Composing and presenting a eulogy can be difficult. The difficulty increases exponentially when the deceased is a close friend or peer. We recognize that grief is personal and that some people would prefer not to outsource the task to an impersonal third party. Despite this, we believe that professional assistance can propel and motivate the eulogy writer to consider every angle and complete the desired eulogy as intended. Follow our complimentary guide to writing a beautiful eulogy for a friend to get you started.
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There is no right and wrong answer, or secret skill, to developing and delivering a beautiful eulogy. This guide is meant to assist the overall process and help spark inspiration for drafting the eulogy and delivering it on behalf of your friend. Those seeking more involved assistance are encouraged to contact us at 320-4-EULOGY (320-438-5649).
To be fully prepared to compose a eulogy, one must first understand that it should not read like an obituary (journalistic, biographic death announcement) or elegy (dedicated poem or lyrical song). The difference is that a eulogy is far more conversational, lengthy, and personal than an obituary and is not necessarily poetic or performed.
Eulogies are often associated with grief and posthumous honor, but the term ‘eulogy’ can be used for any speech that is a tribute or dedication to a person - living or deceased. Though this article will outline grief-related eulogies, it may be helpful to think of a eulogy as a celebratory homage, highlighting happy memories and proud moments with respect.
Many people will prefer to just begin writing to see what ideas flow. This experience can often serve as a purging of emotions and be very cathartic for the grieving individual. However, this is also one form of brainstorming. We suggest brainstorming when writing a eulogy for a friend and offer the following suggestions to begin.
Brainstorming ideas and thoughts about the deceased can motivate the direction of the eulogy. Taking time to truly reflect on memories and thoughts of the deceased can be painful, but by focusing on the brightest parts of your friend’s life and your time together, grief can begin to dissolve. As a result, your eulogy can bring relief, however small, to those attending the memorial services.
As a convenience to you, we have provided a list of questions, below, for inspiration:
Trusting the input of mutual friends and relatives of the friend may inspire additional answers and, perhaps, additional questions as well. It may be in poor taste to interrogate individuals with a formal interview, but casual reminiscing may spark a nostalgic and positive response from people who knew your friend best.
Giving extensive thought to the tone of the eulogy can help when deciding what to include. The eulogy should be fully representative of your friend with respect to the family, the funeral setting, and the cause of death. Solemnity may work best for some individuals and venues, and serious eulogies are fully acceptable. On the other hand, a more light, positive, or humorous approach can fit many individuals, as human life is often interwoven with incredulity and fun. A light-hearted eulogy is in no way disrespectful if it suits your friend best. Mixing the two tones, serious and light, can also help to liven the mood and honor the spirit of the deceased friend while maintaining respect for the situation. An impartial, consulting ear may be of service to ensure the tone is consistent and respectful.
Reviewing notes about your friend will often reveal a repetitive theme or idea. Perhaps the friend was a philanthropist and giver, a jokester and the life of the party, or a nurturer and caregiver. Perusing your notes and memories, perhaps even photos and other memorabilia, will help design your message. Multiple themes can be conveyed, but they should be compartmentalized. Perhaps your friend had all of the aforementioned qualities; these messages can all be delivered but should be organized separately to keep the eulogy concise and to the point.
Avoiding unnecessary back-story is a way to pare down the eulogy and drive home the overall idea. Most of the audience will be at least somewhat familiar with your friend and will not require as much context for stories and memories. This means that most of what the eulogy contains will be no surprise to your listeners, and they will probably smile and sigh along with every carefully organized thought you share.
As a precursor to planning and composing a eulogy, check with the funeral home or service venue to discern the time limit for your speech. For venues that do not limit the eulogy, five to seven minutes should be plenty to deliver a beautiful in memoriam. A eulogy too brief may seem uninterested and insignificant, whereas an overly lengthy eulogy may lose sight of organization and lose the interest and respect of the audience.
An outline is a great roadmap for the writing process. By brainstorming you should be able to condense the outline into an intro, a body, and a conclusive statement for your speech. Individual bullet points about your friend can be put into sections within the body so that the outline is as organized as possible. This organization will guide your writing and help ensure that all desired points are made in a way that is not haphazard. We would be happy to help you create an outline or review an outline for you to ensure direction is clear.
Many people believe an outline is unnecessary, because they should be able to speak candidly about someone they so admired and loved. However, in the midst of grief and potential anxiety concerning speaking in front of others, important components to your speech may be lost in the shuffle of thoughts and emotions. We have all been to a funeral or service where an individual delivers a winning eulogy with no notes in sight; however, it is nearly guaranteed that this individual had notes at some point. You may also be able to convivially deliver the most eloquent eulogy on the service day, but it will be easier and more fluid with an organized, outlined speech.
Those who present without an outline risk speaking unnaturally, speaking far too quickly, muttering, or losing their original purpose. The audience may end up lost, unable to follow the message, or generally disinterested. This is no way to honor your friend.
Eulogies are meant to be celebratory and honorary toward the deceased. Honoring your friend properly should include planning a thoughtful, heartfelt speech and delivering it with ease and clarity. What’s more, your friend’s family has likely put faith in you and your relationship with this individual - it would be a shame to disrupt that trust and add insult to their grief by presenting a disorganized eulogy. An outline can prevent this.
The most important thing to consider when beginning to write is to make it sound like your voice. Oftentimes, when someone is going to present any sort of speech to a group of people, they try to use overly formal, academic verbiage that a) does not make sense to the audience or speech purpose; and b) does not sound authentic to the speaker. Instead, speak from the heart about each of your outlined topics, and then write in the same manner.
Some speech writers prefer to read aloud what they have written to see if it feels authentic and flows easily. Some words look great on paper but run together poorly when delivered verbally. Eulogies are conversational, so the writing you create should sound natural when read aloud. If you develop frustration during the writing process, go back and remember the purpose: think of your friend and how important this eulogy will be. If frustrated, take a break and come back to writing with a refreshed frame of mind.
Beginning your eulogy may be the most difficult part. Some writers consider writing other portions of the speech and coming back to the introduction. The important purpose of the introduction is to first explain to the audience who you are. When writing a eulogy for a friend, some family members and friends will be acquaintances or close loved ones to you, and others may be total strangers. To have the audience know that you are a long-running and loyal friend to the deceased will earn their trust as you move into the body of your speech. Further, it is best to preview a little of what you will be discussing.
A eulogy is not an academic thesis and does not require a full introduction of points to be discussed. Instead, it is better to lightly and conversationally explain your purpose. If your goal is to reminisce on the good times while your friend was living, explain that. If instead you plan to honor the lifetime of achievement and service of the friend, express your point that way. Either way, the audience will then be able to anticipate the sorts of feelings they may encounter throughout your speech. As with the rest of the delivery, keeping simple wording and positivity from the beginning is the best way to engage an audience of listeners.
Working from the purpose that you delivered in the introduction, use the body of your speech to craft examples that drive your points home. Expressions of grief are understandable, but most of the anecdotes should be positive, happy and especially respectful. One method is to show your audience how your friend was in life with examples instead of listing his or her attributes without reference. Not every example needs to be a full-blown story, but some stories allow the listeners to remove themselves from the heaviness of grief by moving into a light reminiscence. Nostalgia is a beautiful emotion that can move funeral and memorial service attendees away from despair, if only for a time.
Organization is key in the body of your speech. A handful of minutes does not sound like much, but when giving a speech or listening to a speech, it will feel much longer. Consider the chronology of stories so that listeners are not confused. Transition between topics so that listeners know when you are moving on to discuss a different message or period of your friend’s life.
Be sure to tie up the loose ends of your eulogy in concluding statements. This is a time to go over all of the messages you delivered in the earlier portions of the eulogy. Your finishing statements, the concluding sentences of your speech, will be an important portion of your eulogy as they will be what sticks with the listeners after the speech is over. The final words of your eulogy may very well impact the friends and relatives of the deceased in monumental ways. It is an honor to be chosen to leave a concluding message concerning the life of your friend. Final statements will likely sit in the hearts and minds of your listeners for days after the service. Choosing them wisely would be well advised.
Preparing a finished speech can be a demanding and emotional task. It is easy to make errors while composing, but when the writer is emotionally stressed and anxious about presenting his or her work, especially in a time of grief, errors are more likely. Proofreading and editing your speech can help ensure that errors do not trip you up when delivering your words. Many writers find taking a solid break between writing and editing is beneficial for distancing themselves from the words in order to take an objective perspective when they return to them.
After you have addressed all the noticeable errors in your speech, ask another pair of eyes to scan it for mistakes or places where the points are not clear. It is easy to overlook something like this; oftentimes the writer knows what he or she is trying to express, but the listener might not. After feedback is provided, it is a great time to run through the speech aloud to yourself or to another person. Remember that this is not an article to be read silently or viewed in a presentation, but a speech to be delivered and received.
There are three major options when it comes to speech delivery. Some eulogies are memorized nearly word for word. Other eulogies are delivered from a notecard of the general points and messages. The remainder of eulogies are usually delivered by being read, nearly verbatim. Only you will know which option will function best when presenting in front of a crowd. For some, memorization would be far too difficult, and for others, it is the only way to feel natural and rehearsed enough to deliver. Similarly, some feel that reading their speech is too robotic or lacks feeling, while others would only be able to make it through their speeches by reading word-for-word.
Those who choose to memorize the eulogy should memorize through motion by walking around or pacing, committing one sentence at a time to memory. Once a sentence is nailed down, it can be added to the rest of the set. Memorizing works best if done in monotone - voice inflection will be added when you speak, but trying to add inflection during memorization could turn awkward when presenting. Note cards are still an option for those who try to memorize in full, just in case emotion or nerves overcome the memorization.
Those who choose to use note cards with general ideas and bullet points should be warned that carefully written sections of the speech may be lost. For example, a note card that just says “discuss friend’s awards” may remind you to discuss his or her “Volunteer of the Year” plaque or three completed marathons, but you may forget to discuss the story behind the potato sack race trophy from 1994. Practice can make this method perfect, however, and speaking from loose notes can provide a nice balance between full memorization and full reading.
Finally, those who opt to read their speech may still want to transcribe it in sections on note cards, as full pages can be distracting. An error many people make when they decide to read the speech is to never practice. Practicing will allow you to rehearse inflection, allow for pauses, and familiarize with word order. A well-read speech can allow for adlibbed inflections or extra pauses for laughter or effect. Practicing in front of a mirror can ensure that you aren’t looking down too often, and presenting to another person may allow you to slow your pace or avoid monotone.
Delivering a speech in any context is nerve wracking for most people. Public speaking is a more common fear than heights, spiders, or open water. However, this does not have to be the case for you. Grappling with a fear of speaking can be especially difficult during an emotional time like a funeral or memorial service, so we would like to offer some advice to assist you:
Tip: Slow your speech significantly. Nervousness tends to speed our speech, but you can control this by moving through your speech at a snail’s pace. It may feel strange at first, but it will prevent you from losing your audience’s attention or sounding rushed.
Tip: Allow for mistakes. It is perfectly natural to miss a word, lose your place, or stumble verbally. Pause for a moment to find your footing, and move on. Every listener in the room understands how stressful public speaking can be, especially in the form of a eulogy. This will be an especially forgiving crowd, given the circumstances.
Tip: Vary your eye contact, scan the room, but do not look down or away for too long. Direct eye contact with an individual can offer a more intimate feeling to the speech, but lingering too long may make the audience uncomfortable and distract from the message. On the other hand, staring at the back wall the entire time may leave audience members feeling ignored.
Tip: Speak clearly and enunciate. There is no real purpose to writing a beautiful homage to your friend if his or her loved ones cannot comprehend it. Carefully move through every syllable and speak audibly for best results. Some venues will offer a microphone; it is best to practice with it before the crowd arrives, if possible. Other venues will be without a sound system. In this case, be certain to speak louder than you would expect is necessary. Counteracting environmental noise is necessary so that you and your audience members do not become distracted from honoring your friend.
Your friend would be proud. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for completing a very difficult, emotionally demanding task on behalf of someone who has always meant so much to you. Congratulations.
If you are uncertain or uncomfortable with preparing a eulogy, or would like a second opinion on your completed eulogy, you are not alone. Contact us at 320-4-EULOGY (320-438-5649) for assistance with preparation or a comprehensive review. We consider it an honor to be chosen to assist in such an important time and would be happy to help relieve your stress.