How to Write a Eulogy and Speak Like a Pro
If you have been asked to write and give a loved one’s eulogy a speech honouring their life at a funeral or memorial service, you probably have mixed emotions about it.
A speech at a funeral is known as a eulogy. It’s a way to say goodbye and let everyone remember their loved one. There are no rules as to what you should say yet as we found that over two-thirds of bereaved UK adults are often lost for words, we’ve created a guide to help you find the right words and some advice below to get you started.
While part of you is honoured by the request, another part of you is nervous or overwhelmed with how to accomplish the task.
All of these emotions are perfectly normal, especially if you aren’t an experienced writer or public speaker. But don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
Writing a eulogy
Funerals make connections bringing family and friends together. You may often find it difficult to give a eulogy as there is a big sense of responsibility whilst also having to cope with your own strong feelings.
However, the eulogy is a vital part of the ceremony, offering you the chance to remember your loved one and share their life.
How Long Should a Eulogy Be?
A good length for a eulogy is 3 to 5 minutes (10 minutes max). With a longer speech, you risk losing your audience’s attention. Instead, focus on making a couple of key points about the person that passed away and what they meant to you.
How to Write a Eulogy?
Find biographical information about the deceased (e.g. important dates and places). Ask family and friends about special memories. Draft a eulogy that presents events in chronological order. Include stories that illuminate the character of the deceased. End the eulogy with what he/she meant to you. Finally, say goodbye.
Where to start?
If you could say only three things about them, what would you say? This can really help focus your speech. Think about everything that they were to you, and how they impacted your life.
What made them special? Any favorite pastimes, interests, likes, and dislikes?
What are the highlights of their life story? Draw on memories of their life, including having children or scoring a winning goal – anything that made them truly happy.
Ask siblings, friends, and family about times they shared and times they would have been proud of.
And don’t forget to think about how they would like to be remembered.
Structuring a eulogy
Decide on the tone.Do you want it to be light-hearted or formal? A letter, a poem or a simple few words?
Divide it into three parts, beginning with their childhood and working through the highlights of their life.
Or beginning with the recent past, then working backward.
Alternatively, you can write it as a letter to them.
- Think about how that person would like to be remembered.
- Pick favourite memories of your own and ones that others will remember too.
- Try to mention the people who were closest to them.
- Keep it light-hearted and add a bit of humour if you can. It can be easy to become morbid at a sad time but try to celebrate the person who has passed.
- Try not to over complicate it. Keep it simple and sincere.
- Avoid clichés like “We are gathered here today…” and begin as you mean to go on, with something special to that person. In fact, you don’t really need an introduction: people know who you are and why they are there.
- Don’t panic. Speak slowly and don’t worry if you feel yourself losing your words. Just take a deep breath and continue
Delivering the eulogy
Think about who you will be speaking to. You can speak to those at the funeral using words such as he/she/they – or you could choose to speak to the deceased – “I remember when you…”
Practice aloud first so that you are familiar with the words, you understand how long it will take and where to put in pauses if necessary.
And remember, if you change your mind about delivering the eulogy, it’s OK to ask someone else to give the speech on your behalf.
Read the Eulogy Aloud as Many Times as Possible
You will most likely have butterflies in your stomach when it’s your turn to stand up and deliver the eulogy. This is only natural.
But you will feel more confident once you’re up there if you had practiced your speech many times beforehand.
You are likely to be very emotional while you are speaking. The loss is so fresh, and the memories so powerful. Under such circumstances, it is easy to lose track of your thoughts.
Practicing your eulogy several times beforehand will help you remember the general points you wanted to make, even if you forget the exact order you wanted to make them in or a specific joke you wanted to tell.
Rehearsing your eulogy over and over is a highly effective public speaking tip. Repetition will help you memorize your speech, which will really help you when the nerves on the day set in.
You should have some notes to fall back on in case your mind goes momentarily blank.
Keep in mind, though, that your eulogy will come across as more genuine and heartfelt if you are not reading it word-for-word off a piece of paper.
Reading the eulogy out loud to yourself in the days leading up to the service will help you recognize which parts are likely to make you emotional. Being forewarned might make it easier to get through those parts on the day.
Reading the eulogy aloud is also an effective way to improve the flow of your speech. Words sound differently when reading aloud than when you are reading them. Through this process, you will be able to improve your eulogy.
Read Your Eulogy Aloud to a Family Member
In addition to reading the eulogy aloud to yourself, in order to work out the kinks and to memorize it, you should also read it aloud to a trusted family member or friend in order to get constructive feedback.
Everything might sound great to you, but others might find that one of your jokes is a little inappropriate or that your wording is a little awkward or confusing.
It can be really helpful to get a second opinion from someone whose feedback you value. This will only make your eulogy better.
Lastly, family members and friends might also be able to give you ideas or stories that you could incorporate into your eulogy. As the old saying goes: “Many hands make light work.”
Time Your Eulogy
Once you have a final draft of your eulogy, it is important to time how long it takes to say out loud. A good length for a eulogy is 3 to 5 minutes (10 minutes maximum).
You might feel as if 10 minutes is not enough to talk about all the things you want to. With a longer speech, you run the risk of loosing your audience’s attention.
The reality is that you won’t be able to cover everything; there will never be enough time. You should focus on making a couple of key points in your eulogy instead.
The most common mistake that people make when they are not used to public speaking is that they underprepared and under-rehearsed the eulogy.
“So the best thing that someone can do is make sure that you get working on the speech as soon as you find out that you have been selected to deliver a eulogy.
“Get your notes prepared as quickly as possible and give yourself time to run through the speech, out loud, several times before you have to deliver it,”.
Another very common mistake is that people over-rely on their notes when delivering the eulogy. This hinders, rather than helps, their performance.
Extensive notes are better suited for reading than they are for speaking. The notes you take to the podium or pulpit should list the main points you wish to make during the eulogy, and not the whole speech, word-for-word.
With your notes, make sure that they are easy to read. “Make sure you’re using at least 14 point font or larger, and make sure that there is plenty of white space on the page so that the text is not squished together too much,”
The third big mistake people make when giving a eulogy is that they do not take their time when they speak. “This puts a lot of pressure on yourself, which then creates a lot of anxiety and nervousness,”
The final big mistake is that people are too quiet and reserved when delivering the eulogy. “They are working with a level of voice and a level of energy that is appropriate for private conversation, but is not suitable for public speech,”
How Should You Prepare For Delivering a Eulogy?
Make sure you start preparing the eulogy right away. Do not wait until the night before to start writing the eulogy because you need time to rehearse.
The sooner you get the eulogy ready, and the more time you have to rehearse, the better the eulogy will be.
The best way to practice the eulogy is to stand and deliver the eulogy in the same manner that you will do at the actual funeral or memorial service.
Reading over your speech while sitting on your couch does not count as rehearsal, You need to get on your feet and practice going through it out loud.
Although this seems like a really obvious part of the preparation, it is actually quite frequently overlooked. No car company would introduce a new model of car without extensive testing.
The same thing goes with a speech. Why would you want the first time going through your speech to be in front of the listeners? You wouldn’t.
It is important to give yourself as much as possible to rehearse the eulogy beforehand. Repeated rehearsals will help you identify which parts of the eulogy are easy to get through, and which parts of the eulogy might be more challenging.
You should also time how long it takes you to give the eulogy. Most people are told the amount of time they have been allotted at the funeral or memorial service to speak. If you don’t time your eulogy, you won’t have an accurate idea of how long it is.
What might look like the right amount of time on paper can easily go over, When you go the time that was allotted to you for giving the eulogy, it is a sure sign that you have not prepared and have not rehearsed.
At the risk of sounding too blunt, it is also disrespectful to the family and the organizers if you go over time.
Therefore, when you are rehearsing the eulogy, make sure you time it. If the eulogy is too long, make sure you edit it so that it fits within the time that you have been allotted.
What Should You Do Immediately Before Giving a Eulogy?
You should warm up your vocal cords with some breathing and vocal exercises.
You should also arrive early at the place where you are going to be delivering the eulogy so that you can familiarize yourself with the room and the podium or pulpit.
In fact, you should stand behind the podium or pulpit so that you can have a preview of what the room will look like from that perspective.
Miller also suggests that you check that there is adequate lighting at the podium or pulpit.
You don’t want to get caught in a situation like that.
You should also test the microphone system beforehand to ensure that it is working properly and to ensure that you are not shocked by the sound of your voice over the sound system.
Does the position of the microphone need to be adjusted? What is the best way to adjust the microphone at the beginning of the eulogy?
In the minutes leading up to the eulogy, we suggests that the best way to calm your nerves it to focus on the task at hand. Don’t think about how nervous you are. Think about the words you are going to speak.
How Can You Stay Composed While Giving the Eulogy?
The person who is most composed is not necessarily the most effective speaker.
This is especially the case during a eulogy where one might expect to see some feeling. If there are some tears, or if your voice quivers, no one is going to fault you. Emotion is to be expected.
However, you don’t want to be so overwhelmed by your emotions that you are unable to give the eulogy. Again, rehearsing the eulogy is key.
It is in your rehearsal that you start to process the feelings that are attached to what you are going to say.
It’s not just about making things sound good or getting everything in the right order, because it’s in the rehearsal that you give yourself permission to feel the sadness, the loss, to feel the bittersweet moments you might be talking about, or the gratitude and humor.
Give yourself permission to feel those emotions every time that you rehearse so that when you get up in front of your audience, you’ve already been through it.
A technique you can use when you are giving the eulogy to keep your emotions in check is to be aware of the connection between your feet and the ground underneath.
When you are aware of having both feet planted on the ground, it tends to keep you in your body and in the room, present and not off somewhere with your feelings.
One final piece of advice on this subject is that it is important to understand that emotions may come up, and if they do, just let them flow.
Give those emotions away as you speak. Do not try to ignore them, control them, or put a lid on them, because I guarantee that your emotions are stronger than you are. Emotion needs to flow. So imagine it flowing through you and through your voice.
What if You Lose Your Place or Train of Thought While Giving the Eulogy?
Our expert opinion, if your notes are too dense, it could result in you losing your place while delivering the eulogy.
On the other hand, if you don’t have enough notes, you could lose your train of thought. (Just like the baby bear in Goldilocks, you need notes that are “just right” in terms of the amount of detail.)
With that being said, if you do happen to lose your place or train of thought, simply pause, take a deep breath, and gather yourself.
No one is sitting there judging you. Pauses are actually good to have a speech. It gives the audience time to digest what you are saying. So if you lose your place or train of thought, just pause, regroup, and continue.
He also advises that you format your notes in a simple way to decrease the risk of losing your place, as well as make it easier to recover if you do.
Why is Eye Contact With the Audience Important When Giving a Eulogy?
This emphasizes the fact that effective public speaking is all about relationships. It’s about having a conversation and connecting with your listeners.
Eye contact is one of the most basic things you can do to start establishing a connection with the audience.
I’m not a fan of advice that says ‘look at the tops of people’s heads,’ or ‘look at the back wall just above the last row,’ because this is not making a connection with your listeners.
Eye contact has to be real. If you are afraid that making eye contact with certain people might bring up too much feeling for you, there are plenty of other people you can make eye contact with
Take Heart: A Eulogy is Not About You. You Don’t Need to Be Perfect!
We have two final pieces of expert advice for people preparing a eulogy.
First, remind yourself that a eulogy is not about you.
Yes, you are at the front of the room and everyone is watching and listening to you.
However, at the end of the day, it is not about you. It is about the deceased, the family, the experience of the people gathered there.
You are there to serve them. You are there to give a gift. You have a job to do.
If you go up to speak expecting that people are going to be judging you and what you are doing, you go into defensive mode.
If you keep in mind that you have a job to do, to get this message to those people as effectively as you can, you stay in ‘giving mode.’ And this is so much more conducive to giving a great eulogy.
Second, you don’t need to be perfect. Just Remember That
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