How do you prepare for one of the most important speeches that you will ever have to give in your life? Article written by local author Rhonda Whitton.
Writing and delivering a eulogy combines two of the worst fears people have – losing a loved one and public speaking. The thought of writing and delivering a eulogy sends most of us into a panic. What to say? Should you read from a script or ad lib? Will you be able to control your emotions on the day? However, take heart because there are ways to make the experience both memorable for the bereaved and less traumatic for you.
Before you begin
You were probably asked to deliver the eulogy because others believe that you will do a good job and knew the person well. That’s a good start and it’s certainly an honour to be asked. Your job is to present a fitting tribute to the bereaved by bringing the person to life for a short time during the funeral service. However, resist the temptation to sit down and write the eulogy without first doing some homework and planning what you will say. Remember, you are not alone. Speak with others and find out anecdotes and interesting facts to bring to life your eulogy and give the bereaved an insight into the ‘real’ person they are mourning. The audience will be saddened by their loss, so try to include some humour. However, keep the humour subtle, tasteful and befitting the deceased’s personality.
Always acknowledge the positive aspects of the deceased person and pay respect to them in an open, honest and caring manner. Avoid beginning your eulogy along these lines: “Jim was born at Newtown Base Hospital in 1921 and was one of five children to Betty and Bert. He went to Newtown Kindergarten, Newtown Primary School and Newtown High School, before enlisting in the RAAF in 1939.”
Presenting information in this staid, chronological style can be dull and of little interest the majority of those present only knew Jim in his adult life. It is more engaging for the bereaved if you focus on the highlights of the person’s life at the beginning of your eulogy, then sprinkle the other facts throughout your speech.
For example, you could begin with: “Most of us knew Jim as Newtown’s longest serving mayor. However, to those who knew him well, those 18 years of outstanding civic service fade into insignificance when we recall his devotion to his family and his untiring charity work for the needy in our community.” Include simple, personal thoughts from the heart, such as “I’ll miss his cheeky smile”, or “I always admired Jim’s compassion”.
Focus on a theme
Do not think that your eulogy has to summarise the person’s entire life. Instead, try adopting a theme to give purpose to the eulogy. This will also provide focus for the audience to remember the deceased.
If you are one of a number of people speaking at the funeral service, consider suggesting that each speaker adopt a theme, as this avoids the potential for repetition and factual inconsistencies. Examples of themes include: Jim the family man, Jim the community leader, Jim the all-round sportsman and Jim the businessman.
Organise your notes
First, sort the information and anecdotes you gather into logical groupings, then write the main points on cards or small sheets of paper to reflect those groups. Now, reorganise the cards to come up with the most engaging order for your audience. This approach also allows you to leave out information at a moment’s notice on the day should another speaker cover the same point or anecdote. It will help you in your presentation if you print your notes in large font and with double spacing.
Delivering the eulogy
Eulogies are among the most difficult speeches to make, so try to maintain eye contact and speak to the bereaved as though you were talking to a friend. Don’t worry or be embarrassed if you need to pause to compose yourself – people will understand. Take your time. Speak slowly and remember to breathe deeply if you begin to lose your composure.
Keep your eulogy short and to the point. Ascertain the appropriate length by speaking with the funeral director or clergy. Eulogies are usually lengths between five and ten minutes long. So it is very important to write and then rehearse your eulogy to ensure you don’t speak for too long.
- Develop a theme.
- Avoid chronological accounts of their life.
- Research and plan what you will say.
- Refer to key points, rather than reading a script.
- Practice delivering the eulogy.
- Speak slowly and carefully.
- Don’t be afraid to show emotion.
Rhonda Whitton is a journalist, teacher and corporate trainer. Note: This article was published in the summer 2005 edition of For Peace of Mind magazine and has been reproduced with the author’s permission.