Four Common Mistakes When Giving a Funeral Speech

memorial tribute errors
Think carefully to avoid an error in giving the memorial tribute

In earlier posts, how to write an inspiring funeral speech was considered, for those speaking at a memorial tribute or funeral service. However, there are certain things should be careful not to do or say when writing or delivering a memorial tribute.

 

  1. Don’t talk about yourself too much or use inside jokes – The eulogy should focus on the departed, and the other mourners. Avoid statements like “I don’t know what I’ll do without him”, or use of inside jokes between the two of you, that most people will not get.
  2. Don’t tell any stories that could be interpreted as off-color – Everyone who was close to the departed will have frayed nerves and emotions running high during the memorial service, including your funeral speech. They will be less good-humored, or receptive to stories that might be appropriate at another occasion, like a best-man’s toast at a wedding. Cater to the lowest common denominator and be certain that none of your anecdotes can be considered offensive by the friends and family of the deceased.
  3. Don’t make religious (or atheist) assumptions or give strong religious (or atheist) messages – You might be religious (or not), as might the deceased have been, but it’s likely that different friends and family members of the deceased will have different faiths and beliefs. Don’t assume your audience has the same belief system. Telling the atheist spouse of the deceased that their beloved will dwell in the kingdom of heaven for eternity, is unlikely to provide any comfort for them. Similarly, religious mourners will take no comfort if you tell them you believe there is no afterlife. Avoid interpreting the plan of higher powers by staying away from phrases like “it was God’s will” or “God has a plan for all of us”.
  4. Don’t trivialize the loss of the departed – Often in an attempt to comfort the friends and family of the deceased the person delivering the funeral speech, will try to put the loss into perspective, which may some of the mourners feel like you are trying to make the loss seem insignificant. Don’t say things like “While his passing is sad, at least he lived a long life”, “it was his time” or “Perhaps it’s better this way.” In an earlier post, we’ve suggested phrasing appropriate for a funeral speech.

    Don't make the loss seem insignificant
    Be careful not to accidentally make the loss of the deceased seem less significant than it is.

 

If you follow the advice given in the earlier articles, make use of the resources available, and follow the rules above, you’ll be able to write an inspirational eulogy and avoid offending or alienating any of the audience.

Practicing and Delivering your Funeral Tribute

Now you have finished writing your funeral speech, it is critical to practice it. You should do this multiple times. I would suggest you do this in multiple stages:

1.     Practice alone- the first thing you should do is read your speech out loud to yourself several times, until you are familiar with it.

Videotape your funeral speech
Videotaping yourself presenting your funeral speech will allow you to see yourself as others do.

2.     Practice alone in the mirror or videotape yourself – The next thing you should do is to practice in the mirror or better yet in front of a video camera. Remember, you want to look up and make eye contact with the audience as often as possible, so you should practice this. It will get easier as you learn your speech.

3.     Practice in front of a family member or close friend – You should do this several times, and be able to deliver your funeral speech without becoming too nervous or upset. Ask your ‘test audience’ to give you honest feedback. Some questions to ask might be:

Is the tone OK? Is it too somber or too humorous?

Can any of the stories or jokes included be taken the wrong way?

Was I speaking too fast?

Do I have any ‘filler words’ (umm, like, etc. that come out of your mouth subconsciously during pauses)

Did I make a reasonable amount of eye contact?

Is there anything else you can tell me that might make this better? Please be critical and honest…

 

Delivering the Eulogy- Tips for speaking at a funeral
The actual delivery of a funeral tribute maybe the most difficult part of being asked to give the eulogy. What you have to remember here is to be yourself. No one expects you to give a presidential address or sound like professional orator. Try to be as relaxed and composed as possible. There are some questions you should ask before speaking, and some things too keep in mind below that can really help you out.

  1. Expect it to be different than your practice rounds – No matter how times you’ve practiced your funeral speech, standing in front of the other family and friends of the deceased will cause a surge of emotion.
  2. Bring a written copy – Ideally, you won’t have to refer to it much, as you’ve practice sufficiently, but becoming unhinged is a distinct possibility on such an emotional occasion. Better to read off your written copy than to draw a complete blank. Don’t make the information too dense or you won’t be able to find your place.

    Water is essential at a funeral speech
    Bring some water when you deliver the eulogy.
  3. Have some water there – Water is the friend of any speaker. Taking a drink of water gives you a few seconds to organize your thoughts, find your place, or get over a particularly difficult wave of emotion.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for a minute – If you are too overwhelmed with emotion, and need a few seconds to compose yourself, most audiences will understand this, especially if you were very close to the deceased. Apologize and ask for a minute, and continue when you can. You should also make sure you have some tissues handy in case you need to wipe your eyes or blow your nose.
  5. Have a back-up – If you are unsure you’ll be able to finish the eulogy, provide someone with a copy to carry on in case you simply cannot continue. This might be someone officiating at the funeral, as opposed to someone else in the funeral party. If the officials are not comfortable continuing with something as personal as the eulogy, pre-select a poem or a reading that they can step in with.

Once your part in the service is over, join the others secure in the knowledge that your efforts have helped them to feel some comfort in this difficult time, and brought them a little closer to the deceased. Imagine the pride the deceased would have in you for taking on and succeeding in this difficult challenge.

Be sure to look at the resource page for materials to help you prepare.