“Be Water my friend“

by Michael Rickwood

How a famous Bruce Lee quote can help presenters conquer fear by surrendering the outcome.

So this got your attention! Drawing on a 70s Kung Fu star to get some presentation tips! 

For those who don’t know Bruce Lee, he was an icon of the 1970s whose movies including Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury have inspired generations. He was both impressive and also rather eccentric. Crafting his own philosophy during his relatively short life, he was quoted saying some interesting things.

None more interesting than this quote: 

“Be Water, My Friend. Empty your mind.

Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Great stuff. I personally find this opaque but strangely inspiring. So how on earth do you apply this to presenting? Well, I’m ready to explain my idea. In my view presenting is a little like combat, one where the biggest enemy, like combat, is oneself. One of the biggest self-defeating things we can do is try to control everything. Water is the opposite of this. It’s free-flowing, unobstructed and powerful. 

So how can you be like water when you present? There are three things I will take from Lee’s philosophy:

Water is formless. Firstly presenters should learn to surrender the outcome. Although it’s good to fix an objective, knowing where you want to go and what you want to achieve, it’s good to also know that how you get there can vary from moment to moment. So by being formless, in the sense of letting go, surrendering outcomes, there is less pressure and fewer nerves. My experience has taught me this greatly and I have strongly diminished the fear of public speaking for myself. 

Water is permeable. In other words, free one’s natural self.  Bruce Lee often talked about the permeable nature of water, that it can absorb into everything, even in rock. What if our personalities were like that? If left to flow as intended (and not suppressed) it would help us to form connections with those listening to us in the audience and begin to build trust. 

Water can flow or it can crash. This is the power that we have to follow our impulses when the moment allows for it. To increase our energy output when we crescendo, use a pause to get the audience hooked, adapt our rhythm in the moment and play with the timing. 

Bruce Lee was also quoted saying this: “Staying ‘calm’ in any situation, be it when you are angry, sad or under pressure is indeed a super power“.

This is indeed an advanced state of being, fodder even for all the greatest leaders. If things start to go wrong and you can keep calm it will earn you respect. Calm is indeed difficult for some of us but it can be attained with daily work, particularly around meditation and the breath. Like all disciplines, such as learning Kung Fu or Jeet Kune Do, it’s always better to learn from a master than just read an article. That’s why working with a coach will help you unlock all this potential when you get on stage. Surrender the outcome, let your true self permeate and follow your impulses to make an impact. 

It takes work to calm the self but still water runs deep.