Specialist Speeches – Funerals
It is a great honour to be asked to speak at a funeral, whether you are giving the main eulogy or a supporting speech, or would simply like to say a few words about the deceased.
Find out what is expected of you –
- How long will you be speaking for?
- Have you been asked to talk about the life and achievements of the deceased, or your personal memories of him or her?
- Ask how many people will be speaking – you won’t want to talk for too long if there are five or more people speaking after you.
The key to a successful eulogy, as with any other speech, is research and preparation. This is one occasion where you don’t want to wing it – it’s disrespectful and you won’t do your best. Write down your speech, and have it with you in case you lose your place.
Lastly, if the speech is longer than a minute or two, make sure you rehearse it out loud – you may find that some pieces are difficult to say or don’t flow as they should, and the rehearsal will give you the opportunity to rephrase them before the funeral.
Life and Achievements Speech
If your speech is about the life and achievements of the person, do ask the family if there is anything they’d prefer you didn’t mention. Also, be sensitive about using humour – there will be a wide range of people in the audience and an anecdote that raises a smile among a person’s friends may be offensive to their grandparents.
Don’t feel bad about crying during the delivery of the eulogy – if it happens, it happens. Just be yourself. Worrying about it is just likely to distract you from saying what you want to say. Remember that the eulogy isn’t about the person delivering the speech – focus on the people who are the main centre of attention and your audience will be with you all the way.
You may wish to weave a poem or a quote from Shakespeare or some other writer into your speech. Sometimes you’ll find a poem that expresses exactly what you want to say, eloquently and concisely. Reading prose or pre-written text is a great idea if you are upset or terrified of losing control during a speech.
When you are looking for material to include in a eulogy, go with your gut instincts. There are many poetry collections and reference books to quote from, and a search on the internet will also provide many ideas, although they won’t all be to your liking. Perhaps there is an author that the deceased person used to particularly enjoy, or a piece of writing that is relevant to their life. For example, at Sir Peter Blake’s* memorial service, his children read ‘Bilbo’s Last Song’ from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, a poem about a sailor farewelling his home and friends, and following a star above his mast.
Adapted from Maggie Eyre Speak Easy 2007
*New Zealand yachtsman, who won the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race