Most of us have heard about one study or another that claims public speaking is our number one fear. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld even made a joke about it in one of his stand-up routines noting that: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Being asked to give any type of speech can be daunting. Throw in the maelstrom of feelings triggered by the death of a loved one and a room full of grieving family and friends, and a eulogy can be a real challenge. It can seem like an insurmountable task.
Don’t fear, there’s a way through – and preparation is the key. For the vast majority of us, giving any type of speech without conscious preparation is a challenge. We tend to drift off topic or lose the thread connecting our ideas.
But preparation will give your eulogy form – a definite pattern. It will help you to deliver a heartfelt tribute and reduce the risk of being overwhelmed by nerves and emotion. Without preparation, your eulogy may become a bit of a ramble with no obvious purpose or direction, which can be distressing for everybody – including you.
Taking the time to fully prepare your eulogy is the safest way to ensure you express everything you want to, in the way you want to.
A memorable eulogy celebrates the whole person – their strengths, joys, challenges and achievements. At a time when many are emotionally fragile, your courage to stand in front of family and friends will be greatly appreciated.
It’s a big responsibility, but you can do it. To get started, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are you writing the eulogy on behalf of? Are you writing the eulogy on behalf of the immediate family of the person who has died? Or are you writing about your own relationship with them? Are you giving the principal eulogy? Will others be speaking too? Answering these questions will allow you to put your eulogy into context, which is important for those who are listening.
- How long should the eulogy be? As a general rule, you should speak for no more than about five minutes. It’s important to convey a clear and concise message, so narrow what you want to say down to a few key points.
- What should you include in the eulogy? Always start by briefly introducing yourself and explaining how you fit into the person’s life. Include personal stories, anecdotes, memories, poetry – anything that speaks to the essence of the person. Talk to family and friends to collect material to include. You won’t be able to include everything, but having a wide selection of content to choose from will help you gain clarity about what it is you want to say.
- Is there anything the eulogy should not mention? While it’s important to be honest, there’s no need to dwell on hard times, challenges or negativity. Remember, the eulogy is an opportunity to honour the person.
- What should the tone of the eulogy be? Should it be solemn? Or is it appropriate for it to be lighter, perhaps even humorous. Ask yourself: What would your loved one have wanted? It may also be helpful to talk to family and friends to decide what tone your eulogy should take on in the broader context of the funeral service.
Putting pen to paper
Now that you have the answers to those preliminary questions and you’ve collected your thoughts, it’s time to get writing.
Not surprisingly, a eulogy has a beginning, middle and an end – but that doesn’t mean you should start at the beginning. Many people find it easier to start in the middle.
- Write the middle. This is where you should share the stories that make the person unique, special and loved. Resist the urge to list achievements and milestones in chronological order. They’re just dull, dry facts. Instead, tell stories. Share the moments and memories that make the person unique, special and loved. While some people may have heard the stories before, others won’t – and by telling them, the person lives on. And remember to go straight to the core of each story.
- Work on the end. What is the enduring message you want people at the funeral service to take away with them? It may be a simple thank-you for the life you’ve shared. Or it could be a special quote expressing an idea or feeling. Think carefully about how you want to express this final tribute.
- End at the beginning. With the rest of the eulogy written, it should be easier to write the opening. Once you’ve introduced yourself, briefly outline some major events and relationships in the person’s life and talk about some of the characteristics and traits that made them special. This will lead into the stories you plan to tell.
Practice makes perfect
Mentally running through the eulogy doesn’t count. You need to practice, so you are familiar with every word – and this will lower the risk of stumbles when your nerves kick in.
- Read it out loud. What seems fine written on the page may sound very different when it’s said out loud. Avoid any awkward expressions and make sure the words flow naturally.
- Let someone else listen. It always helps if someone can give you feedback. An independent pair of ears may pick up on things you would otherwise miss.
- Time yourself. Be sure that your eulogy fits within the allocated time.
It’s all in the delivery
When it comes time to give the eulogy at the funeral service, be sure to go easy on yourself. It’s a difficult thing for anyone to do. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Format your words for easy reading. Use a large font and double-line spacing to help readability. Don’t forget to number the pages and use single-side printing. The last thing you want to do is lose your place midway through your delivery.
- Take a deep breath. Breathing deeply before you stand up to deliver the eulogy will do wonders to calm your nerves.
- Have something to lean on. If there’s a lectern available, use it. Place your notes on it. Grip the sides if need be. It will have a stabilising influence and stop any shaky hands, leaving you free to focus on the words.
- Take a moment if you need to. If you need to stop, don’t apologise. There’s no need to conceal your feelings. You don’t need to hide your emotions. Tears and being unable to speak for a moment are natural reactions and nobody is expecting a flawless performance.
- Have a support person with you. Delivering a eulogy isn’t easy and having someone standing beside you can be a wonderful source of support. You’ll draw strength from their presence.
Being asked to deliver a eulogy is both an honour and a privilege. It’s a sign of the important role you played in the life of the person who has died and in the lives of their family and friends. It shows how much they trust you, because you will be publicly memorialising the person.
It’s also a gift. By taking the time to reflect on the life of the person who has died, you’re helping those attending the funeral service to heal. Your words will help everyone, yourself included, through the grief of loss.
Want to know more?
For more information about writing a eulogy, please contact the Walter Carter Funerals team by emailing [email protected].