Writing and delivering a funeral speech, or eulogy, for a deceased loved one is likely one of the most moving and emotionally challenging acts of your life.
How to write a funeral speech: the content
Before you begin to write a funeral speech, ask the deceased’s family and other loved ones to tell you about them. Funny stories, fond memories, their achievements and dreams – all of these will be great material for your eulogy and give you a broader perspective on the person you are eulogising.
Consider the faith of the deceased and their family. Christian and humanist funeral services both incorporate eulogies, but their content will likely be very different. For instance a Christian funeral speech might emphasise the fact that the deceased is now in a better place.
How to write a funeral speech: the tone
Getting the right tone is essential when thinking about how to write a funeral speech. Think about the person that they were – if they were known for their great sense of humour, be funny. If they were more serious, your eulogy should reflect that.
A eulogy is a speech of praise, but no one is perfect and it can seem oddly tasteless to present an idealised version of a dead loved one rather than writing about them as they really were – portraying them as someone their friends and family may not recognise.
Of course you don’t want to speak ill of the dead and that’s not what this is about. But a gentle reminder of the deceased’s endearing flaws will give your eulogy a sense of reality. You want your audience to smile in recognition of the unique person the deceased was, right down to their tone-deaf singing in the shower.
How to write a funeral speech: the ending
A funeral speech discusses the ending of a life, and it can be hard to know how to end a eulogy. Generally though, it is good to conclude on a hopeful note, rather than a sad one.
Give your audience a final detail to remember the deceased – an anecdote that reflects who they were, one last memory of the friend or relative that they have lost to take away with them when they go.
How to write a funeral speech: the delivery
So you’ve written a brilliant eulogy. But how to make your delivery live up to it?
As ever when preparing to speak in public, practice is key to improve your delivery and iron out any stumbling points. Familiarity with the eulogy is vital. If you are very familiar with the piece that you are reading, you will be able to put more emotion into it rather than struggling with the words.
Read the speech beforehand in private to find out which points make you stop and struggle. Change them so that the speech reads more fluidly if necessary. Remember that words may flow well on the page but sound awkward or stilted when you try to read them. When considering how to write a funeral speech, think about how it will sound rather than how it will read and edit it accordingly.
When the time comes to perform your funeral speech, speak slowly. If you are not used to public speaking, nerves can lead you to rush. Your audience may miss parts and the moving words you have written will lose their impact.
Fortunately, there are several tricks to help with this. Pay attention to punctuation. When you come to a full stop, pause and count three beats inside your head. When you come to a comma, count one beat. This will naturally help you to reduce your pace.
Make sure that you have a glass of water ready for when you read. Anxiety can give you a dry mouth, and taking a sip of water can also provide a much-needed break if you are overwhelmed or the speed of your writing is creeping up. Remember to breath deeply, both to slow your reading and to help you stay calm.