Funerals are a trying time for everyone, particularly if it involves the death of a close family member or friend. If you have been blessed with the task of writing and delivering a eulogy for the deceased, then it may seem like an inordinate amount of the stress has been placed squarely on your shoulders; so much so that it may not feel like a blessing at all, but rather a curse.
This is grief and the fear of public speaking that is getting to you. Don’t let that happen. Being chosen to eulogize the recently departed is indeed a wonderful honor for which you should be proud. Your family and friends completely trust you to send your loved one off with the love and respect that they deserve, so have the same amount of trust in yourself that they have in you. With all of the difficult emotions that you are probably experiencing at such a hard time in your life, it is common for people to fear that they will not be able to get through the delivery of the eulogy without breaking down. This is a completely normal fear, but you can get through this. Below are some tips to help you get through the delivery of your speech while keeping your emotions in check.
- Keep a bottle of water in front of you. Consult with either the religious official or someone in charge of the service to find out if a podium is available. If not, either ask that one be brought in or bring one in yourself. Place your water bottle on the podium so that you will not be awkwardly reaching for it on the ground during your speech. During the speech itself, if you begin to get choked up, take a sip of water. The coolness of the drink will help you gain your composure as well as give you a moment to take a breath or two. Don’t be afraid to use this technique a few times during the speech. Do try and have a bottle of water, rather than a glass, as your shaking hands might spill the glass of water.
- Prior to delivering the eulogy, memorize as much of the speech as you can. Of course, also bring with you either a typed copy of the speech or note cards where you have cut and pasted segments of the typed speech. However, only use note cards if you are secure in your ability to not mix up the order. The reason behind memorizing the eulogy even though you will have the actual speech in front of you is twofold: you will be more secure in your words so that in the case of forgetting where you are on the page, you can continue speaking without too much of an interruption and you will be free to make eye contact with the audience as you will not be staring down at a sheet of paper the entirety of the delivery. Having a piece of paper or note cards in your hands will also help to steady nervous shaking.
- Eye contact can be your friend. Though eye contact should be used as a way of making the audience feel included, it is also extremely helpful as a way to get you through your speech. Prior to the service starting, pick out a few friends or family members whose strength and composure you admire. Ask them where they will be sitting during the ceremony. During the times where you feel your emotions begin to take over, seek them out in the audience and make eye contact with them. This simple unspoken connection with your loved ones will help you to gather yourself so that you can continue on with the tribute to the deceased. An important note: if your loved one in the audience is clearly emotional when you make eye contact, pass over them and look at someone else. Looking at someone while they are crying will only make your situation worse.
- Speak very slowly. When giving a public presentation, novice speakers have the instinct to rush through the delivery. Don’t do this. Rushing your words will not only increase the likelihood that you will stumble, but it will do a huge disservice to the words that you so carefully created. Be deliberate with your words and take your time so that you can keep your composure.
- Take deep breaths. Not only is it the instinct of the beginner speaker to rush through their words, but also to hold their breath. Ignore this instinct as breathing is your best friend during such a nerve-wracking time. If you feel yourself becoming too emotional, stop and take a deep breath. Several if you need to. There is no shame in doing this several times throughout the speech if need be.
- Understand your purpose during the delivery of your speech. Why are you standing in front of all of these people talking about someone who has just passed away? View your eulogy in two different ways: you are paying tribute to the recently departed and you are bringing comfort to grieving family members and friends. Before the funeral or memorial service begin, ponder these purposes. If you view your speech as a way of giving to others, then it might help you keep your composure. Having the goals of comforting others and celebrating the life of the deceased on your mind might pull you out of your own grief long enough to get through the delivery of your speech.
When all is said and done, if you still get choked up during the speech please do not worry! You are in a room full of family and friends who are sending nothing but positive thoughts your way as they are very well aware of what a difficult job that you have. Funerals and memorial services are brimming over with emotions and it is completely natural to get choked up during them as well as during your speech. The goal is to not get too emotional for the simple purpose of wanting people to understand your speech. If it happens, try to regain your composure; if not, it is not a tragedy and there is not a single person in the audience who will think negatively of you.