The sense of responsibility associated with writing and presenting a eulogy can feel overwhelming. The thought of having to find the words to summarise a life, and then deliver those words as a speech in front of friends and family is understandably daunting.
At Bethel, people often ask us to explain the do’s and don’ts of eulogy writing. In response, we have composed this summary of funeral speech do’s and don’ts. We hope this guide will help you feel more confident in yourself and ensure you avoid making some of the most common eulogy mistakes.
The 4 Do’s of Eulogy Writing
Do be prepared
It is most important that you thoroughly prepare your remembrance speech. Take the time to redraft your words until you are satisfied that the meaning is clear, and the sequence is logical.
Set a timer and read the speech aloud. Speak slowly and rehearse carefully the pronunciation of unfamiliar names and places. We find that most eulogies are between five and ten minutes in duration. If you are sharing the eulogy with others aim for around three minutes each. Adjust the content of your remembrance speech to ensure it is not too brief, or too lengthy.
Print the speech for ease of reading by choosing a large font, with double spacing and single-sided printing. If your eulogy goes over a page be sure to print the page numbers at the bottom so they don’t become muddled. Hold the pages together with a paperclip and keep them flat as you take them to the service – this will help them to sit well on the lectern.
For further advice on how to structure a eulogy, and what to include, please refer to our How to Write a Eulogy article.
Do be yourself
It is highly likely that the family and friends gathered before you at the funeral know you very well. As an audience, they are going to be supportive and appreciative of the notable gesture you are making to the remembrance process.
There is no need to suddenly adopt a formal persona or to try to be a comedian. Be true to yourself and the way you are. Speak in an audible and clear voice, but allow your own personality to shine through. You have been chosen to present the eulogy because of your personal qualities, let this be a comfort and a source of confidence.
Do be positive
As far as possible, let the emphasis of your speech fall on positive and uplifting memories. Most lives have sorrowful chapters, a brief mention of anything significant is appropriate, but try to avoid dwelling on negative experiences.
Be honest and truthful about the positive impact your loved one has had on the lives of family and friends. Include mention of their personal achievements and describe any contributions they have made towards improving, and supporting, the lives of others.
Do be a storyteller
Sharing stories about the deceased is an important part of the healing process. Include a couple of anecdotes in your speech, try to choose stories that serve to encapsulate the true character of your loved one.
People love to connect through storytelling. Your shared recollections are likely to stimulate fond and welcome memories in the hearts and minds of your audience. By being a storyteller, you are helping others through their grief journey.
The 4 Don’ts of Eulogy Writing
Don’t be isolated
Consult with family and friends throughout the process of preparing the eulogy. Gather information and stories from relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Use their ideas to help structure your thoughts.
Ask your loved ones to read through the draft of your speech. Invite them to identify any errors, clarify the flow of the content and offer suggestions on further material to include.
Read your funeral speech aloud to a close friend or family member. You can do this in person, over the phone or through Skype. Sharing this task with others will help you feel less isolated and may serve to reduce any nervous feelings you have about delivering the eulogy.
Don’t be indiscreet
In presenting the eulogy, your role is not to judge or measure the life of the deceased. A remembrance speech is not the platform through which to refer to inappropriate memories or to tell tales.
Leave out any mentions of questionable behaviour or long-held grudges. A eulogy is not an opportunity to “roast” the deceased. There is certainly a place for humour and warmth but the content of a remembrance speech should always remain respectful.
Don’t be a list-maker
The task of summarising the events of a whole life into one single speech is almost impossible. You cannot include everything; some stories and events will be shared in less formal moments with friends and family.
When writing a eulogy, it is easy to fall into the trap of composing a chronological list of events to illustrate the life of the deceased. Try to avoid your speech sounding like a CV. Instead, focus on telling the stories that illuminate the life of your loved one.
Don’t be self-conscious
Delivering a eulogy can be an emotional task. If you need to pause and compose yourself, don’t be self-conscious. Take a few deep breaths, have tissues and a glass of water close by. Slow down and take your time.
If you think you might find it difficult to make eye contact with your audience you can focus instead on the paper in front of you. No one is judging your performance, the words you have composed are all that truly matter.
Our eulogy planning guide includes a selection of hymns, readings and poems as well as a eulogy template you might like to consider including in your funeral speech.