The Ultimate Guide to Writing and Presenting a Great Eulogy
Tips for Writing a Eulogy – From the Nation’s #1 Eulogy Writer
Webster’s dictionary definition of “Eulogy” is: a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died.
But like all dictionary definitions, Webster’s gives just the facts. A eulogy is not just a speech. It is a tribute. A eulogy is a brief story of a person’s life. Typically it downplays the negative aspects of a personality or things he or she did badly or wrong and emphasizes the positive, but it is, in its best form, a brief biography of one who has been respected and, perhaps, even loved by the one giving the eulogy.
If you have been asked to give a eulogy or have stepped forward to present a eulogy, you should consider yourself honored. Only someone close to the family or to the deceased has that request made of them. You will want to do a great job. This article, which I’ve titled “The Ultimate Guide to Preparing, Writing and Presenting a Great Eulogy” should give you all you need to write and give a memorial speech that will be much appreciated and long remembered.
Should You Listen to the ‘How To’ Articles Online? Eulogy Writing 101 If you do an internet search on “how to write a eulogy” you will find dozens of articles giving essentially the same guidance on how to write a eulogy. Essentially they all say: pick a theme, share memories, gather stories from family and friends, write, edit, rehearse, and speak slowly as you make your presentation. Unfortunately, the authors of those articles are, essentially, copying what others are saying and probably have written very few, if any, eulogies themselves. You are reading an article by one who has written hundreds of eulogies over the course of forty years. It is doubtful that there is, anywhere in the world, anyone who has written as many eulogies as yours truly. Over the course of those four decades I have never had one client suggest the eulogy they commissioned was anything other than excellent. The following tips for writing a eulogy are things I’ve learned from experience. Follow them and you will end up with a eulogy that you will be confident in presenting and honored in delivering.
Should You Use a Template? There are dozens of eulogy writing templates and eulogy writing “plans” available on the internet. The easiest approach is to get a form, fill in your loved one’s name, add a few stories and voila, you’ve got a eulogy. PLEASE Don’t use a template. A eulogy template may make the job a lot easier, but using a template for a real life is just wrong. It dishonors the one you want to honor by using boilerplate types of statements. Do the work. Write a great eulogy without simply filling in the person’s name in the appropriate places. Your loved one was important enough to have a unique and original eulogy written for him or her.
Read Some Outstanding Eulogies There are real eulogy writers online who know how to do it and who write eulogies every day – great eulogies. Type “Eulogy Writers” into any search engine and you’ll find them all (along with writers of speeches who also write eulogies as part of their repertoire). One of those which typically comes up near the top will be TheEulogyWriters.com. That’s us. If you find that you need help, you can’t go wrong with any of the “eulogies only” writers you’ll find (don’t trust eulogy writers who have eulogy writing as just one of the kinds of speeches they write – you only get one chance at this, go with a professional who specializes and only does eulogies). There are fewer than a half dozen eulogy writers in the United States so your search won’t take long. Take a look at their eulogy samples (their sites may call them “eulogy examples”) to see exactly how the professionals do it and the quality and style of that particular eulogy writer. As astounding as it may sound, some eulogy writers don’t give example eulogies on their websites. I would steer clear of those. You have no way of knowing whether they are good or not. In any of the eulogy samples you find on their sites you won’t find any indications of templates having been used. Each eulogy is unique… but with certain similarities, too. You should read a few eulogy samples to get a feel for what one ought to sound like and what makes them good.
Gather Information The biggest problem with writing a eulogy is confusion. You know so much about your loved one that you don’t know where to begin or how to organize it into a coherent eulogy speech. One of our clients said she was ‘fog brained.’ I think that is a great descriptive phrase for what happens when we lose a loved one and begin thinking through how to write a eulogy. Our brains have a defense mechanism that slightly numbs our emotions and thinking when we are in grief or shock. That’s a good thing. We are protected, but it makes the writing of a eulogy much more difficult.
Some people begin by simply writing down everything they know about their loved on a sheet of paper (or several), but that is terribly burdensome. You end up with a long list of unrelated information that is nearly impossible to deal with. A better approach is to do what the professionals at TheEulogyWriters.com, and presumably all professional eulogy writers do. We use a questionnaire that helps you think through your loved one’s life in an organized and reasonable way. This is the approach we suggest you take. In fact, use our questionnaire. Go to our “Collecting Memories” questionnaire (click HERE) and fill it out. When you complete it you will have all the information you need. If you don’t want to do it on your computer, copy the questions from our questionnaire below and paste them onto your word processor. Here are the questions you need to answer:
If married, spouse's name? How many years were they married? Is he or she living? If not, when did he/she pass away?
If married, when and where did they meet (if you know)? Please share that story here.
Did he/she have children? How many?
Children's Names and Ages - Please indicate whether they are living. If step children, designate with an "S."
Grandchildren? Names and Ages.
What kind of relationship did the grandchildren have with your loved one?
Any other important inter-generational relationships?
Names of siblings (Please designate whether they are living or deceased)
Had he/she been ill for a while or did he/she die suddenly? What was the cause of death? Did he or she suffer?
Was he/she living independently or in a nursing/rehab facility?
What stories of his/her childhood did he/she tell?
Any stories about teen and young adult years?
What education level did he/she reach? What did he/she major in?
Did he/she ever serve in the military? Which branch? Where? Any stories?
If he/she had a Facebook page, what kinds of things are there? What are people saying?
Did he/she have any obstacles to overcome in his/her life?
How would you describe his/her outlook on life? Please describe as completely as possible.
Would you describe him/her as quiet or outgoing or something else?
What did he/she do for a living? For what company? For how long? Had he/she retired?
Did he/she enjoy the work? Why and to what extent?
Any other employments?
Are there any stories about his/her work life that you remember? Share one or two.
Name three things he/she enjoyed doing?
What do you think he/she would say were the biggest achievements of his/her life (other than having and raising family)?
What do you think he/she was most grateful for in life?
What was the most important thing in life to him/her (other than family)?
Do you think he/she had any regrets about his/her life? If so, what might they have been?
Was he/she a religious person? If so, to what extent? Did he/she have a church or synagogue or mosque?
Was he/she involved with any clubs or other organizations? Did he/she hold office?
Who were his/her closest friends? How did they meet? What were their favorite things to do together? Are they living?
What were his/her favorite pastimes or hobbies? What talents or skills did he/she have?
What special memory of him/her do you have - something you did together or something he/she said or some quirk he/she had.
What would you say might have been the greatest day or days of his/her life (other than children being born)?
What three words (at least three - feel free to use more) do you think best describe him/her? What made you love him/her?
Is there some phrase or words he/she always used - some expression uniquely his/hers? What did it mean?
Is there something about him/her that most people at the memorial service probably wouldn't know? Perhaps a hidden talent or habit or way of doing something...
Did he/she grow up in the city and state where the funeral will be held? If not, where was he/she raised? What brought him/her to this city?
What trait or characteristic or value do you think he or she would most like to have passed on to the next generations?
Did he/she have any pets? If so, please describe them.
Did he/she enjoy music? What kind? Any favorite songs?
How do you think he/she most influenced the lives of those he/she knew?
If he/she met a stranger for the first time, how do you think that stranger would describe him/her?
If you were granted five more minutes with him/her, what would you say?
Are there some things you think might be important for us to know about him/her that we haven't asked?
Yes. There are a lot of questions and not all of them may be relevant, but it is always better to start off with more information than you need than to not have enough. As you work through the questions you may, as many have, find them to be therapeutic and help you with the grief and loss you are experiencing. A eulogy is typically a thousand words long. If you fill out the questionnaire in detail, you will easily have already written over a thousand words.
Should You Get Stories and Information From Others? The short answer is ‘no.’ When people find out you will be delivering the eulogy, some people may approach you with stories to tell or information you may not have known. That is fine. Use what they give you, but DON’T go seeking more information. The eulogy is FROM YOU, not from the entire family or community. You’ll easily have your thousand words without other people’s input. If others want to share memories there is often a time for “open sharing” in the celebrants agenda for the funeral or memorial service. Let them tell their stories at that time.
In addition, time is at a premium when composing a eulogy. Usually a funeral takes place within three or four days of the death. There just isn’t enough time to meet with several people to get their memories and their input and their stories. The more people involved, the more stress it will put on you, as the eulogy writer. You already have more information and stories than you will need simply from using the information you’ve gathered in the ‘Collecting Memories’ questionnaire. Don’t overload yourself and make the writing of the eulogy more difficult than it already is. I know this is counter-intuitive and the opposite of what other articles may say, but you can’t use more information than you already have. Don’t go looking for it.
Highlight the Essentials Once you’ve completed the ‘Collecting Memories’ questionnaire, it is time to edit – to determine which of your responses to the questions will be used and which won’t. For this part of the eulogy writing process, I like to use a highlighter. I highlight all the things I believe will be important to include in the eulogy… Typically these will be names of children and grandchildren, the kind of work done, stories about early life, hobbies and pastimes, personality details, important things in his/her life, things other may not know, how he/she influenced the lives of others, and what you would say to him/her if you suddenly had five minutes more. Other things are important, too, but you will easily be able to see which things are MOST important. If one or two items seem especially important, mark them with an X. Those will be your opening comments right after thanking everyone for being here today to say a final farewell to your (father, mother, brother…).
A eulogy is not intended to be chronological. There is no need to try to put things in any particular order other than what makes sense to you. For instance, I might begin a eulogy with a statement about the loved ones passion in life – or maybe lightly touch on some of his or her quirks or oddities of personality. This can set the tone for the eulogy and isn’t a bad place to begin if the person was unique in some way. Then I might add another passion – his/her family (list names of kids and grandkids) and then move into what kind of work he/she did, personality traits, how he/she impacted his/her world… I make no attempt to be chronological. In fact, I actively avoid things in chronological order just to make it more interesting. This isn’t a resume or an obituary. There is no place for ‘lists’ of things in a eulogy. If you’re not sure where to begin writing your eulogy, here is a rule of thumb. Begin writing important things in his/her life then go to family, stories, ambitions, hopes and fears.
Speak to individuals during eulogy – and your loved one at the end One device I often employ in the eulogies I write (although not always – only when it seems appropriate) is a statement to individuals in the gathering. In other words, for a few sentences I address individuals rather than everyone who is listening. After listing the names of the grandchildren, it may be appropriate to address just them, doing something like this: “The five of you are among the most fortunate people on earth. Few young people your age have ever known a great grandparent – the closest they’ve come is to see pictures and hear stories. You have talked with yours and laughed and shared part of your lives with your grandpa Schubert. If you can take what you saw in him – his character and his sense of humor and his love – and have them as part of who you are – he will go on living…” Doing this makes the people you are addressing feel special in a difficult time (especially meaningful to children and young adults) and it also personalizes your comments in a profound way such that others who are listening will be touched.
I almost always end a eulogy with that same kind of “stepping aside from everyone else” statement, but this time addressing the deceased. “Jeffrey – you were an inspiration to so many. Your sense of justice and your inexhaustible energy and willingness to pitch in and help anyone in need is something we will never forget and will always miss. Thank you for being a friend to everyone you met. Thank you for being… you. We will remember and love you forever.” Often this statement will come directly or indirectly from the questionnaire question asking what you would say to your loved one if you were granted five more minutes. Then you go back and take your seat.
Presenting the Eulogy Many of the ‘experts’ who advise you how to present a eulogy will emphasize two things: rehearse until you know it forward and backward and, if possible, memorize it so it sounds more natural and like you. Please ignore this advice. Yes, you should read it over several times aloud, but you’re going to be reading it. The practice of reading the eulogy aloud is so that you don’t stumble on the words and so that you place pauses and emphasis where they belong. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO REHEARSE IT FOR HOURS. That will only serve to make you more nervous than you already are.
Don’t Memorize You don’t need to nor should you try to memorize your eulogy speech unless you are an accomplished public speaker. Doing so will amplify your nervousness and, with the first misspoken word, will destroy your confidence. From that point on, it is likely that you will lose your train of thought and which part of your narration comes next. Because of the stress and grief of the situation, nothing good can come from attempts at memorization.
Read the text of the eulogy in the best way you can. Use pauses and emphasize certain words or phrases. It is a somewhat dramatic presentation, so don’t be afraid to be a bit dramatic in your reading (but don’t over-do it).
One more don’t. Don’t read the eulogy from an electronic device. Doing so just looks bad – tacky – and looks like you haven’t prepared properly. Also, there is the possibility of the screen going dark, the device going dead, or some kind of alarm or notification interrupting the eulogy while you’re speaking. Use a paper manuscript – please.
Preparation The gurus will tell you to do some voice exercises and shake your whole body to loosen up. Again, don’t. First of all, you will be approaching the lectern from the audience. There isn’t anywhere to do those kinds of speech preparation exercises without making a spectacle of yourself. It is, however a good idea, if possible, to speak a few words into the microphone before the service begins to see how much you have to project to get the correct volume. But that is usually not possible, so just assume that the funeral directors have done this before and that the microphone is set to the appropriate volume.
As you approach the lectern, clench your teeth. That few seconds of clenching will make your enunciation clearer when you do begin to speak. Take a deep breath before your first words. This will give you a burst of oxygen and calm your nerves. Begin with the words, “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon.” This will give you an instant feel for the microphone volume before any content is shared. In fact, saying those words may (or may not) inspire some to verbally respond in kind. That suggests they are listening intently and ready to be supportive.
In almost every speech you might give, there will be one or two people who give you non-verbal positive feedback. That might be through an unconscious nod or a slight smile or simply looking intently at you. That person is the most important person in the room to you. You may not know him or her, but their encouragement is what all public speakers seek. Focus in on that person. Don’t direct your comments to him or her exclusively, but glance at them from time to time. Their encouragement will be invaluable.
Speak Slowly When we are nervous, we all have a tendency to speak faster than we normally do. Be aware of this and consciously slow your speech pattern to what you speak in normal conversation. Think of what you are saying as being conversation, albeit one way. Speak distinctly and with emphasis and pauses and slowly and your memorial speech will be one of the best your listeners have ever heard and you WILL get positive comments afterward (quite possibly because YOU have done something they would have never attempted – and did it well).
Hire TheEulogyWriters.com We can’t do much to help directly with your presentation of the eulogy but, up until it is given, we can help. We can save you time. We can save you stress. We can save you the uncertainty about how good your eulogy is. We are committed to writing great eulogies for your loved one. If we can be of assistance, please remember that we are always available – even a few hours before your big speech.
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