Delivering a Eulogy at a Funeral or Memorial Service
Usually writing a eulogy is the most difficult part of paying tribute to one you have lost. It takes time you don’t have (three days at the most), concentration when you are thinking about the meaning of life and in the midst of sorrow, and talent – some people are just not writers. The whole idea of writing a eulogy for a wife or a eulogy for a father or mother or a funeral tribute to a grandparent is way outside your comfort zone. That’s really why TheEulogyWriters.com exists – to help you in those kinds of situations.
But the second tier of eulogy presentation can be, for some people, even harder – actually standing up in front of people – friends, family, strangers – some in tears, others waiting anxiously for words of wisdom or comfort – and speaking. Following are a few tips for getting up there and delivering a eulogy.
1) Be yourself It may not always appear to be the case, but most people who stand up to give speeches are not natural speech givers. For most it is one of the most difficult things they do. Even extroverts get nervous when they are called on to be ‘up front’ in a eulogy-type situation. The nervousness is natural. It’s the being up front giving a eulogy that is not.
You’ve probably watched a comedian or some other speaker enthrall audiences and thought, “I could never do that.” And, let’s be honest, you probably can’t. You don’t have the natural talent or the innate charisma or, most importantly, the long experience of those speakers. That’s OK. 99% of all public speakers are not necessarily dynamic nor hilarious – they are simply interesting. That’s where you want to be. They communicate valuable information. That’s exactly what you are doing when you give a eulogy. You are sharing your unique knowledge of a person everyone knew and respected and, perhaps, loved. Your eulogy will be interesting because it come from your perspective and your experience. Your listeners will identify because some of their experiences with the deceased will be similar and your words will spark their memories and some of your experiences will be different and your listeners will find that interesting. The best speakers are compelling. People underestimate the power of content and of storytelling and that is just what you are doing in a eulogy – telling the life story of someone you knew well enough to be asked to provide the eulogy. So just be yourself. Tell the story of the one you knew from your point of view. Don’t try to be a great speech maker. Be a story teller telling what you know. Relax.
2) Be an Actor When it comes down to it, public speaking is a performance – giving a eulogy is standing in front of an audience and entertaining them for a few minutes. That may sound strange in terms of giving a eulogy, but in reality that is just what you are doing – giving them something to see and hear while their minds are, perhaps, going elsewhere – grieving or remembering or thinking about the meaning of life and its brevity. Think of yourself as an actor and you will be more able to take your eulogy debut in stride.
Have you ever wondered why people enjoy costume parties? It’s because they feel liberated when interacting from behind a mask. Dressing up as Cinderella or Don Draper removes inhibitions as effectively as a glass of wine. Think of your up-front persona the same way. Think of yourself as an actor reading his or her lines – as one putting on a performance. If you can see yourself almost as someone else, you will be surprised how nervousness vanishes. Today you will be an outstanding eulogy presenter. Later on you can go back to being yourself.
3) Its All About Your Audience Introverts (which the vast majority of us are) are great listeners, which attunes them to the needs of others. And that’s why speaking (instead of listening) can feel uncomfortable – unnatural, even. We’d rather be on the receiving end of information or inspiration or comfort. But when giving a eulogy is not about you. It’s about the one who has passed away and it is about the audience. Your job is to take care of the audience – to show them the life of the person you all lost, to enlighten them or remind them about the aspects of his or her life, not to be judged by what you say, but to simply present it. Surprisingly, you will find that no one judges your eulogy speech. They realize that they could never do such a thing and will applaud you for getting up there and paying a funeral tribute to the deceased. Remind yourself that you are not seeking approval or love. You are an enlightener, a comforter, a story teller.
4) Accept your nervousness. Not everyone is afraid of public speaking. Some people actually love it. But those people are rare and you probably aren’t one of them. For most people, public speaking is as frightening as standing up in front of people wearing nothing but your underwear. The public speaking trainer Charles di Cagno says, “There are only a few people in the world who have completely overcome their fears, and they all live in Tibet.” It’s OK – it’s normal and natural and human to be nervous when giving a eulogy. This may be the most important speech you will ever give. Of course you’re going to be nervous. But nervousness never killed anyone. It just makes you human. Give that eulogy with the sure knowledge that YOU can do what 90% of your listeners can’t or wouldn’t.
5) Be Aware of Your Body. According to Gina Barnett, who coaches many TED speakers, if you have trouble calming your mind before a speech, try calming your body first. When you relax your body, your head will follow suit. Here are a few tips:
Shake out every limb in your body. This gets your blood flowing and makes you tingle all over. It calls oxygen to your extremities and throughout and gives you a bit of an adrenaline boost.
Stand up straight. Shift back and forth, putting your weight first on your heels, then on the balls of your feet. Find the place that’s evenly distributed between both, then gently press your toes on the floor. This will give you the sensation of forward momentum.
Yawn. Yawning sucks air and thus oxygen into your system, stimulating your brain and muscles
Talk with your tongue out. You’ll sound ridiculous, but it will loosen you up vocally.
Immediately before speaking, clench your teeth. This will result in better enunciation when you begin speaking.
Tap the microphone to get a feel for its volume and responsiveness.
6) Go For It After all of your preparation, relaxation exercises and affirmations, there’s one thing left to do, and it’s the simplest thing – smile. Smile at your audience as they enter the room, and smile at them when you begin speaking. This will make you feel relaxed, confident, and connected. Even when giving a eulogy, smiling at your audience gives a sense of confidence and tells them they can relax and enjoy what you are going to say. Your are eulogizing someone you knew and loved. They wouldn’t want you to begin talking about them through tears. Tears may flow down your cheeks as you talk about the tender memories, but always begin with a smile…
7) Don’t Worry about Tears. No one wants to break down during a eulogy (or at any other time when up front of people) but if you do, that is OK. It may be one of the only times when it is socially acceptable to shed tears in public when you are up front. If you have gone over and over and over the text of the eulogy, rehearsing out loud exactly what you are going to say, you will be less likely to get emotional. But if you do, simply pause, take a sip of water, clench your teeth, and tell yourself that you are in control – you are the official eulogy giver – you are unshakable. Give yourself a few seconds (no one will mind) and then go on.
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