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Mike Abrashoff

November 19, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight

Spotlight On: Michael Abrashoff, Former Navy Commander, Bestselling Author

Former Navy Commander and bestselling author Michael Abrashoff took command of the worst-performing navy ship and crew in the Pacific Fleet and—within just one year—made it the best in the fleet. The challenges that faced him on the under-performing ship were staggering: low morale, high crew turnover, and dismal performance evaluations. What drove Michael’s success was the realization that he needed to take a strong lead if things were going to improve. In his riveting talks, Michael details what he did to turn his ship around, and how business leaders can take his lessons to achieve results and success with their own “crews.” Michael took a few minutes to be in our spotlight today:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

My ship was featured in Fast Company magazine, and I was then asked to speak in front of 1,000 people for my very first speech. I got three standing ovations and one lady in the audience asked me to run for president! Literary agents started calling and said I should write a book. Speakers’ bureaus started calling me asking me to speak to their groups. I am an “accidental” author and speaker.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Be genuine, authentic, and humble. Nothing turns me off more than an ego driven speaker.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I want my audiences to know that I am no different than they are, and don’t want them to wait for the rest of the organization to change. Change starts with asking. Don’t ask your people to change if you don’t step up to the plate and model that change yourself. I also want my audiences to have take aways that they can go back to work the next day with– tips on how to start getting better results.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

I tailor 100% of my presentation to fit the needs of the organization. However, the most critical part is the opening two minutes. And, since I don’t use Power Point, I have to nail it–my pre-game ritual is get that sequence down. If I do that, the rest comes naturally. I pace before I go on, rehearsing my opening.

Do you have an especially memorable event you can tell us about?

I was speaking at an event of 200 bank CEO’s and the Treasury Secretary of the United States was immediately following me. I was so nervous to be on stage right before a Cabinet Member. I shouldn’t have been. His speech was awful and he was one of the worst public speakers I had ever heard. CEO’s came up afterward thanked me for not making the conference a total waste of time for them.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

There were two. One time I had a terrible, terrible, cough coming on. I was downing hot tea, lemon, and honey(a speaker trick for a cough) right up until I went on. It worked. I made it thru my 58 minute presentation without a cough. It was then time for the Q & A session and, relieved, I took a huge swig of water one nano second before I had to cough. I coughed with a mouthful of water and I sprayed water ten feet out into the audience. There is now a clause in my contract that keeps audiences more than ten feet away from me when I am speaking. It’s called a “no spray zone”!!!

The second blooper was when I had to sit at the head table on the stage I was speaking on. My chair was defective and was being held together with a protruding screw which caught my slacks when I sat down. It tore a two foot hole in my slacks from my behind the whole way down past my knee. I don’t speak behind a podium which would have hidden the tear. Instead, I am out in the center of the stage and instead of facing the audience head on, I spoke at a ten degree angle to them. The whole speech, I felt cold air on my back side while wondering what the head table was thinking!!!

Is there a charitable cause that you feel passionate about? Why?

My charity is the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society. It’s a non-profit that provides no-interest emergency loans to the spouses of the sailors and Marines when they are deployed and have an unexpected financial emergency come up. For instance, if their car breaks down or the refrigerator breaks down, or if there is a death in the family and money is needed for airfare to the funeral, it helps the families get through a financial emergency. I relied on this organization to help my sailors.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be?

University professor.

Desert island album/band?

Toad The Wet Sprocket.

Best subject in school?

Geography. I know all 50 state capitals (and have been to 49 states) and most capitals worldwide (I have been to 57 countries). Just don’t ask me to solve a physics problem or write an algorithm!!!!

Last book you read?

 This Town–it’s about how awful Washington, DC, is!!!

Last film you saw?

Lincoln.