Making any speech can be nerve-wracking. But with a eulogy – the chance to put someone’s whole life in context before an audience that knows the subject intimately – it’s much more daunting. The last thing anyone wants to do when delivering a eulogy is appear nervous and not allow their words to have the full effect.
It’s normal for all of us to get nervous when presenting. According to Marc Twain, considered by many to be the greatest figure of American literature, there are two kinds of public speakers: ‘the Nervous and the Liar’. In other words, everyone gets nervous speaking in public, it’s just that some are better at hiding their nerves than others.
If you are an inexperienced public speaker, or a nervous one, or think you might struggle with the emotions of giving the speech, the following steps will go a long way to helping you deliver a brilliant eulogy.
Seven tips on how to deliver a Eulogy
Read the Speech to the immediate family
This first phase of preparation is the hardest. When you have a draft of your speech prepared you should read it to the immediate family of the deceased. Although this can be even more emotionally difficult than delivering the speech at the service, it will take the edge off the emotional rawness of hearing your words for the first time for the family, but also you will be be able to gauge how they might react to the speech in the ceremony and prepare accordingly. It also gives the family the chance to give feedback on the speech’s content, which they will greatly appreciate.
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
The second phase is all about taking the time to rehearse for your eulogy delivery. Practice in front of the mirror, in front of friends and family, or record yourself on video and watch yourself back. Every line of your speech should be clear and easily understood by your audience. If you know that your speech is well prepared and well received by your personal focus group you will be much more confident when delivering it for real.
Get to know your venue
The third stage of preparation is getting to know the venue where you’ll be speaking. The chances are that the celebrant or an official will ask you to arrive early so they can guide you through the technicalities of when, where and how your speech will take place. But if not, before the funeral or memorial service starts check you know where to stand and how to operate any sound system you may be required to use.
Have a Backup Speaker
It’s totally normal to cry whilst delivering a eulogy. But occasionally, and understandably, speakers do break down uncontrollably during the Eulogy. Even if you are well prepared and have practiced it’s worth asking someone in advance of the service to be prepared to take over should you struggle to finish the speech. Have a copy of your speech typed up and in your pocket ready to face this eventuality.
Take a deep Breath and Don’t Rush
When you get to the podium, or wherever you’re delivering your speech from, take a few seconds to compose yourself by taking a two or three deep breaths. It’s natural to rush when speaking in public but concentrate on speaking at a nice even pace. That way you won’t stumble over your words.
It may be that you’ve chosen to read directly from a text or that you’ve made a few notes and are going to deliver your speech more from memory. Either way it’s important that that you look up from your speech to connect with the congregation. You don’t necessarily have to make eye contact with anyone (you can just look just over the congregation’s heads to the back of the room). But the audience is much more likely to listen to you if they can see your eyes while you are giving the speech. Here’s Barack Obama’s Eulogy to Senator Ted Kennedy. Obama’s a master of oratory and speaks at a perfect pace, often looking up to connect with his audience.
Remember to speak up. Projecting your voice is important for two reasons. The first is it’s vital that people can actually hear what you’re saying (microphones do fail from time to time so it’s best not to rely on them). The second is talking loudly will actually make you feel braver and help you keep your emotions from overwhelming you.
These tips will go a long way to helping you deliver a fantastic eulogy. If you need any further advice please do feel free to contact me about coaching for your speech delivery. As well as writing the content of clients’ speeches I’m happy to help coach them in body language, delivery technique, and posture. In the meantime I wish you the best of luck.