BY MICHAEL JOHNSON
Public speaking is difficult for many people. When you add the sorrow of losing a loved one and the pressure of trying to honor the legacy of someone you admire, it can feel like an impossible task. Here are five tips to help you get through this difficult time and deliver a speech that will celebrate the life of your friend or family member.
1. Get your head right.
Before you sit down to start writing a eulogy, it is vitally important that you are calm. Losing a loved one can trigger many strong feelings, positive and negative, which will come out in your writing as over-the-top praise, selfish anger or overwhelming sadness. Often these feelings come and go quickly, especially if your loss was unexpected. You may write one thing in the morning and not still feel the same way at the end of the day. Taking the time to work through your feelings makes writing an honest and endearing eulogy much easier.
2. Start with a story.
Ideally a funny one. Delivering a eulogy will always be sad and reflective, but there is no reason that the entire speech needs to be in this tone. If you start the speech with an anecdote about the person’s life that is both funny and representative of the better traits of the person, you will instantly connect with the audience. Stories are also easier for people to follow because in our day-to-day interactions we almost always speak in stories, telling our friends or family what happened to us during the course of the day.
If you can’t think of a funny story or a meaningful story about the person’s life, it is also a good bet to grab and hold people’s attention.
3. Stick to the greatest hits.
Every situation is different, but generally speaking your eulogy shouldn’t take too long. You risk losing the audience and, more importantly, failing to highlight the truly great accomplishments of the loved one you are remembering. I suggest picking the three greatest qualities of the person you are remembering and figuring out a way to highlight them in your speech with meaningful personal stories that represent these qualities.
4. Write short simple sentences.
Delivering a eulogy is emotional. It is easy to get choked up at points. Sometimes, your mind wanders while you are speaking. Short simple sentences will be easier to say when these difficult moments arise. They also sound better spoken out loud, when compared to a longer sentence that is likely better constructed for reading quietly.
5. Stick to the script.
No one will be upset if you read from a script when you are delivering a eulogy. Style points are really a thing in this setting. Public speaking experts will tell you that you should look around the room and try and make eye contact with people, which is fine if you are comfortable doing so, but at a memorial service or a funeral people are there to honor your loved one and they want to listen to what you have to say. I suggest using a large font to help you read, printing out your speech on one-sided paper so it is easier to track your place, and numbering the papers with a colored marker in the upper right hand corner to make sure you don’t get lost in in your script.