How to Write a Eulogy
When it comes to talking about writing and delivering a eulogy, we often quote the words of journalist Peggy Noonan, who wrote: “I love eulogies. They are the most moving kind of speech because they attempt to pluck meaning from the fog, and on short order, when the emotions are still ragged and raw and susceptible to leaps.” If you're currently faced with the task, we've got some valuable insights on how to deliver a eulogy to share with you. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves: what about writing a eulogy? What's involved there?
Writing a Eulogy
Chris Raymond, in the online article, "How to Write a Eulogy: 5 Tips for Success" (see Online Sources for a full citation) offers this observation about the task: "Writing and delivering a eulogy or remembrance speech can seem daunting. In addition to the grief and sorrow you're already feeling as you cope with the loss of a loved one, you must find the time to organize your thoughts, put them down on paper, and deliver your speech–all within the fairly compressed timeframe between the death and the funeral or memorial service." All too true: there's not a great deal of time to prepare. He offers these suggestions to make your job of writing easier:
Develop a eulogy that you can deliver in only a few minutes. "The truth is that the longer you speak, the more likely you will ramble and make listeners feel awkward or uncomfortable."
Keep things personal. He tells readers "Listeners will not find your eulogy moving if you merely recite a list of dry facts...instead, share a story that actually illustrates something your loved one enjoyed, especially if you were also a part of that story."
Keep the eulogy positive. "If the deceased was a difficult person or led a troubled life, then just trust that those in the audience already know that and that it's not your job to break the news to them."
Keep it conversational. "...speak in a conversational tone -- as if you were simply talking to a family member or friend. In addition, remember to look up at your listeners from time to time and make eye contact. Doing so will help your delivery feel more like a conversation, and you will be less likely to rush through the eulogy and deliver it in a monotone voice."
His fifth tip is one we'll look at in the section of this page which focuses on delivering a eulogy with confidence: keep it in writing. "...if the professionals use a written copy of their speeches, then you should too...there is absolutely no reason to feel you must deliver your remarks from memory."
Being Confident in Your Presentation
The experts at MindTools have this to say about effective public speaking: "with thorough preparation and practice, you can overcome your nervousness and perform exceptionally well". We agree; certainly preparation and practice both go a long way in helping you in delivering a eulogy at a loved one's funeral or memorial service. Here are two of their recommendations:
Engage with the audience. This can make you feel less isolated, and also helps to keep everyone involved with your message. If appropriate, share moments of humor and encourage other people to participate to whatever degree is possible.
Avoid reading your eulogy word-for-word. It may be best for you to make a list of important points on cue cards or a single sheet of paper; giving you a framework upon which to base your remarks without tying you down to speaking every single word on the page. Here's something else we've learned over the years: you'll want to make your eulogy (or these abbreviated notes) easy to read. Print in large type, and write on every second or third line.
Other suggestions to help you build confidence both prior to, and at the time of delivering a eulogy include:
When preparing to deliver the eulogy, take time to visualize the experience. Picture yourself a success; your voice loud and your enunciation clear. Visualization is a powerful tool for boosting confidence.
Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem in delivering the eulogy. Chances are good those in the audience never even noticed whatever it is you're concerned about. Remember, this is a loving situation; no one there is going to judge you. In all truth, most of them there will be exceedingly supportive of your efforts.
Concentrate on your message. Take your attention away from any personal anxieties or concerns by putting your full attention on what it is you are there to do, which is simply to publicly acknowledge the importance of this individual to yourself, their family and their community.
Two more things which will help you in delivering a eulogy (these again from our own professional experience):
Fill a small glass of water and keep it with you when you step up to the front of the room. Sipping water regularly will keep your voice and also relax you to some degree. (There's a really good reason stand-up comedians have a glass or bottle of water on stage with them.)
Take your time, and do the best you can. Always remember, no one there expects you to perform perfectly, so just be yourself.
Looking for Additional Support?
Look no further; our years of experience have rewarded us with insights about how to deliver a eulogy. If you're tasked with writing and delivering a eulogy in tribute to a loved one, and now find yourself overwhelmed by writer's block, indecision and anxiety (not to mention grief); we can help. Simply pick up the phone and call us at (313) 982-1000.
Toastmasters International, "10 Tips for Public Speaking", accessed 2014
Raymond, Chris, "How to Write a Eulogy: 5 Tips for Success", About.com, updated June, 2014, accessed October, 2014