Summary of “The Speech Overture” by Eric Bah: From eloquence to rhetoric, this book breaks down the art of public speaking. Whether you are a professional public speaker or just need to present at the occasional conference, you will surely be able to glean valuable information through the book’s numerous techniques, tips, mistakes to avoid, and resources, all of which will help to ensure that your speeches are captivating, interesting, and impactful.
By Eric Bah, 2021, 284 pages.
Review and Summary of “The Speech Overture” by Eric Bah
Author Eric Bah begins “The Speech Overture” by laying out his objective: to help speakers and lecturers of all levels to create a speech that [captures the audience for an extended period of time.] To help achieve this, he points out that a speech must convince the audience that it’s important for them to listen all the way through.
Eric Bah goes on to explain that “The Speech Overture” deals above all with the content and structure of a speech. It does not address the delivery itself (gestures, movements, facial expressions, intonation, and flow of the voice, for example).
Lastly, the author presents the book’s structure:
- Chapter 1: the author examines the benefits and tasks of opening a speech, the overture.
- Chapters 2 to 5: Eric Bah details 28 techniques that give listeners [the desire to stay engaged during the speech.] Each technique is illustrated by two examples of speech overtures:
- A historical or contemporary speech.
- A speech written and delivered by the author himself: these speeches are referred to as “case studies”; most of them are taken from the author’s training course in public speaking and leadership at Toastmasters.
For each example, the author lays out the context of the speech, demonstrates its overture, and provides an analysis.
- Chapters 6 and 7: after studying overture techniques, the author shares 15 mistakes to avoid and provides 15 suggestions for making your speech overtures the most effective possible.
- Chapters 8 to 10: the author concludes with exercises and a wealth of resources (bibliography, filmography, training courses, speech downloads) on public speaking and oratory speech.
Why an overture?
[The speaker’s stage is a ring. You have to go for the knockout right from the start. Your audience must have no choice but to listen to you.]
Eric Bah then describes why the speech overture is so crucial.
“A matter of life and death”
The author explains that a speaker’s relationship with his/her audience begins in the very first seconds as soon as he/she breaks the silence that precedes his/her speech.
Therefore, to ensure that the audience listens to his/her message, it is very important that this relationship be both intense and instantaneous. To establish immediate intensity, the speaker must, from the very start of his/her speech, make the audience understand that he/she has something essential to communicate to them and that for this reason, they must listen to him/her right to the end. [After thirty seconds, no more, sometimes less, your audience will decide whether to continue listening to you or return to fiddle with their cell phones,] the author declares, before adding:
[The overture is a matter of life and death. If you get it right, you have every chance of hanging on to your audience until the end, and perhaps making a difference, with more or less lasting impact, in people’s lives and in the world.]
While each part of the speech plays an indispensable role, the overture is vital. To better understand this, Eric Bah offers a metaphor: the overture, development, and conclusion of a speech are comparable to the take-off, soaring, and landing of an airplane prior to any trip: [If you miss the take-off, there’s no more trip,] says the author. Similarly, [if you fail the overture, there’s no going back; you’re finished.] If you don’t get it right, you risk losing your audience, and it’s the audience that makes or breaks the speech.
The author prefers the term “overture” to “introduction”
The overture is the very opening of the speech.
The author explains that he doesn’t use the term “introduction” deliberately, because, in his view, the purpose of an introduction is merely to lay out the subject and announce the plan. An overture, however, goes beyond that. The term ‘overture’ implies a broader dimension of speaking, suchas setting a mood, a climate with your audience. It’s a question of putting all the people in your audience at ease, at the same time, in the same space, or sometimes the opposite: creating a sense of unease to capture the audience.
The 4 roles of the overture
The overture is a “decisive moment” in our speech. And according to Eric Bah, to be “successful,” it must fulfill four very specific roles.
The author summarizes them in the form of acronyms: the A.C.I.S method, which stands for Attention, Connection, Interest, Subject. According to the author, the order of these roles remains important, although it can be modified. Each of these 4 roles responds to one of our 4 fundamental needs: esteem or recognition, belonging, learning or fulfillment, and security. Eric Bah assures us that [each need, if properly satisfied, reinforces the listener’s ability to listen and to support your message.]
Role # 1: Attracting attention ⇒ need for esteem or recognition
This involves interrupting (even if abruptly) the thoughts, reading, or conversation of the person you want to be your listener. It’s a way of calling him/her out so that he/she gives you undivided attention. And to show them that they are worthy of your interest. Our listener’s need in relation to this role is esteem/recognition.
Role # 2: Making a connection ⇒ need to belong
This involves creating a strong bond with your audience. The closer the audience feels to the speaker, and the more they discover they have in common with him/her, the more they’ll listen. It’s up to the speaker to show the similarities that link him/her to the audience, which satisfies the fundamental need to belong.
Role # 3: Generating interest ⇒ need for learning or self-fulfillment
To be listened to, the audience has to find a personal interest in doing so. According to this criterion – personal interest – the listener decides whether or not to pay attention until the end. To convince your audience that by listening to you to the end, they will gain, in return, some kind of benefit that lives up to their expectations, your speech must begin by letting them know that one of their desires will be fulfilled, or one of their needs will be satisfied, or one of their problems will be solved, or that you can answer one of their questions or please them in some way. To arouse interest, according to the author, is to meet the listener’s need for learning or self-fulfillment.
Role # 4: Introducing the subject ⇒ need for security
The subject determines the theme of your message, your field of exploration. It represents the foundation of your speech. Broaching the subject properly addresses the audience’s need for security.
To satisfy this need, it’s essential that the subject be clearly and unambiguously stated, otherwise, the audience will quickly become confused and lose interest. In fact, the audience should not have to make any effort to understand the theme.
To conclude this section, the author stresses that it is imperative that your overture fulfills these four roles and is able to satisfy the fundamental needs of your audience if it is to have an impact.
The 28 techniques
In the first four chapters of his book, Eric Bah lists and examines 28 overture techniques that can be used to carry out the four roles involved in delivering a speech overture (as described above).
Although versatile, these techniques all have a single primary function. Eric Bah has therefore classified them according to their primary function (7 techniques for each function).
Chapter I – 7 Techniques for Drawing Attention
In the first chapter of “The Speech Overture”, Eric Bah presents seven ways to “harpoon” your audience.
The aim of all these techniques is to ensure that the audience cannot ignore the fact that we are about to start speaking. They require no more than a sentence or two. Indeed, as the author says: [in just a few words, all bets are off.]
1.1 – Make a surprising statement
Information can be surprising either because it’s unexpected or because it’s unusual. The speaker must therefore reveal something “astonishing,” “shocking,” “incredible,” or “bizarre” right from the start. This can be “funny,” “dramatic,” “quirky,” “frightening,” or whatever. What matters most is that it generates emotion within the listener and that it “intrigues” him or her. In short, the audience must think: “This is incredible! This speaker can teach me things. I’m going to tune in to this.”
1.2 – Reveal a paradox
[A paradox is an astonishing statement that contradicts preconceptions,] i.e., widely accepted views. Eric Bah explains that revealing a paradox means [turning beliefs on their head,] [going against the grain of the prevailing idea,] and ultimately offering the audience a new perspective, a way of seeing things that they hadn’t previously imagined.
This technique demonstrates that we can challenge the listener’s beliefs and thus enrich his/her thinking. In this way, sharing a paradox is an excellent way of attracting the audience’s attention.
1.3 – Pique curiosity
The audience’s curiosity is piqued when they wonder about the reasons behind your words, thoughts, and attitude (or those of the people whose story you’re telling) and are eager to know more.
Several methods can be used to pique the audience’s curiosity, such as:
- The cliffhanger technique found in some TV series, which consists in ending the episode with a moment of crucial suspense.
- Start [with a sentence that will immediately make them want to hear the one that follows]: a contrarian opinion, for example, [even if it means shocking your audience and upsetting their beliefs,] insists the author.
1.4 – Create suspense
This narrative device is widely used in literature and film:
[Its aim is to keep the reader or spectator on the edge of their seats while they anxiously and excitingly await the outcome. In this way, the author skillfully fosters within the reader or spectator a burning desire to know the conclusion of a given dramatic situation.]
You, too, can build suspense into your speech’s overture. You can utter a few sentences, or even a few words, to keep the listener’s brain active and attentive. To get the listener hooked, keeping them guessing as to what’s coming next and “eagerly” awaiting the outcome, the author advises the speaker to use hints of foreshadowing within each of the first few sentences.
1.5 – Ask a rhetorical question
To ask a rhetorical question is to ask a question and answer it yourself after a brief silence. It’s not about questioning or interacting with the audience. The idea is to get the audience to think about the question being asked and to conjure up an answer within themselves.
The author explains that it’s also possible, to set the pace, to string together other rhetorical questions as answers, as in the example he cites below:
[How do you provide an honest, age-appropriate answer to a child who asks you how babies are made? … Should you tell him about the stork? About the little seed? Or take him directly to see how cows and bulls are made?] On the other hand, it’s essential to provide the audience with answers as part of the talk: [It’s the speaker’s implicit promise. The desire to know is thereby activated,] concludes the author.
1.6 – Make a request
In a speech, to make a request is to ask your audience for something. It’s most often a call to action: a vote, funding, a favor, a sanction, etc.
According to Eric Bah, when we make a request, we’re giving importance to our audience: we’re giving them the power to make decisions and take action. As a result, the audience is usually very interested to know how we’re going to justify our request.
According to the author, the request must be expressed simply and unambiguously, in a very explicit way. You can just say, for example: “I’ve come to ask you…”. The author points out that there are many nuances to the verb “to ask.” Vocabulary must therefore be adapted to the nature and size of the audience. To do this, it’s a good idea to study the whole range of existing terms to choose the most appropriate one: “to beseech,” “to implore,” “to solicit,” “to plead,” “to appeal,” “to wish,” “to invite,” “to beg,” “to adjure,” “to supplicate,” and so on.
Lastly, the author of “The Speech Overture” suggests another option: that of asking a question that implies “tacit approval or immediate action.” For example: “Can you now look your neighbor in the eye, without saying anything, for one minute?” or the type of sentences starting with “Do you want to…?”, “Do you agree…?”, “Would you be so kind as to…?”, in the indicative or conditional tense.
1.7 – Use silence
[As silence sets in, the audience’s attention is heightened in anticipation. The initial silence enhances the overture and adds to its importance. The words to follow are eagerly awaited.]
Eric Bah urges us to always begin our speech with silence. The length of time he recommends depends on a number of parameters: the mood, the audience’s receptiveness, the seriousness of the subject, etc.
Chapter II – Seven Methods for Establishing Connection
When opening a speech, the connection must be established between:
- The speaker and each participant.
- The speaker and the audience as a whole.
- The listeners and each other.
There are a multitude of techniques that can be either highly personal or unifying. In any case, they touch on a deeper domain: that of sharing emotions.
[Whatever the quality and intensity of the emotions that prevail in this part, whatever the tone chosen by the speaker, sincerity, authenticity, and trust are at the forefront.]
2.1 – Convey emotions
Eric Bah explains that this technique is highly effective, provided you’re sincere. Indeed, when you’re authentic, your audience generally welcomes your emotions with empathy and kindness.
The author recommends:
- Using precise but simple vocabulary.
- Keeping sentences short and “unpretentious.”
- Leaving sufficient moments of silence.
- Not conveying too many emotions in the same overture: choose a maximum of three.
- Presenting a situation involving emotions with which the audience can easily identify (weakness, doubt, the urge to give up, enthusiasm, the fighting spirit, etc.).
- Writing a text that reflects your state of mind as authentically as possible.
Lastly, the author of “The Speech Overture” specifies that tone can be dramatic or humorous.
2.2 – Personalize your speech
[To personalize a speech is to give it a special character by truly embodying it.] The exact opposite, says the author, would be to “generalize” or to “trivialize.”
To make your speech distinctive, you’ll have to share part of your background, your experience, and your opinions. Ultimately, it’s a way of showing your audience that you trust them.
Eric Bah then advises us to:
- Begin your speech with “I”: this “I” indicates that you take responsibility for what you say and do, and thus inspire confidence among your audience.
- Make the listener feel as if you’re speaking to them personally as if they’re taking part in a “friendly, even intimate conversation” rather than a formal lecture.
2.3 – Take an interest in the audience
[If you want others to be interested in you, start by being interested in them. Indeed, nothing concerns us more than ourselves. We’re all attention-seekers, craving recognition. That’s why a speaker who knows his/her audience and their background immediately creates a close relationship with them.]
The author makes a number of suggestions, such as: daring to say a few words in the language of the host country, mentioning the quality of the people in the audience, taking into consideration the audience’s problems, acknowledging their concerns. He also points out that, sometimes, even a passing reference is enough.
2.4 – Involve the audience
Involving the audience means that at no point should they be afraid of making a mistake (i.e., it shouldn’t lead to right or wrong answers), which is why it’s sometimes necessary to reassure them that they won’t be judged.
This technique has the advantage of “shaking up” an “apathetic” audience or preparing them to listen to a story. It makes it easy to establish a connection with them.
Eric Bah gives several examples of how to engage the audience: with a playful question or a question like “Who has already…? Raise your hand!”, a little game (“Stand up…”), a physical exercise, something that gets the audience to interact with each other, etc.
2.5 – Use humor
Humor is one of the most delicate and risky techniques to employ. However, it can be a “formidable weapon.” Indeed, [good humor, if skillfully applied, leads to good humor and joy among the participants,] affirms the author. [And joy (emotions in general) promotes connection between people,] he adds. Therefore, if you feel comfortable using humor, the author recommends doing so as often as possible. Beware, however, as he points out, you need to know your audience well.
Eric Bah reminds us that the effect of a funny story depends on the way it is told. There are many parameters to work on: voice, gestures, facial expressions, movements, and pauses. The ‘punch line’ and/or outcome is also of particular importance.
2.6 – Talk about us
[By using “we”, you come down from your pedestal as a speaker. You’re not the teacher to the students, the knower to the ignorant, the accuser to the guilty. The “we” is unifying, inclusive by essence. Whereas the ‘you’, separating and exclusive, often creates distance.]
When he says “we”, Eric Bah is referring to “himself and the audience,” “himself and each of the individuals in his audience.” The aim, then, is to connect each participant with each other, and ourselves with each participant.
To achieve this, the author invites us to seek out and highlight our common ground (that between ourselves and our audience) and everything that unites us, so that spectators immediately feel involved. They will then be [satisfied with regard to the natural need to belong that we all have, without exception.]
2.7 – Use a callback
A callback [consists of referring to something that happened prior to speaking.] It can be about the organization of the event, the performance of a previous speaker, an audience contribution, and so on. [The anecdote can be used for humorous purposes, to support an argument, or to help introduce the topic,] says the author of “The Speech Overture.”
By making this kind of reference, the speaker creates complicity with his/her audience: mentioning a shared experience, an event known only to those present, triggers a connection, and gives rise to a “temporary community.”
In addition, this technique demonstrates the speaker’s “ability to adapt,” “mental flexibility,” “powers of observation,” and “listening skills” to an audience that is [often in awe of a speaker capable of improvising and adapting what he or she has to say on the spot.]
Chapter III – 7 Techniques for Arousing Interest
The purpose of public speaking is always to convey a message. The techniques described in this third chapter of “The Speech Overture” enable us, says the author, to “sell” this message.
All seven of these techniques can be combined. The first 4 are particularly suited to our times, as they are highly visual.
3.1 – Demonstrate
A “short”, “striking” demonstration is far more effective than “long, boring explanations.” However, to be effective, a demonstration must be simple and very precise.
3.2 – Tell a story
Stories, whatever their form, have always had an impact on people. They “teach,” “persuade,” “entertain,” and “inspire.” In short, “everyone loves a story,” says Eric Bah.
However, to be effective, a story has to make the audience feel that it’s about them. The audience must be able to identify with the story, whether fictional or real. It must be of interest to them.
In a speech overture, a story must also be short (in any case, in proportion to the length of the speech), while possessing all the [ingredients that make for good scenarios] (situation, characters, dramatic tension, resolution, etc.).
3.3 – Use a visual aid
Visual aids can make your speech more interesting: a picture, a video, an object on display, possibly manipulated and commented on, a flip chart, a PowerPoint or Keynote, an extract from an article, etc.
3.4 – Put on a show
It’s possible to go a step further by performing a show: in this case, you’ll have to act out a story, put it on stage, and sometimes use metaphor. The link between the show and the subject must be natural. The aim is “to impress, to make an impact” so that the audience immediately understands the theme and wants to hear you out.
3.5 – Encourage identification
[To identify with someone, with a situation, is to see similarities with one’s personal life, one’s path, to make connections with one’s own emotions and feelings.]
In concrete terms, listeners identify with us when they hear us and say to themselves: “Yes, that’s exactly right. It happened to me too. That’s how I feel.“
By recognizing themselves or someone close to them in what you’re saying, the audience will feel concerned. So, they’ll listen to you. After all, they’ll be interested in the solutions that you have to offer.
3.6 – Make an observation
To observe something [is to report facts that are supposed to be authentic, to give an account of an actual situation,] says Eric Bah.
This technique immediately sets the scene for your discussion. When the observation is precise (quantified, situated in space and time, validated by an authority), the audience quickly realizes that they should listen to you.
3.7 – Make a Promise
[To make a promise is to commit oneself morally to a person or group of people, to say something, or to carry out an action.]
This technique is effective as long as our promise is credible and seen as a real objective. To achieve this, it must meet the SMART criteria:
- Specific: the promise must be [clear, precise, understandable, and concisely formulated.]
- Measurable: the fulfillment of the promise must be both quantitative and qualitative.
- Acceptable: it must not harm either individuals or the environment.
- Realistic: it must be objectively achievable with the human, material, and financial resources available to you.
- Temporal: the promise must be time-bound and able to be realized within the “explicitly stated” timeframe.
Lastly, the author explains that many promises are accompanied by conditions (politicians, for example, are used to this kind of promise, with the condition, at election time, that you vote for them). Our condition is: [If you listen to my lecture to its conclusion…].
Chapter IV – SevenTechniques for Launching the Topic of Your Speech
This chapter describes 7 techniques for launching your topic, and thus reassuring the audience about the course of your speech (subject, angle, order, etc.).
Once the listener has been informed about the destination and the navigation plan, he or she is confident enough to “board.”
4.1 – Present statistics
[Statistics are the collection, numerical analysis, and interpretation of economic and social data,] explains Eric Bah.
They are easy to use and, in fact, serve as proof of what we plan to develop. In this respect, they provide us with authority.
To make your point more meaningful, the author of “The Speech Overture” suggests:
- Putting these statistics into perspective or comparing them with more well-known data.
- Carefully selecting a single relevant statistical figure, rather than accumulating several.
- Presenting these statistics in a way that is as closely aligned as possible with your objective and message.
4.2 – Refer to the occasion
The author proposes an extremely simple technique here, especially if your speech takes place on a special occasion (birthday, funeral, wedding, award ceremony, retirement, promotion, inauguration, product launch, etc.): refer to the reason for the audience’s presence on the same day in the same place.
In addition to officially confirming the setting, this approach has two advantages. It:
- Brings everyone together on the subject, project, goals, or values shared by the audience.
- Fosters a connection with the audience.
4.3 – Define
A definition provides information about the meaning and limits of an object, concept, or action.
So, by giving a definition, we ensure that the information and the subject are communicated to the audience without risk of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. In short, we can be sure that [everyone is speaking the same language,] as Eric Bah sums it up.
This technique is particularly well-suited when the subject of your speech is a recent, vague, unfamiliar, or foreign concept, or if it involves a term from your professional jargon or a word thatgives rise to different interpretations or lacks consensus (examples cited by the author: epigenetics, the out-of-body experience).
4.4 – Cite a quote
To quote someone is [to faithfully report his or her words, written or spoken, for the express purpose of illustrating, substantiating, or supporting a claim or statement.]
A well-chosen, well-timed quotation lends authority to your speech. It’s best to opt for a short quotation, with simple syntax, and to avoid overly literary quotations that don’t necessarily come across well orally.
4.5 – Refer to an event
You can launch your talk by choosing to relate a local, historical, or current event that’s at the heart of the subject you’re about to discuss. With this method, the audience clearly grasps the subject and the angle chosen by the speaker to address it.
The reference to the event should remain concise and limited to [the climax of the event.]
4.6 – Announce the plan
For Eric Bah:
[The plan is the naked body which you will cloth with your arguments and illustrations.]
This second-to-last technique involves revealing this [theoretically invisible structure] to launch your topic.
The author presents different ways of announcing a plan. He reminds us that this is not at all essential, especially if the structure of our development is solid and our speech is based on storytelling.
4.7- State the points
Instead of presenting your plan, you can tell the audience where you’re going by setting out the points you intend to make, in the form of a “global announcement.” The author gives an example of such wording. It serves to let the audience know that there will be three parts to the speech, without specifying which ones: [I’m going to explain three ways of sustaining harmony as a couple.]
Chapter V – 15 Mistakes to Avoid when Public Speaking
Mistake # 1: Not using an overture
According to Eric Bah, without an overture, a speech doesn’t fulfill the four roles outlined in the introduction and therefore doesn’t grab the listener’s attention.
Mistake # 2: Not following advice
The author of “The Speech Overture” urges us to follow his advice when developing our speech overtures if we want to gain genuine support from the audience.
Mistake # 3: Being hesitant
If, right from the start of your speech, you hesitate (unfinished sentences, imprecise terms, confusing expressions, “uh”, too many crutch words such as “so… so…”), the audience will perceive either a lack of preparation or a lack of confidence. Their confidence will then be insufficient for quality listening. To avoid this, Eric Bah advises us to always prepare our speech thoroughly (write it out, learn it, use breathing or anchoring, etc.).
Mistake # 4: Repeating the title
Reiterating the title, i.e., information that the audience already knows (but make sure it has been mentioned beforehand), wastes time and takes away from your speech.
Mistake # 5: Saying hello
According to Eric Bah, saying hello is also a waste of time. In his opinion, it’s far more useful to get straight to the heart of the matter. That way, you’ll [give the impression of being a dynamic person who knows where you’re going and isn’t trying to build up confidence by mumbling a few awkward greetings.]
Mistake # 6: Introducing yourself
There’s also no need to introduce yourself: this is information that the audience already knows. The author mentions a number of commonly-used formulas that should be avoided at all costs, as they are, in fact, meaningless.
Mistake # 7: Apologizing
- On the one hand, draw attention to a detail that the audience hadn’t even noticed.
- On the other hand, lead to a loss of authority.
The author therefore encourages us to assume who we are and what we do, rather than apologizing.
Mistake # 8: Speaking too soon
Starting to speak when we haven’t yet arrived at center stage has several consequences: the risk of not being heard, lacking clarity, or giving the appearance of having little confidence in the message we’re about to convey.
Mistake # 9: Mentioning preparation
No one is interested in the difficulties or challenges encountered in writing our speech or organizing our presentation.
Similarly, it’s not a good idea to list the speeches you almost did, such as: “At first, I wanted to talk to you about… And then I thought… On the other hand, it would have made more sense to discuss… In the end, I chose to talk to you about…”
Your audience doesn’t want to hear you complain or praise yourself for having finally succeeded in delivering your speech despite everything that’s happened to you.
Mistake # 10: Being boring
If we sound boring from the outset, the audience will immediately assume that we’ll be boring throughout the speech and will tune out. According to Eric Bah, an audience will make no effort to keep up.
Mistake # 11: Uttering platitudes
Uttering platitudes suggests to the audience that they have nothing to learn from listening to us. And even if the substance of what we want to say is banal, the form, at least, must be original. The author illustrates this idea with an example of different wording:
[To say that ‘the world’s population is increasing’ is banal … To say that ‘all of us alive today represent almost a tenth of all humanity that has ever existed since the dawn of time’ is staggering.]
Mistake # 12: Improvising
Although improvisation can be fun, Eric Bah formally advises against doing so at the beginning of a speech (and at the end, for that matter).
Why? Because improvisation often means hesitation, vagueness, lack of strategy, of logic, of vocabulary, of structure and of confidence.
Mistake # 13: Lingering
The author of “The Speech Overture” sums up this idea here:
[When the listener says to him/herself, ‘When is he/she going to start?’, it’s because he/she’s getting bored, his/her attention is waning, and he/she’s about to zone out.]
Mistake # 14: Giving thanks
It’s important to get started quickly. Thank-you dedications are therefore not at all recommended at the opening of your speech. If they are essential, Eric Bah recommends placing them after the applause at the end of your speech or at the start of the question-and-answer session.
Mistake # 15: Going off-topic
Going off-topic at the start of a speech can lead to confusion and even disappointment.
Chapter VI – 15 Tips for Successful Public Speaking
The final chapter of “The Speech Overture” lists 15 tips from the authoron how to become an excellent public speaker. These tips:
- Are to be implemented once you’ve fully grasped the 28 techniques and 15 pitfalls described above.
- Are intended to “take your public speaking to the next level.”
- Are concerned with preparation prior to the speech (conception, memorization, and rehearsal) and – to a lesser extent – with actual speaking on the day of.
1. Meet your objectives
For the audience, it’s essential to know what you’re talking about. That’s why, from the outset, you need to establish a clear position. The viewer needs to understand whether your speech is intended to be “informative,” “inspirational,” “persuasive,” or “entertaining.” It’s also vital to ensure that your speech overture is in line with your objectives; that is, what you want the audience to remember or do post speech.
2. Write it all out
Eric Bah advises you to write your speech overture [down to the last comma, from start to finish.] Improvisation is not at all recommended at this stage. On the contrary, every sentence should be precise, short, and simply worded.
3. Develop the speech’s body before its overture
The author explains why it’s not a good idea to start by writing your speech overture. [It’s preferable,] he says, [to draw up a detailed plan for your speech first, to develop the body of your speech before startingto write the overture. You will then know exactly what you are going to say, which is not the case if you do it beforehand.]
4. Choose your words
It’s essential, says Eric Bah, to choose simple words that make sense, and to avoid unnecessary words, jargon, and other superfluous language.
5. Arrange words properly
Word placement is essential to create the desired impact.
Eric Bah cites several examples to show just how much a word can change its resonance, depending on whether it’s placed at the end of a sentence or at the beginning. Generally speaking, the word placed last [will resonate more] with the listeners.
It is therefore crucial, says the author, to arrange the words in each sentence intelligently, according to the intended effect.
The way you communicate in your speech overture must be adapted to the audience’s profile (professional, novice, hostile, friendly, etc.) and circumstances (size of room, etc.).
For a speech to be balanced, its overture should ideally correspond to 5% – 10% of the total speech (i.e., around 1 minute, or 4 sentences for a 10-minute speech).
If your speech is really very short (around twenty sentences maximum), your overture can be limited to one sentence: a “Swiss-knife-all-in-one sentence,” as the author puts it. In other words, a sentence that in itself fulfills the 4 roles developed at the start of the book: [The overture attracts an audience interested in the subject.]
8. Keep the pace
Eric Bah urges us [not to confuse dynamism with haste.] He encourages us to:
- Speak slowly and clearly: 120 words per minute is good for the overture, 150 words per minute for the rest of the speech.
- Articulate thoroughly and separate words and syllables.
9. Read aloud
Oral and written styles are different. Practice reading aloud is therefore very useful for identifying possible adjustments.
10. Let it rest
Once you’ve drafted your speech overture, Eric Bah suggests “letting it rest” for several days. This will enable you to see it with fresh eyes when you reread it, which will help you spot and correct any mistakes that went unnoticed the first time around.
11. Learn by heart
Eric Bah strongly advisesto learn your overture by heart. However, you must be careful to work on it sufficiently to be able to deliver it naturally and elegantly.
The author shares his trick for effortless memorization and smooth, natural delivery: he records himself giving the speech, then listens to it repeatedly whenever he can (on the street, in the car, in public transit, doing household chores, before bed, etc.).
This piece of advice goes hand in hand with the previous one: you need to rehearse your speech overture over and over again if you want to memorize it and pull it off naturally.
[Chris Anderson, the director of TED conferences, believes that you can claim to have mastered your text perfectly, if you show yourself capable of saying it imperturbably in front of a television program (with sound, of course). I’ve tried it, and it’s true, it’s relentless! When you pull off that feat, you know that once you’re on stage, nothing can throw you off your game. It gives you great confidence and self-assurance. And the audience senses it.]
It’s not uncommon to feel nervous or excited before a speech. To manage these emotions, Eric Bah invites us to close our eyes and focus on our breathing, making it “deep,” “slow,” “fluid,” and “steady.” The aim is to feel at peace, so that our breathing “colors” our voice.
14. Occupy the space
[Once on stage, move serenely and silently to the center … Once you’re at center stage, stand still, straight, with your legs slightly apart. Become aware of your soles; plant your feet firmly.]
For Eric Bah, you should have gotten used to being on the stage a few hours before taking it.
Once firmly positioned on stage, the author suggests we imagine that [our aura becomes denser, thicker, and wider, until it fills the entire stage.] He then invites us to [confidently look the audience in the eye.]
15. Take a pause
Eric Bah concludes this chapter by recounting his own experience of standing center stage, facing the audience. The silence at that moment is, he confides, [the most exhilarating part of public speaking.] It’s [a mixture of fear and excitement, the desire to laugh and cry at the same time.] It must be savored to the fullest, for:
[The quality of the silence you obtain in that moment is of profound purity … Such silence is the most powerful attention-getter of all.]
Chapter VII-X – Epilogue and Book Appendices
Drilling to make the methodology second nature
Eric Bah recommends practicing these 28 techniques until they are integrated and performed naturally. In his opinion, it’s only by practicing and writing many overtures that the techniques will become automatic, making you forget about the actual methodology.
In this regard, the author shares his personal experience: because he has repeated the writing exercise over and over again, all these techniques are now completely ingrained in him. Today, he explains, it’s only when his speech overture is completely finished that he goes back over the points of his methodology with the help of a checklist – and then only for verification purposes.
The author invites the reader to test and develop his or her speaking skills by working on 10 speech overtures transcribed in this section.
- Blank worksheets
Eric Bah shares some blank worksheets to use when practicing speech overtures.
This section is dedicated to:
- The answers to the 5 quizzes offered throughout the book;
- References to all the speeches cited;
- Resources on speeches and public speaking competitions;
- An inventory of interesting training courses on public speaking;
- A list of inspiring films about public speaking or [whose protagonists demonstrate eloquence, reasoning, and persuasion];
- A bibliography.
Eric Bah concludes his book by offering a free 140-page download of all the speeches mentioned in his book, as well as a link to his conference “La Voie de la Constance” (‘The Way of Constance’).
Conclusion to “The Speech Overture” by Eric Bah
Structured, concise, and rich in content
“The Speech Overture” is a fairly short and concise work. However, that doesn’t mean its content is any less rich and relevant – quite the contrary. In fact, “The Speech Overture” goes straight to the point and offers a wealth of high-quality information: practical, accessible, and clearly described techniques, numerous audio and video illustrations, resources to consult, links for further learning, analysis of speeches, exercises to practice, and more!
Concrete, easy-to-understand, and compelling advice
The techniques and advice contained in this book are relevant, not least because they are based on an often-overlooked factor in public speaking: the psychological needs of the audience.
As a result, the reader understands how important it is to structure and develop his/her speech overture around these needs, as well as around the four corresponding roles, in order to captivate the audience.
The many carefully selected and analyzed speeches in text and/or video (not included in this summary) add further value to the content as they highlight the principles in a concrete and meaningful way. What’s more, they provide genuine training and analysis material for the reader.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has to speak in public, whether personally or professionally. “The Speech Overture” is a book that can help you make the difference, captivate, interest, and impact your audience. It will equip you with the tools you need to improve your public speaking skills and make an excellent impression when you speak.
Strengths and Weaknesses of The Speech Overture
- The relevance and quality of the content.
- The examples of numerous speeches analyzed by the author.
- The many references on speaking: audios, videos, books, training, leaders, speakers, etc.
- The author’s touch of humor.
- None that I can think of!
My rating :
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The handy guide to Eric Bah ‘s book “The Speech Overture“
The six main parts of “The Speech Overture“:
- Seven Techniques for Drawing Attention
- Seven Techniques for Establishing Connection
- Seven Techniques for Arousing Interest
- Seven Techniques for Launching the Topic of Your Speech
- 15 Mistakes to Avoid when Public Speaking
- 15 Tips for Successful Public Speaking
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning “The Speech Overture“
1. How has Eric Bah’s “The Speech Overture” been received by the general public?
The book “The Speech Overture” was so well received by the public that it became an international bestseller because it is one of the first and most complete books on public speaking and the art of rhetoric, with practical public speaking exercises for leaders.
2. What has been the impact of “The Speech Overture”?
Through a series of techniques and tips provided by the author, this book has had a very positive impact, enabling readers to stand out, captivate, interest and leave a lasting impression on their audience.
3. Who is the target audience of “The Speech Overture”?
The Speech Overture is especially aimed at speakers, political or religious leaders, orators, and all who wish to master the art of public speaking.
4. What does it mean to make a promise according to Eric Bah?
In his book, Eric Bah describes making a promise as a moral commitment to a person or group of people, to say something, or to carry out an action.
5. What is a paradox according to Eric Bah?
According to the author, a paradox is an astonishing statement that contradicts commonly accepted ideas and opinions.
Methods to attract attention versus techniques to divert attention
|Techniques for attracting attention||Techniques for diverting attention|
|Make a surprising statement||Linger|
|Reveal a paradox||Improvise|
|Pique curiosity||Utter platitudes|
|Ask a rhetorical question||Go off-topic|
|Make a request||Mention preparation|
|Use silence||Be hesitant|
Who is Eric Bah?
A French national, Eric Bah is an author specializing in the art of public speaking. A graduate in manual medicine from the Institut de Médecine Traditionnelle Chinoise in France and the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China; he was trained in traditional Thai massage by Dr Lamboley, and specialized in Thailand alongside Changol Setthakorn, former professor at the Old Hospital of Chiangmai. A coach and lecturer, Eric Bah was given the Distinguished Toastmaster award by the public speaking organization Toastmasters International in 2020. He regularly lectures on personal development, well-being, and the efficiency mindset. Eric Bah has become a reputable expert for anyone wishing to begin or perfect their public speaking skills. He is the author of the best-selling trilogy: The Speech Overture, The Speech Structure, and The Speech Finale.