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.

Six Questions You Should Ask Before Starting to Write a Eulogy

Now that you’ve accepted the responsibility of preparing a funeral tribute for the deceased, it’s important that you know some basic things about the funeral service before you even start preparing your funeral speech for the memorial service.

What time is your funeral speech
If you find out what time you are giving your tribute to the deceased, you’ll be more comfortable the whole day.

1.   Where and when will my funeral reading take place?

Sometimes you will deliver your tribute to the deceased at the funeral home during or after a wake. You may have the service graveside, and be asked to speak there. If the deceased was cremated, you might give your tribute where the ashes are released. You’ll feel more comfortable if you know when and where you’ll deliver the eulogy, and what comes before and after. If the information is not available from the family members organizing the service, or you don’t want to bother them in their grief, you can approach the funeral home or memorial director for this information.

2.   Will there be others speaking or just me?

If there will be multiple speakers at the service, you should find out how many, who they are, and get in touch with them to find out what they are discussing. Even if you don’t know them well (or at all), you can call them or send them an email (try to get this from someone in the family, or a mutual friend) to discuss your initial ideas, share information and make sure your final speeches are not conflicting, or overlapping.

Check if there is a microphone
Microphones can be difficult to deal with. Check if there is one, and if you can get a sound check ahead of time.

3.   Will there be a microphone?

Many people, who are not used to public speaking, prepare a beautiful reading or tribute for the memorial service of their loved one, only to become unhinged by the presence of a microphone, especially if they have never used one before. The most common mistakes include being to close or too far from the microphone, shouting into the microphone and assuming the microphone will still pick up sound if your head is turned  (unless it’s a headphone mic). Ask if there will be a microphone, and if so what kind. If possible, have a look beforehand, and ideally, organize a sound check sometime before the service.

A modern digital podium
Check if there is a podium where you will be speaking. Its a convenient place to put your written speech, water, etc.

4.  Will there be a podium?

Similar to the microphone, some very well prepared speakers are defeated by the lack of a podium, or one that is too technical. If you have your speech on cue cards, or paper, its more natural to have a podium in front of you to put these on. If you are standing in front of the crowd without a podium, you feel a bit more exposed, which takes a little getting used to. In today’s modern age, many podiums are digital, and have monitors or tablet computers integrated into them, as a mini-teleprompter. If this is the case, make sure you are familiar with the system, and that you have some sort of back-up in case it fails.

5.   Who is in your audience?

Your eulogy will be to honor the dead, but you also need to be careful not to alienate or offend your audience. You are likely to share anecdotes, but you need to tell stories and emphasize character traits that are familiar to all (or at least most) of the attendees, or they will feel like you are talking about a stranger. If an ex-spouse, step-children, etc. are present, be mindful and sensitive about the words you use and the stories you tell.

6.  Is there a time limit?

It’s important to recognize that your contribution will likely only be one part of the funeral service and that you should work within the defined duration. Again, those planning the funeral will be able to let you know this. Even if there is no time limit, you want to make sure that your memorial speech is not so short that it looks like you hardly knew the person, and not so long that people become inattentive or overwhelmed.

If you ask these questions before the day of the funeral and your tribute, you’ll be less likely to run into an unexpected surprise that might detract from your inspirational eulogy.

Next: Writing the Eulogy