Speaking at a funeral or memorial service is probably one of the most difficult speeches you’ll ever be asked to make. It’s one thing to speak coherently in front an audience; it’s another to keep from falling apart emotionally, when giving a tribute to a deceased family member, friend or co-worker.
Being asked to speak at such an important event is a gift.
By communicating what’s in your heart to people who need help to deal with grief, you fulfill a collective need for comfort. Here are some pointers:
- Write out the speech using a pen and paper, then practice it using an outline. You may need more detailed notes than usual, in case you are overcome with emotion. Writing this out using pen and paper aids memory.
- Like any speech, use two or three main points, no more.
- The speech should not be a chronology of someone’s life, but rather a tribute to their life. Let the audience know why the person was special.
- Don’t attempt to speak for everyone who knew the person. Share your own feelings.
- To comfort the audience, focus on the deceased person’s personality, including funny quirks and memorable events. The most meaningful anecdotes are heartfelt and personal.
- Nobody is perfect. A eulogy, however, should not focus on the deceased person’s weaknesses, but on his or her positive traits.
- Begin with a pause, to get control over your emotions. Take a deep breath and count silently to yourself: “one-one thousand, two-one thousand,” etc. Pause whenever you feel overcome with emotion and give yourself time to compose your thoughts. A count of 5 is usually fine for a pause in any speech.
- Look directly at the audience, being sure to establish eye contact with several listeners.
- Focus on the audience’s needs. A funeral is not held for the deceased, but for the living. Recognise their pain and their loss.
- Inspire the audience. No one likes to deal with death, but it’s inevitable. Help the audience deal with feelings of insecurity and mortality and help them improve their outlook on life.
- Avoid platitudes, such as “Time heals all wounds.”
- What are the lessons and examples offered by the deceased? What challenges did the person face and how did he or she overcome them?
- Use appropriate mannerisms. The somber atmosphere of a memorial service does not lend itself to dramatic gestures and dazzling special effects. Be sure to vary your tone of voice and vocal volume, and do use humor, but keep it respectful to the deceased and to the audience.