Public speaking takeaways from Bruce Lee

The kung fu master kept a collection of 10 philosophical guidelines that presenters can follow in pursuing excellence.

Martial arts require focus and discipline, and they align with ancient philosophies.

Even knowing that, I recently read with genuine surprise in Brain Pickings Weekly that kung fu master Bruce Lee was quite the philosopher and kept a notebook of his musings.

Lee had 10 principles that he strove to live by and which he kept in a journal for handy reference.

In reading them, I was struck by how helpful they would be for public speakers, as well as for kung fu practitioners of all levels. So here they are, annotated for speakers: the life lessons of Bruce Lee:

1. You will never get any more out of life than you expect . You must set your sights high. Just as in kung fu (I’m guessing), mastering the art of public speaking is contingent upon building on failure, but only if you set your standards high enough. You only get better by pushing yourself.

2. Keep your mind on the things you want and off those you don’t. It’s essential for speakers to focus on the positive aspects of their relationship with the audience and with their material. If you’re excited to present and thrilled with your content, you’re going to do well. If you focus on all the things that could go wrong, most of them will.

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3. Things live by moving and gain strength as they go. Embrace change and keep tweaking your speech and material, learning new stuff and moving forward. I once worked with a client who had given the same speech for 16 years, and that client did not start from a good place. He was horribly stuck on material that had died long before. Don’t end up like him.

4. Be a calm beholder of what is happening around you. It’s vital for you to set aside a slice of your brain to watch yourself, hear the speech and regard the audience with a bit of detachment. That way you can gauge how it’s going and shift direction if the situation warrants.

5. There is a difference between the world and our reaction to it. We speakers must be clear about our role—distinct from our material and the audiences we address—and about how we respond to events both good and bad. We are human and deserve to be seen independently of our stories, our platforms and our messages.

6. Be aware of our conditioning. Drop and dissolve inner blockage . Inner conditioning for a speaker can be deadly—our fears, our issues with rejection or performance, the things that keep us from showing up as strong and real as possible—all that has to be dissolved, as Lee says. You must make room for your authentic voice and the real performer you are.

7. Inner to outer—we start by dissolving our attitude, not by altering our outer condition. Speakers, like everyone else, tend to blame externals for things that go wrong. We complain about the room, the slides, the technology, the audience—when the focus should be on us and our failings.

8. See that there is no one to fight, only an illusion to see through. If a kung fu master says there is no one to fight, how can we speakers be afraid of our audiences? (I love this insight.)

9. No one can hurt you unless you allow it. By extension, then, we let ourselves be wounded only by taking things personally or by allowing the miasma of anxiety and insecurity to surround us. To start becoming a powerful speaker, let go of the need for approval and love, and focus instead on your art: your message.

10. Inwardly, psychologically, be a nobody. Let go of ego, and keep on learning no matter how advanced you are. We are all always students of public speaking. We can learn from everyone, always, with the right attitude.

A version of this post first appeared on Public Words .

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