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How to Write a Eulogy: 5 Tips for Success

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Updated June 03, 2014

Writing and delivering a eulogy or remembrance speech can seem daunting. In addition to the grief and sorrow you're already feeling as you cope with the loss of a loved one, you must find the time to organize your thoughts, put them down on paper, and deliver your speech -- all within the fairly compressed timeframe between the death and the funeral or memorial service. While only you can determine the unique tone of your eulogy, the following five tips will help you write and deliver a touching, meaningful eulogy in nearly any funeral or memorial setting.

1. Keep it Brief

Woman behind podium
Photo © Stockbyte/Getty Images

This is not the time to write the great American novel, so keep telling yourself that "less is more." The truth is that the longer you speak, the more likely you will ramble and make listeners feel awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, you should create a eulogy that you can deliver in around five minutes. (If possible, ask the funeral director, clergy member or other officiant how long you will have during the service, but five minutes is a good rule of thumb.)

To help keep your eulogy brief, focus it on a specific quality about the deceased that you admire, or share a story about his or her life that expresses a significant personality trait or formative moment. By limiting the scope of your remarks like this, you will more likely give your listeners some meaningful insight into the deceased that they will cherish, rather than fill them with the desire to glance at their watches or stifle their yawns.

2. Keep it Personal

Listeners will not find your eulogy moving if you merely recite a list of dry facts, such as those usually found in the obituary. And avoid simply rattling off a long list of character traits, such as "Uncle Ben loved hunting, motorcycles, the Pittsburgh Steelers, woodworking, etc." This approach will prove about as interesting as listening to someone read a grocery list out loud.

Instead, share a story that actually illustrates something your loved one enjoyed -- especially if you were also part of that story. For example, imagine that you and "Uncle Ben" once rode his motorcycle cross-country to see the Steelers play football. Not only would this convey a deeper sense of his love of motorcycles and the Steelers, but you would also find it much easier to share other insights that listeners will find meaningful. If you can't think of a firsthand story to share, then talk to a close family member or friend and borrow one from them.

3. Keep it Positive

Many movies and T.V. comedies have focused on the main character struggling to write/deliver a eulogy about somebody he or she despised, such as an overbearing boss or unfaithful ex-spouse. Assuming you're not tasked with eulogizing Ebenezer Scrooge, you shouldn't have a problem finding enough words to focus on the positive things. But if you do struggle, then just remember that listeners will not be there to judge you on the thoroughness of your remarks. If the deceased was a difficult person or led a troubled life, then just trust that those in the audience already know that and that it's not your job to break the news to them.

In some cases, you might find it impossible not to reference something negative about the deceased, even as you're trying to focus on the positive. To prevent adding greater pain to those already mourning, you can use a euphemism to get you over the awkward point in your eulogy.

4. Keep it Written

Even people who earn a living making speeches use a written copy of their remarks. Often, these are projected on teleprompters for easy and inconspicuous reference. Sometimes, a speaker will simply have a printed copy on a podium, or even just an outline on index cards in a pocket. The point is that if the professionals use a written copy of their speeches, then you should too. You definitely need to practice your eulogy several times to make sure it's long enough and that you become familiar with it, but there is absolutely no reason to feel you must deliver your remarks from memory.

Moreover, if you create them on a computer, print them out using a font size that you find easy to read, and double-space the printout so it's easier to keep your place. In addition to your written/printed eulogy, it's a good idea to have a handkerchief or tissue with you, in case you grow a little emotional, and a small bottle of water should your throat feel dry.

5. Keep it Conversational

Public speaking traditionally ranks among the greatest fears that people hold. Despite this, most of us have no problem talking to our family members, friends, coworkers, or even strangers if the situation calls for it. The difference, of course, is that nobody is "watching us" in those latter situations. To help you deliver your eulogy effectively, and to make it more interesting for listeners, speak in a conversational tone -- as if you were simply talking to a family member or friend. This should be easier if you've followed the advice above and you're sharing a story or other firsthand insights.

In addition, remember to look up at your listeners from time to time and make eye contact. Doing so will help your delivery feel more like a conversation, and you will be less likely to rush through the eulogy and deliver it in a monotone voice. If you don't feel you can look at your audience without growing emotional, however, then keep your focus on your written remarks.

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Sources:
"How to Write a Eulogy: A Final Gift To A Loved One" by Carol DeChant. www.huffingtonpost.com. 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carol-dechant/your-gift-of-a-eulog_b_834660.html

"How to write a eulogy: Eulogies Honor and Heal" by Garry Schaeffer. www.peterjjackson.com. Retrieved November 1, 2012. http://www.peterjjackson.com/eulogy.htm

"How to Write a Eulogy." www.funeralplan.com. Retrieved November 1, 2012. http://www.funeralplan.com/funeralplan/about/howtoeulogy.html

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