How to Write a Eulogy

Writing a eulogy can be a difficult task, and we understand that not everyone is prepared to hire a ghost-writer to assist them in honoring their deceased loved one, however we would still like to be of assistance nonetheless in providing the below guide of how to write a eulogy. While this will provide some good general ideas on not only preparing the eulogy, but also in delivering it, it is important to note that there is no set template one should use in writing a eulogy and what is presented below is just some good general information. Should you find yourself overwhelmed at any point in this process, please also feel free to call us at any time at 320-4-EULOGY (320-438-5649) for our assistance.

What is a Eulogy Exactly?

Before beginning, it is important to be able to distinguish between a eulogy and two other terms with which it is commonly confused: obituary and elegy. An obituary is a concise announcement of the deceased that is placed in the newspaper. It is usually biographical in form. An elegy, on the other hand, is a poem or song that is intended to lament the dead. While important in their own rights, the construction of obituaries and elegies will not be discussed in this article. A eulogy is a speech typically given during a funeral or memorial service that pays tribute to the deceased. On other occasions, a eulogy can be given to a living person during a celebration, such as a retirement or a birthday party; however, for the purposes of this article, we will only be discussing eulogies for the recently departed. The person responsible for delivering a eulogy is typically a family member or close friend of the family (multiple friends or family members delivering eulogies is also commonplace). As such, preparing a speech in a short amount of time under the tremendous distress that death brings, can certainly be viewed as a daunting task. This article is meant to provide easy to follow tips that will hopefully aid you in the eulogy writing process.

I. Before you begin writing

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A. Brainstorm

Before deciding what direction that you would like to take the eulogy in, start by brainstorming some ideas. Take a piece a paper and jot down the first things that come to mind when you think about the person that you will be eulogizing. Any thoughts or words that come to mind are fair game. Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  1. What words would you use to describe the deceased?
  2. What is your favorite childhood memory with this person?
  3. What’s your favorite memory as an adult with the person?
  4. How has the deceased influenced who you are today?
  5. What was your favorite thing about the deceased?
  6. Is there a story involving the recently departed that has you rolling on the floor in laughter when you recall it?
  7. Years from now, what will make you think of the deceased? Will it be a certain food or something that someone says?
  8. If you were able to tell them one last thing, what would it be?

If this section is difficult for you because you didn’t know the deceased very well, try talking to family and friends. This does not need to be a formal interview, rather a loose conversation which will hopefully give you some really good ideas for potential inclusion in the eulogy once you begin the writing process.  

B. Decide on the tone

Do you think that a serious or humorous speech would be more appropriate? Remember, the purpose of the eulogy is to talk about the person who has passed in a way that accurately shows what his or her life was like. Think about what that life was like and from there you can decide which tone would be the most suitable. You most certainly do not have to choose one or the other, as a well written eulogy can be solemn with humorous undertones. As long as it is appropriate to a funeral setting, choose whichever tone you believe suits the life of the deceased best.  

C. Look at your notes

When looking at the stories and words that you have jotted down about the deceased, a clear theme will typically pop out. Maybe it’s the person’s selflessness, the fact that they were meant to be a parent, or how they always had something funny to say. If nothing screams out at you, you might have to think a little more on the topic. If there are multiple messages that you could go with, just pick one or two. Using too many will leave the audience confused. Also, know that the audience you will be speaking to will be – for the most part – familiar with the person that you are eulogizing. Because of this, you will not need to tell them about the deceased; rather, you will be sharing stories about their loved one and helping to memorialize the deceased in the minds of those who knew them best.  

D. Find out the details of the service

Before you begin writing, you need to speak with the funeral or memorial service venue to find out if there is a time limit on the eulogy. If not given one, plan on no more than five to seven minutes worth of material. Too short and you will not give your loved one the beautiful tribute that they so deserve. Too long and you risk losing your audience to boredom.

E. Outline

Though you may not believe it to be necessary, an outline can help you stay on track throughout the writing process. Organize a piece of paper into three sections: introduction, body of speech, and conclusion. From there we will begin the eulogy writing process. Now at this point you have brainstormed, decided on a tone, picked a theme, and found out how long your speech needs to be. It is commonplace to think that the best way to go about eulogizing your loved one is to speak from the heart and not actually write anything down. Do not under any circumstances do this. Even professional speakers do not ever deliver a speech without something written down. You may not see a piece of paper because they have memorized it and are delivering it in a manner that makes you believe that they are speaking from the heart, but there was most certainly a piece of paper at one point. Do not think that you will be the one exception to being able to speak naturally without something written down because that will not be the case. When a person believes that they can be natural at “winging it”, they end up speaking way too fast and rambling. When a person rambles, the audience either loses interest or can not follow the speech because of its lack of organization. The goal of a eulogy is to celebrate the life of your recently departed friend or family member. If you attempt to “wing” the speech, you will be wasting the opportunity that your friends or family have entrusted to you. Don’t make this mistake.

II. The Eulogy Writing Process

When writing your eulogy, keep the language light. The number one mistake that speech novices make when writing a speech is using overly formal words. Yes, when writing a paper for say school or work, formal language is expected; however, in a speech, that would be too complicated for an audience to follow. To help you better understand, look at it this way: when words are on paper, a person can go back and re-read it if they didn’t quite understand something; with a speech, the audience only hears something once. With that in mind, keep the words as close to conversational as possible. If at any point during the writing process you become concerned that it is not natural enough, read it out loud to someone. If it doesn’t sound like typical talking between two people, then you need to go back and revise.

A. The Introduction

The introduction is the place where you will want to explain your relationship with the deceased as well as establish the direction that you will be taking with your speech. We have already discussed the need to keep wording to a pretty simple level in order to help the audience be able to follow the eulogy as easily as possible. This is also true of the layout. Think of the simplicity of a basic power point presentation that professors typically use during lectures. The reason for those slides is to provide notes that are meant to help the students follow along with what might be a potentially challenging lecture. During your eulogy however, you will not have the aid of the power point presentation. Therefore, you need to make your speech as easy to follow as those power point slides themselves.

B. The Body

The body of the speech is where you will flesh out the main point, which you made clear in the introduction, by providing specific examples. For instance, if you are centering the eulogy around the kindness of your grandmother, then this is your chance to show her kindness in action by providing stories. The best way to build your speech is not to tell the audience about something, but to show them. If your grandmother was a very kind woman, don’t go on and on telling them how sweet she was, rather show them by giving examples that demonstrate said kindness. As to how many stories exemplifying the theme do you want to include? This depends upon the length of the stories. If they have a good amount of heft to them, you will probably only need 3 or 4. Less detail will demand that you add more stories. Remember that you want to keep the organization of your speech as easy to follow as possible. Keep this in mind when you are writing the body of the eulogy. When you are demonstrating the theme by giving detailed stories of the deceased’s life, keeping those stories in chronological order is best.

C. The Conclusion

Simply put, the conclusion of your eulogy will be where you wrap everything up. You will concisely review everything that you have said in the intro and body of your speech. The final sentence or two will be the most important part of the entire address as it will be the the lasting statement that you leave with the audience. This final thought is most likely the last chance that you will have to honor the life of your recently departed loved one, in a public forum, so use it wisely. Use it to leave a lasting mark on everyone that is listening in a way that truly pays tribute to the deceased. These ending remarks will stay on everyone’s mind for days, so make sure and utilize your opportunity to the fullest.

III. Editing, Memorization, and Eulogy Delivery

A. Editing

After you have completed the very daunting and difficult task of preparing a speech during such a stressful point in your life, take the opportunity to edit what you have written. Writing mistakes are quite easy to make under normal circumstances, but during emotional times they become much more common. You might find it helpful to take a breather before beginning the editing process. Get up from the computer, take a walk in the fresh air, and perhaps grab a snack. After you have recharged both physically and emotionally, take another look at the speech. If there are any obvious errors, fix them. If not, consider handing the speech over to a friend or family member to take a look. After they have given their feedback, read the speech out loud and make sure it sounds alright. Sometimes words that look good on a page don’t necessarily sound as great once they are read out loud. If that is the case, fix it. The important thing for this occasion is how the speech sounds, not how it is read.

B. Memorization

You have the option of either memorizing your speech completely, or just reading it. Choose which option works best for you. No one will judge you if you choose to not go with memorization. However, if you do, here are a few tips on the best way to go about remembering your speech. First, memorize while walking around; pacing up and down a hallway works well. Second, memorize one sentence at a time. Each time you finish with one sentence, add it on to the previous one. Third, memorize your speech in a monotone voice (either out loud or in your head). This way, when you deliver the eulogy, you will be able to do so in as natural a way as possible. If you memorize a phrase in a certain way and that way turns out to be awkward sounding, it will be very difficult to change it. Whereas if you commit it to memory without any inflection the first time, you can deliver it any number of ways without a problem. If you choose to go without memorizing the speech, you can either read from a copy of the speech or cut and paste the speech onto note cards. Either way, you should be extremely familiar with what you will be saying so that you are not looking down at a piece of paper or a note card the entire time. Ideally, you should be able to deliver a few sentences before looking down again. This will be more engaging for the audience. Even if you memorize your speech, have the safety net of a piece of paper or note cards in front of you in case you have a memory lapse. This can easily happen when emotions get the best of you. A word of advice about having the speech in front of you though: staple the pieces of paper together in case you get nervous enough to drop them. Note cards can’t really be stapled, but a lot of people find them more conducive for a speech. Do a trial run with both methods and see which one fits your needs the best.

C. Delivery

Delivering a speech is a very alien task for a lot of people. Typically, it is something that people avoid for most of their lives because of a fear of humiliating themselves. There is no need to feel that way. Here are some tips to make the delivery of the eulogy go as smoothly as possible. First, speak slowly, very slowly. When people become nervous, they instinctively speed up their speech. Counteract this by purposely going slow. It will seem strange to you, but delivery wise it will make your speech go a lot better. Second, if you stumble, do not worry. Take a breath or two and pick up where you left off. The audience is well aware of how difficult delivering a eulogy can be and will offer you nothing but support, so know that. Third, don’t be afraid of making eye contact. Pick out an audience member to deliver one sentence to and then move on to someone else for the next. This method will make your speech seem much more intimate. Fourth, enunciate. You have gone through considerable effort in writing this speech, so you want people to be able to understand what you are saying. Carefully pronouncing every syllable will help you accomplish that. Finally, speak up. There might be a microphone where you will be speaking. If so, practice with it beforehand so that you know how close you need to stand. If there is no microphone, then speak louder than you think is necessary. Your words need to make it to the very back of the room or, if the ceremony is outside, you need to speak loudly enough to counteract the wind and other potential noises.

After Delivering the Eulogy

After all is said and done, take a few moments to reflect on what you have accomplished. During such a painful time as the death of a loved one can be, you were able to write, memorize, and deliver a speech in a way that acknowledges and celebrates the life that person lived in a way that would be make them unbelievably proud. Speaking in front of a group of people is a terrifying task for the vast majority of people, but doing so during a time of emotional distress is amazing and something you should be immensely proud of. Provided you have given it your best effort, then you have done a good job. Do note, however, in the event you are concerned about your ability to prepare a eulogy, or perhaps you are not confident in the job you have done, you can always call us – at 320-4-EULOGY (320-438-5649) – anytime during the day or night, and we can be of assistance to you in either custom eulogy preparation or intensive eulogy review. We value the opportunity to help you honor your loved one and we take this task very seriously.

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