How to Write and Deliver a Eulogy
Eulogies are never easy. They’re not easy to listen to when they’re about your most precious loved one. A eulogy is particularly difficult when you’re the one giving it. The word itself is derived from two Greek words ‘eu’ (pron. ev) meaning beautiful and ‘logos’ meaning word or study. This article is about what to include and how to structure your beautiful words or eulogy. I’m assuming here that you’re making a eulogy for a family member, or very close friend or colleague, rather than as the CEO representing a company.
Speaking of eulogies, the world’s #1 fear is that of public speaking. It’s such a universal fear that comedians joke that “most people at a funeral would rather be in the coffin, than having to give the eulogy”. Not quite. This article is about form and content: not overcoming your fear of public speaking.
Preparation Time Will Always be Limited
A eulogy can’t be postponed or re-scheduled. Usually the person asked to give the eulogy is also involved helping to arrange the funeral, so accept that you have a limited time. In the short time you’ll have, follow these steps to prepare your eulogy:
1. Set aside at least one quiet hour of preparation time
Make that an hour when nothing and no one is allowed to interrupt you. Take the phone off the hook and turn off those dreadful intrusions into our peace – your mobile (cell) phone.
2.Spend at least ten minutes in meditating about the person
Within your minimum of an hour’s preparation, sit quietly and think of absolutely nothing else except the person whose life you’re going to honor. Think about when you first met, or if itâ€¢ s your parent, think about your earliest memories.
3.Capture the Person’s Essence
After that meditation, jot down some notes to convey to us the most splendid thing about her/him. One eulogy I gave was at my father-in-law Vasilis’s funeral. Although I was born in Ireland, I delivered it in Greek. In his case, he was originally a shepherd in Greece. His son, my late husband Sotiris (Sam), and I were both tertiary educated professionals. Compared to his son, one might think therefore that Vasilis had achieved very little in life. In fact, he achieved more many highly schooled people I know.
What was that great and rare achievement? He loved, accepted and welcomed me from the beginning although I was neither Greek, nor of his religion and at that time I didn’t speak Greek. In fact, one might say that I represented everything he didn’t want for his only son. However, he loved me. His great achievement was his ability to love, tenderly and truly beyond the narrow confines of his ethnic, religious and cultural background. As I said in my tribute to him, in the Greek language I learned, his acceptance and love were no small feats in a world torn by division and by ethnic and religious intolerance.
4. Think about one amusing and highly recognisable characteristic about the deceased person.
Tell a short anecdote that captures that unique trait. A funeral is a sombre occasion, but your eulogy must celebrate the person’s life. Therefore, it must be uplifting and it can be amusing.
Once you have followed those steps and you have the material, the anecdotes which best capture your parent, paren-in-law, best friend,or sibling, spend time thinking how best to convey that information in a succinct way.
If you feel up to it, tell the congregation how you feel about losing the person. If yours is the only speech to be given, end your address by saying “I know I speak on behalf of everyone here when I say ‘God speed’ or ‘ Go well’ or ‘our lives were enriched by knowing you, and always will be.”
Never be afraid to show your genuine sadness by crying, but please refuse to give the eulogy if you know you’ll be too upset to speak.
5Eulogies are definitely best kept short.
Once you’ve written your eulogy, rehearse it. Although it’s a eulogy, you don’t get a carte blanche to go on forever. That’s especially so if there are other speakers.
In general you should be able to pay proper tribute to someone in approximately ten to fifteen minutes, which represents about 2400 words. The church or funeral parlor won’t blow up if you speak longer, but cutting back during this crucial preparation time gives you a bit of leeway during the ceremony. You can add a couple of salient anecdotes if you feel up to it. Please consider your very special ‘audience’. I’m referring here to people who will be feeling extremely upset, so four or five eulogies, though uplifting, could also be quite upsetting.
6. Write your two to five minute talk out as dot points.
Once you feel you can make the speech without your written text, reduce the text to mnemonics or memory cues. Please try not to read the speech word for word. It will sound much more sincere if you look at the people attending the funeral rather than read your eulogy.
Be Kind To Yourself
Having said that it’s much better if you can use only cue cards, or memory prompts, remember that the eulogy is not only about public speaking standards. It’s about speaking from your heart: about losing someone precious. So if you’ll feel better reading the entire text, you do that. As I make plain throughout my coaching and my Public Speaking Success e-Program little steps are the way to public speaking success. Making a eulogy is a giant step for all of us.