Avoid These Pitfalls When Delivering a Eulogy at a Funeral
Do you need to know what to avoid while performing a eulogy?
Want to know how eulogies are supposed to be written?
Do you hope to avoid bad public speaking habits during an emotional moment?
Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of common eulogy mistakes made over and over again. These mistakes can result in hurt feelings, more sadness, resentment, anger or regret. Wouldn’t you like to know the things to avoid in a eulogy before you make any regrettable mistakes?
The period following the death of a loved one can be a time of undue stress and grief. If you are asked to write a eulogy for your loved one, then you suddenly find yourself with an added task and stress—all while you are trying to navigate your own grief and loss. That’s why we’ve taken the time to help you through the eulogy process with a few eulogy writing tips.
Preparing to Give a Eulogy Speech
Aside from the actual writing and delivery of the eulogy speech, your preparation begins the night before. Be sure to eat a healthy dinner and go to bed early so that you are well rested. Read through the eulogy one more time before bed. Set your alarm for an hour earlier than you would normally rise. This allows you to wake up at a leisurely pace and affords you the time to read through or recite the eulogy a few more times.
It’s also best to avoid getting ready in a hurry. You’ll want to arrive at the memorial site as calm, collected, and put together as possible. Eat a light breakfast so you are not hungry (or nauseous if you’re overcome by nerves). Be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Bring an umbrella if there is any chance or rain. Carry your eulogy in a protective folder and keep an extra copy separate in your purse of vehicle.
Before giving a eulogy speech, it’s important to take care of yourself and to prepare yourself both mentally and physically. So, before you give your eulogy speech, here are the 15 things you need to do first.
- Eat a healthy dinner the night before.
- Practice the eulogy one more time before you go to bed.
- Make yourself a checklist for the morning, if needed.
- If there is something you must not forget, put it in the car or in your purse now. Or leave it hanging on the doorknob or with your car keys so you don’t forget.
- Set your alarm one hour earlier than you would normally rise.
- Go to bed early so you are well rested.
- Enjoy some leisure time in the morning.
- Eat a light breakfast.
- Go through your checklist, if necessary.
- Practice the eulogy another time or two.
- Dress comfortably: clothes and shoes.
- Be prepared for any possible weather.
- Arrive at the funeral service or memorial service early.
- Don’t forget tissues and a bottle of water.
- Be sure you have everything you need before you walk out the door.
- Take deep breaths. You will get through this, and you will sleep well tonight.
How to Avoid Becoming Overly Emotional While Delivering a Eulogy
Among the things to avoid in a eulogy is expressing too much emotion. Uncontrollable emotions can get the best of us. The loss of a person in our lives is perhaps one of the deepest and most sensitive times we will experience. It can be difficult to process emotions and work through the stages of grief.
A few select people are chosen, delegated or volunteer to give a memorial or eulogy speech during this emotional time. This is not a time that you want to display poor public speaking habits. Although, your audience will certainly be understanding of you and empathize with you during this time. If you or someone you know is indeed blessed to write and deliver a eulogy speech, we want to provide some helpful tips to not become over emotional while delivering a eulogy.
- Keep a bottle of water and tissues handy. No matter how composed you are, there may be moments in your speech that get you choked up. Feel free to pause to wipe your eyes or take a drink of water. The coolness of the water and the simple act of swallowing will help you gain some composure. And you’ll have a moment to take a few breaths. Try to keep your water handy so you won’t have to awkwardly bend down to get it. And do opt for a bottle rather than a glass. Shaky hands can cause a spill.
- You may be so focused on the delivery of your speech that you may be overly stressed and forget to breathe. Taking regular breaths while you speak will increase the oxygen levels in your body and help you to remain calm. Feel free to take a breath every few sentences. It will help keep you calm, prevent you from rushing through your speech, and allow audience members a moment to process what you are saying.
- Speak slowly. In a highly pressured time, such as delivering a eulogy speech, we may tend to want to speak faster in order to get through the moment. Remember your breathing. You want your speech to be memorable and honor your friend or loved one. One tip is to determine where the pauses should be in your speech—perhaps after each paragraph. You can even write the word ‘PAUSE’ into your speech in bold letters so that you don’t forget. Adding pauses to your eulogy accomplishes several things. First, a pause gives your audience the opportunity to absorb what was just said and formulate their own thoughts. In addition, a pause gives you a chance to breathe and slow down, as well as avoid embarrassing things like cracking a joke at the wrong moment, laughing out of nervousness or having a long uncomfortable silence.
- Memorize your speech. You don’t have to memorize your speech word for word like an actor on a stage, but it’s best to practice by reading your speech out loud—at least 20 times is recommended. You can practice the speech in an empty room, in front of a mirror or in front of other family members. It’s up to you. By practicing your speech, you’ll get a feel for what’s coming next. You won’t have to stare at a paper the entire time, so you’ll be able to look up and out at the audience. In addition, you’ll know which moments in your speech will make you the most emotional. And you’ll be ready for those moments by stopping to take a breath or a drink of water. Either way, be sure to bring two printed copies of your eulogy with you (in a larger type size so it’s easy to glance down and read). Keep them with you but in separate places (in case you spill coffee on one, for example).
- Find support. If you need to have someone by your side while you deliver your speech, feel free to invite a close friend or family member to stand with you. Enlist a few close, supportive family members or friends that you can make eye contact with during your speech. Sometimes making that eye contact or exchanging a knowing glance can help you to keep your composure and to continue. And remember, emotions can be contagious. So, if you see that someone is emotional during your eulogy, quickly find another person to make eye contact with.
What Not to Include in a Eulogy Speech
Since a good eulogy is meant to honor and memorialize a person, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to include anything embarrassing, any actions that were negatively out of character for the person or any private information that they wouldn’t want divulged. Plus, you’ll want to avoid surprising or offending funeral attendees in a negative way during the eulogy.
When writing a eulogy, you may want to imagine that the person is listening to your speech. If there is something you wouldn’t say in front of them, you may want to avoid saying it in your eulogy. And if there is something that the audience may find offensive, it’s best to avoid saying it altogether. In fact, you may want to stick with the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
In essence, you’ll want to think about the deceased as well as everyone in the audience. Take their thoughts and feelings into consideration. And think about yourself even five or 10 years from now. Don’t say anything today that you may regret later. Avoid revealing details about the deceased that would be disrespectful. Here are some things to avoid mentioning in your eulogy speech.
- Focusing on cause of death
- Old hurts
- Past arguments/disagreements
- Family rifts
- Bad memories
- Unhealthy rivalries
- Poor treatment of others
- Poor decisions
- Emotional baggage
- Inappropriate stories
- Inappropriate humor
- Justifying/minimizing the loss
- Anything offensive
- Anything your conscience is telling you not to say
Writing a Funeral Speech for Someone You Don’t Like or Don’t Know Well
But what if you are charged with writing and delivering a eulogy speech for someone you didn’t like, someone who hurt you or someone you don’t know well? Or maybe the person had some negative traits that outweighed the positive. Should you be honest, or should you paint a rosy picture?
Social norms say that you should be positive when talking about a deceased person. The family and close friends will expect to hear positive thoughts. Plus, those in attendance are bound to it’s likely that members of the audience have had different experiences with the deceased. Your speech, especially if it is negative, will be remembered for a long time.
Speaking ill of the deceased is never a good idea. It’s usually better to take the high road and display grace despite a difficult relationship. When you are faced with the challenge of writing a eulogy for someone you didn’t admire, it’s still best to stay positive. Dig for the good things to say. Find the positive light behind a negative. If you find yourself struggling, you can speak in generalities. Above all, keep the eulogy short. You can also end the eulogy with a poem, song lyrics or a longer quote.
Avoid Writing a Boring Eulogy Speech
When considering things to avoid in a eulogy and telling someone’s life story, try not to make it boring. During your eulogy speech, you’ll want to focus on what really matters when it comes to the life of your loved one. Avoid turning the eulogy into a laundry-list of life events or a chronological account of their resume. The best way to maintain your focus on the purpose of the eulogy is through story.
Everyone loves a story. And everyone loves a storyteller. This is your time to shine and be the storyteller. Rather than repeat a timeline of the person’s life, find the rare gem stories and carefully chosen memories that pinpoint the character of your loved one through and through. Recall the stories from your past when your loved one made a difference in your life. Talk to others to discover the impact that the deceased had in their lives as well. This should be the crux of your eulogy. Dig up these stories, then simply connect the dots between the stories. Then, you will the makings of a great eulogy speech.
Worst Public Speaking Habits During a Eulogy
We’ve all been in the audience during a public speech that went awry. What do you remember about those speeches? Was it the kind, memorable or inspiring words? Or was it the actions of the speaker? Most likely, you remember the negative experience and have forgotten the words.
The purpose of this article is to help you avoid these typical eulogy pitfalls. So, with that in mind, here are the things to avoid in a eulogy that will probably leave you feeling embarrassed.
- Cry uncontrollably
- Shake uncontrollably
- Rush through the eulogy
- Speak in monotone
- Forget to breathe
- Forget to pause periodically
- Express no emotion
- Lose your place
- Fumble with pages or unnumbered note cards
- Blow your nose
- Bend down repeatedly to drink from a bottle of water
- Use lots of ums and ahs
- Speak for too long
- Speak too briefly
- Display an embarrassing habit
- Anything else you may be worried about doing
For an added bonus, here are Brian Tracy’s tips for public speaking.
Should I Write the Eulogy by Myself?
The quick answer is no, unless you are comfortable managing the writing on your own. This is not a time in your life when you should isolate yourself to get the job done. This is a time when you can lean on others to help you through the process.
Feel free to enlist the help you need in preparing a eulogy. You can welcome the contributions of other friends and family members to provide you with some talking points or even write parts of the eulogy for you. Other friends and family members are likely to have stories to tell that you haven’t heard before. And getting their point of view on your loved one will give you a more well-rounded perspective on their story. So, you won’t be limited to just the parts you know.
Asking for others’ help when writing the eulogy can also help you avoid mistakes, such as getting the timing wrong on an event or forgetting or misstating important details. These mistakes could be a little embarrassing if left in your eulogy speech. So, at minimum have one or two people read the eulogy in advance to catch any errors you may have overlooked. The most important thing is to get it right and to honor your loved one in the best way possible.
Whether you have been asked to say a few words about the deceased or have volunteered for the honor of writing and delivering the eulogy, you will likely feel under pressure and also be subject to a time constraint to finish the speech. After all, your deadline to be ready is finite.
At Lastly.com, we suggest that you take these eulogy tips to heart. Prepare yourself, reduce your stress as much as possible, enlist other family members and friends to help, and get a few opinions before you finalize your eulogy speech. Please download our sample eulogy and free "How to" guide below. In addition, you can read our many other blog articles and e-books about writing and delivering a eulogy speech.
Writing and delivering a eulogy speech and keeping your loved one’s memory alive are truly an honor. And it can be highly therapeutic for you as you work through the process of recreating some memories on paper. We wish you the best of luck in this process, and we are so sorry for your loss.