me use her computer.


Mercifully, she agreed, and for the next four hours I scrambled to reconstruct my presentation from scratch, based off the hard copy I had used on the train.


When I finished, I copied it onto a flash drive – make that TWO flash drives – and raced across town to campus, found the reserved conference room, and uploaded my presentation. There it was, on the big screen.


The time: 4:45. I made it with 15 minutes to spare.


Ironically, knowing that NOTHING could be worse than the ordeal I just navigated, I wasn’t nervous at all when the meeting officially began (I think I was fresh out of adrenaline), and I passed my defense with flying colors.


Thank goodness for that hard copy. Lesson learned – now I have backups to my backups, and then some!


But what happens when your backups fail?


This week’s episode on the Speaking to Influence podcast, Matt Kraft, COO of Mosaic Learning, takes us through the harrowing experience of rallying his team through a 17-hour marathon to overcome a total system collapse in the 11th hour before the very first earnings call for the new CEO.


That’s right – in the perfect storm of events that defied all laws of probability, all four backup systems failed.


But Matt led the charge and got his amazing team to pull off a miracle. Tune in here to learn how.



In our conversation, Matt and I dug into:


  • How trying to appear older and more experienced by being stoic and unemotive was not a way to inspire trust and connection
  • How they use big data to improve learning outcomes
  • How he learned to inspire his team through empathy
  • The importance of being a hands-on leader and working together with his team to find solutions to key problems.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


And that’s just one of the awesome conversations I had this week.


For a fun twist – on the Fraternity Foodie podcast, I got to join Michael Ayalon to talk to college students and young professionals about how to project authority and executive presence even when you’re young and totally new to the working world.



Share it with the young aspiring professionals in your life on YouTube here or Apple Podcasts here.


And on The Monica Sanford Show, Monica talks to local, national and international influential leaders in business, politics and community life. I was honored to be the final guest in her Summer Leadership Series, and we had a great time digging into the Three Cs of Vocal Executive Presence:


Command the room

Connect with the audience

Close the deal.



Listen to it here.


And of course, always have a backup plan!