Writing and giving a funeral speech or a eulogy is a way of saying farewell to someone who has died that, in a sense, brings the person to life in the minds of the audience.
You don't have to be a great writer or orator to deliver a heartfelt and meaningful eulogy that captures the essence of the deceased.
If you have been asked to write and give a loved one's eulogy—a speech honouring their life—you probably have mixed emotions about it at a funeral or memorial service.
While part of you is honoured by request, another part of you is nervous or overwhelmed with accomplishing the task. Check out our extensive list of Melbourne Funeral Services to help you arrange a funeral for your loved one.
These emotions are perfectly normal, especially if you aren't an experienced writer or public speaker. But don't worry—we've got you covered.
For some people, the opportunity to speak during the funeral service about the person they knew is a welcome one – but many of us still do not realise this is possible and believe that eulogies are just for the famous.
You're being asked to do something at the very moment when nothing can be done. You get the last word in the attempt to define the outlines of a life.
There is no right or wrong way to write a eulogy: each is as unique as the person giving it and the person it describes.
But even if you're used to speaking in public, finding words to say can be difficult because of the particular circumstances of a funeral.
You may be coping with your grief. You may feel a heavy burden of responsibility to get it 'right' in terms of both content – what to say – and tone – how to say it.
You may prefer to ask someone else to write it, or perhaps have them on standby to give it to you.
Whatever your thoughts, you should not feel pressured into giving a eulogy or guilty if you feel unable to do so.
If you feel you did not know the person well enough or are not interested in characterising this person's life, suggest someone else do it, stating that you're too overcome with grief.
This is a hugely important job.
Writing a Eulogy Basics
If you've never attended a funeral, or are not exceptionally knowledgeable about eulogies, here are the basics.
How Long Should a Eulogy Be?
A good length for a eulogy is 3 to 5 minutes (10 minutes max). With a longer speech, you risk losing your audience's attention. Instead, focus on making a couple of critical points about the person that passed away and what they meant to you.
Thinking About Your Audience and the Person
Start by thinking of the people you are addressing and the person you are describing: the eulogy is about the person, but for the audience.
Critical Thoughts About Your Audience
Who are the – family and close friends only or others too? There may be specific things to say or avoid.
How will they feel? Listening to you will be highly emotional for those closest to the person, and some people will be in tears.
But this doesn't mean the eulogy should be mournful and depressing. People will be grateful if what you say is uplifting and inspiring.
What do they want to hear? Most people want to hear good things about a person who has died and forget the wrong things.
But people don't become saints just because they die. Your audience will want to feel you have captured the person's essence – what makes them unique. So be honest but selective.
How long should it be? Even in the circumstances of a funeral, many people find it challenging to listen to one person talking for a long time, so a eulogy should be over in a matter of minutes – just how many is a matter of individual choice.
Think of the Person
A good eulogy doesn't just tell the audience about the person – in a sense, it brings the person to live in their imagination and gives them something by which to remember them.
You can do this by telling stories about the person: the happy things, the funny things, the sad things, the unusual things that happened, which sum up their life.
Talking about these and the enduring qualities which describe what they were like as a person will help you build a picture for the audience with your words.
You may have all the information you need, or you may want to speak to other people close to the person to get precise details and check your facts.
You may have arranged the funeral as a friend of the deceased, not knowing too much about them and having no relatives to turn to for information, in which case you can base your eulogy on your impressions of them as a person.
Once you have the material and have thought about it about the people you are talking to, you are ready to start putting it together.
Use these points to help build memories and stories.
- You could start by looking around the house and pulling out old photo albums, going through old letters or emails, and any other memorabilia.
- Perhaps go for a walk around your loved one's house, and garden as this may trigger memories and ideas.
- Talking to close relatives, friends, and acquaintances is also an excellent way to remember things.
How to Write a Eulogy
The most challenging task in preparing any talk is often not so much deciding what you're going to say as determining how to organise it into a structure with a beginning, middle and end.
Writing a eulogy can feel very overwhelming. There are no hard and fast rules – which is why we've created this easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to get you started.
Eulogy Speech Structure
There is no one formal structure for a eulogy. But specific guidelines can help if you're uncertain where to begin.
One way to approach it is to write a letter to the deceased. Even if you don't use this format for delivery, it will still help you with the actual content.
The key to an effective eulogy is to keep it personal, and writing it as a letter helps achieve that.
Other ways to spur memories include:
Looking through old photo albums.
I was reading letters or emails from the deceased.
- You are watching family videos or visiting the deceased's Facebook or social media page.
This may remind you of an event you had long forgotten or bring to mind acts of kindness you witnessed by the deceased.
If you have the opportunity to visit the deceased's home, memorabilia might also bring back fond memories.
When writing the eulogy, it's best to keep anecdotes in chronological order.
This will make it easier for you to organise your thoughts, and it will make it easier for funeral attendees to follow your speech.
We all want to feel that we have left a legacy here on earth. When talking about the deceased's life, be sure to include any volunteer activities and community service.
This will honour the deceased and also provide a measure of comfort for the mourners.
A eulogy does not have to be in the form of a speech. If you are musically inclined, sing a song or play a musical tribute to the deceased.
If the deceased was religious, read a Bible passage or prayer. Was the deceased fond of literature? Read a poem or excerpt from a favourite author.
Write the Eulogy With the Deceased's Family and Loved Ones in Mind
Dwell on the positive, but be honest. If the person was difficult or inordinately damaging, avoid talking about that or allude to it gently.
Make sure you don't say anything that would offend, shock, or confuse the audience.
For example, don't make any jokes or comments about the deceased that would be a mystery to most people.
Decide on the Tone
How severe or light-hearted do you want the eulogy to be? A good tribute need not be uniformly sombre, just appropriate.
Some eulogy-writers take a severe approach; others are bold enough to add humour.
Used cautiously, humour can help convey the deceased's personality and illustrate some of his or her endearing qualities.
The tone can also be partially determined by the way the deceased passed away.
If you're giving a eulogy about a teenager who met an untimely death, then your tone would be more severe than it would be if you were giving a tribute about a grandparent who happily lived to see his ninetieth birthday.
Briefly Introduce Yourself
Even if most people in the audience know you, state your name and give a few words that describe your relationship to the deceased.
If it's a tiny crowd, you can start with, "For anybody who doesn't know me…." If you're related to the deceased, describe how; if not, say a few words about how and when you met.
Avoid clichés like "We are gathered here today…" and begin as you mean to go on with something unique to that person.
After introducing yourself, it may be best to get straight to your point as everyone knows why they are there.
For example: "There are many things for which she will be remembered, but what we will never forget is her sense of humour…
State the Basic Information About the Deceased
Though your eulogy doesn't have to read like an obituary or give all of the basic information about the life of the deceased, you should touch on a few key points, such as what his family life was like, what his career achievements were, and what hobbies and interests mattered the most to him.
You can find a way of mentioning this information while praising or remembering the deceased. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.
Write down the names of the family members incredibly close to the deceased.
You may forget their names on the big day because you're overwhelmed by sadness, so it's advisable to have them on hand.
Make sure you say something specific about the deceased's family life — this would be very important to his family.
Illustrate parts of their life with a story and give specific examples of awesome or kind things they have done.
Use Specific Examples to Describe the Deceased
Mention a quality and then illustrate it with a story. It is the stories that bring the person–and that quality–to life.
Talk to as many people as possible to get their impressions, memories, and thoughts about the deceased, and then write down as many memories of your own as you can.
Look for a common theme that unites your ideas and illustrates this theme through specific examples.
If the deceased is remembered for being kind, talk about the time he helped a homeless man get back on his feet.
If the deceased is known for being a prankster, mention his famous April Fool's prank.
Pretend that a stranger is listening to your eulogy. Would he get a good sense of the person you're describing without ever meeting him just from your words?
Organise & Structure Your Speech
Give the eulogy a beginning, middle, and end. Avoid rambling or, conversely, speaking down to people.
You may have a sterling vocabulary, but dumb it down for the masses just this once. The average eulogy is about 3-5 minutes long.
That should be enough for you to give a meaningful speech about the deceased. Remember that less is more; you don't want to try the audience's patience during such a sad occasion.
Decide the Best Order for What You're Going to Say:
- Chronological? This would suit the life-story approach, beginning with their childhood and working through the highlights of their life.
- Reverse chronological? Starting with the present or recent past, then working backwards.
- Three-point plan? Decide three key things to say and the order for saying them.
- Theme? Choose one big thing and give examples, anecdotes, stories to explain and illustrate it.
Once you've written the eulogy and feel pretty confident in what you've written, have some close friends or family members who know the deceased well read it to make sure that it's not only accurate but that it does well with capturing the essence of the dead.
They'll also be able to see if you've said anything inappropriate, forgotten something important, stated incorrect facts or wrote anything that was confusing or difficult to understand.
Questions About Writing & Giving a Eulogy Speech
Do I Write it Word for Word?
Yes, if it helps. But if you do, speak it out to yourself as you're writing. Otherwise, your words may sound stilted when you come to deliver them. When we usually speak, we don't speak in perfect sentences.
What's important isn't the grammar, but the points you are making and your telling stories.
So if you can, don't write word for word, but put key points on a card to have with you.
An exception to this is where you are using a piece of poetry or song, in which case you may want the exact words to hand.
How Will I End?
If you intend to play a piece of music or give a reading after your eulogy, you can end by explaining why you've chosen it.
If not, then a good way could be to end with a short sentence of farewell, maybe the very last thing you said to them – or wanted to say to them – before they died.
How to Give a Eulogy
Practice your eulogy often beforehand. Time how long it is (shouldn't be longer than 10 mins).
Get feedback from someone you trust. At the funeral, do vocal cord warm-up exercises and deep breathing.
Speak slowly, don't rush. Make eye contact with the congregation. Be yourself.
Rehearse the Eulogy Before the Big Day
Read the draft of your eulogy aloud. If you have time, read it to someone as practice. Words sound differently when read aloud than on paper.
If you have inserted humour, get feedback from someone about its appropriateness and effectiveness.
Consider using a virtual reality app to help immerse you in a realistic environment while practising.
This could help you polish the text and give you greater control over your emotions on the day itself.
Have a Standby
Though you should hope that you're emotionally prepared to give the speech on the big day, you should have a close friend or family member who has read the eulogy be ready to read it for you if you're too choked up to read it.
Though you probably won't need one, you'll feel more relaxed just knowing that you have a backup if you need one.
Use a Conversational Tone
Talk or read your eulogy to the audience as if you are talking to friends. Make eye contact. Pause. Go slowly if you want. Connect with your audience and share the moment with them; after all, you're not an entertainer; you're one of them. There's no need to be formal when you're surrounded by loved ones who share your grief.
Wear Suitable Clothes
Wear clothes appropriate to the occasion, the audience and the person who has died. If you look out of place, you will only distract people from your words.
Stand up to Give the Eulogy
Even though you may feel a little exposed, it helps people see and hear you better. While standing, try not to fidget or make nervous gestures. It will only distract people.
When we are nervous, we tend to speak too quickly. By saying slowly, you give yourself time to think and choose your words.
You also give people time to take in and think about what you're saying. And if you're in a large room, speaking slowly helps you project your voice.
Don't Worry If Overcome With Emotion.
Don't worry if you find yourself losing your words or overcome with emotion. Pause, take a few deep breaths and carry on.
There's no requirement to give a slick and polished talk, and people will be supportive.
Memorise as Much as You Can
Memorise as much of the speech as you can. On the day, try not to read word for word. Need help in planning a funeral service? Check out Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals in Melbourne.
Or if you do, make sure you have written it to be spoken, not read. Your words will sound more heartfelt if you're not reading every sentence right off the page.