How to Deliver a Eulogy

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The basic steps for delivering a eulogy

Giving a eulogy for a parent, other family member, or friend who has recently died isn't easy, but it's something you'll never regret doing. This is your opportunity to celebrate the person -- and to say good-bye. It's normal to feel some nervousness and apprehension, but remember that people have come to grieve and honor this individual -- not to critique what you've written or evaluate your public speaking skills. With this in mind, try to relax and focus on what you have to say.

Preparing the eulogy

When you write the eulogy, think about your personal vision of the person. Include the telling details and anecdotes that will help evoke his unique way of moving through the world, and try to avoid clichés, generalities, and passive language. Reading your first draft aloud will help you identify gaps and misstatements, clear up any confusing areas, and improve the flow.

Presenting the eulogy

If you have performance anxiety, delivering the eulogy may be the hardest part of the whole experience. Try to remember that you're speaking to a friendly audience. This isn't an audition, a popularity contest, or your day in court. Your audience is full of people who cared about the person -- and who care about you. You'll probably find that your nervousness gradually subsides once your speech is under way.

You may be tempted to rush through your reading, but try to resist the urge. Read slowly, and pause briefly between paragraphs and at the end of any story or poem. Take a glass of water with you to the podium, in case your mouth feels dry, and remind yourself to breathe. Look up between sentences. If you find that making eye contact with individuals in the audience is distracting, focus on a point in the back of the room.

If words fail you

Don't worry if you become choked up or your voice is shaky; no one will judge you for your expression of emotion. However, you may want to designate a friend or relative to be ready to take over if you can't continue.

Eulogy do's and don'ts

  • Don't go on too long. Keep the eulogy succinct and to the point.
  • Try to stick to the eulogy you wrote and practiced. Unless you're an experienced speaker, adding a new idea at the last minute may cause you to lose the thread of your talk and begin to ramble.
  • Be judicious with humor. Although a few jokes can lighten the tone of a memorial service, inappropriate or excessive humor can offend. Remember that you're not there to roast the person or other guests, and that feelings are likely to be more fragile than usual.
  • Remember that it's a eulogy, not a chance to settle scores. If you're angry with the person for some reason or you have an ongoing feud with another friend or relative of the person, keep it out of the eulogy. A memorial service is not the time to introduce a bombshell or fan any flames.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. If the eulogy , or your delivery of it, doesn't go over as well as you'd hoped, try not to consider the experience a failure. It's difficult to be at your most creative and eloquent when you've just lost a loved one, and no one expects you to be. If you compose and deliver the eulogy with as much sincerity and feeling as you can, it will do the job of honoring the person, comforting the mourners, and providing you the chance to say thank you and good-bye.

Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio