Losing a loved one is never easy, and having to go through the formalities of a funeral service can make the experience even more daunting. That is all the more so if we are giving the eulogy. Our comprehensive, step-by-step guide on what to say when speaking at a funeral should help anyone write and give the best speech possible in this challenging time.
Step 1: Brainstorming
Before we start drafting, we need to set aside enough time to brainstorm. It is a solemn occasion, so we should give it our best and not rush things. What’s more, this period of reflection may also help us process and make sense of our grief.
Our eulogy should paint a picture of the life and character of the deceased. Therefore, when thinking of what to say when speaking at a funeral, we should try to come up with as many experiences, anecdotes, funny stories, and defining moments of that person’s life as we can.
If we are at a loss for ideas, we could go over old photo albums, videos, letters, emails, or messages. We may also browse through the social media accounts of the departed. Another option is to visit their home and go through their memorabilia and souvenirs.
It is also a good idea to talk to the person’s close friends, family members, and colleagues to get their take on what they were like and gather interesting or funny memories.
Finally, if the job or career of the deceased was a big part of their life, we may wish to note down their key professional accomplishments.
Then, we ought to give ourselves time to go over our own memories as well. We might go for a walk alone or set aside some quiet time to reminisce about the deceased and the moments we spent together.
As we brainstorm, we should write down anything that comes to mind or others share with us. There are no right or wrong ideas. Later on, we will decide which of these to use or discard.
Step 2: Building the Structure
Once we feel like we have enough ideas, it is time to organize them into a coherent structure. We can opt for any of the following structure types:
- Chronological, starting from the childhood of the deceased all the way to the present.
- Reverse chronological, going back from the time of their death to their early years.
- Thematic, organizing our ideas under one major or two to three sub-topics that defined the person’s life or character.
We should pick the structure that we are most comfortable with and use it to organize the content we have gathered. We will likely have more ideas than can fit into one eulogy, and some of these may not be relevant to our chosen structure or topics. That’s perfectly fine — we do not have to use every single anecdote or memory. If we still want to do something with them, we could write a separate piece and send it to the loved ones of the deceased after the funeral.
Step 3: Writing the Eulogy
Save for the public speaking, writing the eulogy and knowing what to say when speaking at a funeral is probably the most challenging part of the process. The tips below are designed to make that as easy as possible.
Typically, the optimal duration of a eulogy is three to five minutes, and we certainly do not want to go over ten. A standard five-minute speech is around 650 words long.
A general rule of thumb is that the more people will be attending the service, the shorter our eulogy should be. We should also err on the shorter side if we know that other people will be giving speeches as well.
On the other hand, if we will be the only one speaking and are a close family member of the departed, then we can have a longer eulogy.
We should opt for short but powerful sentences and not go overboard by using complex vocabulary. Now is not the time to show off how well-read we are. We need to remember that the service is likely to be attended by people of various ages and educational backgrounds. The eulogy should be accessible and relatable to all.
We want our eulogy to describe the deceased and their life, personality, character, and accomplishments.
To that end, we can use stories and events of their life, especially if we witnessed them ourselves. Ideally, we should choose anecdotes that reveal the person’s character, show them in their best light, and are also funny, endearing, or unique.
We should also highlight the person’s best qualities. Perhaps they had a sharp mind or a great sense of humor. They may have been ambitious and hard-working. Maybe they were kind, compassionate, and always ready to lend a helping hand. Whatever their defining character traits were, we ought to mention them.
We should also talk about their most important relationships, as well as the impact the deceased had on our life in particular. It is fine to say that we will miss them dearly, but we should not dwell on our feelings. The focus should always be on the deceased.
Other things we may wish to mention are the person’s beliefs, talents, passions, or hobbies.
We may also consider adding a quote or two from a poem, song, or literary piece that the deceased particularly loved. Alternatively, we can quote the departed directly, especially if they were known to have had a specific catchphrase or motto. Either way, the quote should not take up more than a minute of our speech.
As we write, we should adopt a positive angle but not stretch or gloss over the truth. We are all human and have our fair share of flaws and failures. When choosing what to say when speaking at a funeral, we should not specifically mention any of the negative traits of the deceased. However, we should also avoid painting a picture of them that is too good to be true.
Step 4: Practicing the Eulogy
Once we have the final draft of the text, we can start practicing by reading it out loud. We should read it many times over until we feel 100% comfortable with it. If any passages or sentences sound a bit off when spoken, we may consider rewriting them.
It is also a good idea to memorize the speech. We do not have to know everything by heart, but the less we read from our notes, the better it will look. Knowing that we have memorized the text and do not need to rely on notes fully could also help reduce our stress on the day of the funeral.
Step 5: Getting Feedback
We should practice the speech at least once in front of someone we trust. They can give us valuable feedback on both the content of the eulogy and our public speaking skills.
It is also crucial to send the final version of the eulogy to the closest family members of the deceased to make sure that it is appropriate and that there is nothing in it that would upset them.
Step 6: Preparing for the Day of the Funeral
As with any public speaking event, preparation is key here. We need to make sure that our notes are as legible and easy to read as possible. We should wear clothes that are both appropriate and comfortable to breathe and move in. It’s also a good idea to bring plenty of tissues or handkerchiefs and see that we will have a glass of water handy when giving the speech.
If we can, we should find out if there will be a podium and a microphone. That will help adjust and practice our stance, body language, and voice projection in advance.
It is also good to know how many people will be in attendance. That way, we are less likely to get intimidated by the crowd.
Finally, we should make sure to have someone on standby to do the eulogy instead of us. Things happen. We may get sick, overly emotional, or choke up while giving the speech.
Step 7: Giving the Eulogy
We need to stand up straight with our shoulders back and look at the audience. It’s a good idea to maintain eye contact with the first row, as it is likely to be occupied by those closest to the deceased. We should take deep breaths and do our best to speak slowly.
If we get emotional during the speech, that’s okay — it is perfectly normal. We should pause for a moment or two, wipe our eyes, and take a sip of water. Once we have composed ourselves, we can keep going. It will all be over in a few minutes.
What to Say When Speaking at a Funeral: A Conclusion
Giving a eulogy can be a very stressful experience. Still, it is also a chance to send our final message to the deceased and help us and the audience process our grief. While it may be hard to decide what to say when speaking at a funeral, everyone who loved and cared for the deceased will undoubtedly appreciate our efforts.
From our experiences, we advise that one or more funeral poems should be included within a eulogy.
We are also aware that 90% of people opt for the most popular poems. Just consider this do you want to be the same as everyone else or say some words that will be truly memorable?
To help you through this I am letting you have access to our download that contains over 250 poems from which to choose from and has invaluable advice on all things eulogy related.
We also have a guide on public speaking that will help you through this. Go Here.