What is a Eulogy?

A eulogy is a speech given at a funeral that celebrates the life of a loved one. It comes from the Greek word eulogia, which means “to praise.” Eulogies can be as short as three or four minutes, or as long as fifteen to twenty (when in doubt, it’s best to stay short).

After losing a loved one, you might be asked to deliver a eulogy. Here are some tips that can help you write and present a speech that will be a meaningful tribute to your loved one’s life.

Brainstorm: Begin by pouring out all of your thoughts on paper. Record fond memories of important events and details in your loved one’s life. What were some of your favorite moments with this person? What did you admire most about him or her? At this point, it is essential that you don’t judge your work. The hardest part is starting, so just let your ideas flow. The most effective way to write is to turn off your “inner critic” until you have plenty of material to work with.

Structure your work: Once you have a sufficient body of information on the page, then you can go back, think critically, and make edits, deciding which details are important and worthwhile, and which would be irrelevant or even harmful to mention. Remember that the eulogy is a time of “praise,” and that this is a time for positive memories only. Organize your thoughts and create smooth transitions between stories and commentary.

Offer Your Perspective on the Character of the Deceased: This can be kind of tricky because you have to strike a balance, here. On the one hand, you want to establish your voice, so that people can understand your relationship to the deceased. At the same time, it is important to keep the focus primarily on the deceased. In other words, make it personal, but don’t let your memories of the deceased become self-centered or self-serving. Establish yourself to provide the proper context, but never lose sight of the life of the loved one.

Make it Conversational: If any portions of your speech sound dry or formal, adopt a more casual approach. A conversational tone is preferred, because you want to convey the personal nature of your relationship to the deceased.

Make it Concrete: If any portions of your speech sound vague or general,  find ways to make them more specific. Pack your eulogy with vivid stories and details, and adopt a style that captures the spirit of the loved one. When celebrating the character of the deceased, provide examples to back up your praise. Recall specific things that the loved one said. Don’t be afraid to express your sadness, but if you have any humorous stories, you may want to consider sharing these too.

Contact the Other Speakers: If multiple people will be delivering eulogies at the funeral or memorial service, you may want to contact them and get a general idea of what they will be saying and how your eulogy will fit in with the overall picture. Also, try to get a sense of how long the others will be speaking, so that you can time your own speech accordingly.

Rehearse the Speech: Once you’ve completed the speech and edited it to your liking, practice it several times through. Examine your body language and delivery in the mirror, or present it to a family member or friend and ask for feedback. Focus on pacing. Keep a calm and steady rhythm. When people get anxious during a public speech, they tend to speak more quickly. Be aware of this tendency ahead of time so that you can curb it if necessary.

The Importance of Positive Thinking

If you’re nervous about public speaking, remember: you’re not alone. Almost 75% of the population has speech anxiety. Much of this anxiety stems from the irrational belief that the speech must be perfect, that any sign of error or any hint of nervousness on the part of the speaker will be scrutinized by the audience. This simply isn’t true. These unrealistic expectations put a burden on you that you can’t possibly live up to. Instead, take a deep breath, relax, and remember that the people who are hearing your eulogy love and support you. They’re looking for what you do right, not what you do wrong. Remind yourself that your speech is about honoring the life of a loved one, and that anxiety is nothing more than wasted energy. Your best effort is good enough.