In 2009 I was captivated by the speeches during Senator Ted Kennedy’s “Celebration of Life” eulogy. There are things we can all learn from this and use when the time comes to speak in public during emotional circumstances.
The dignity, character, and strength of the Kennedy family at this difficult time made me proud as an Irishman and also reinforce what I know as a public speaker. The Kennedy family gave Teddy such a great “send-off”. What made it so impactful in my opinion was the content and wording of the speeches which empowered the speakers to maintain composure, and allowed us to visualize moments from his life. We were all part of that family for a while.
Imagine if speaker after speaker was to break down into an emotional roller coaster, fighting tears and struggling to finish sentences. How many funerals have you been to where you sat in the congregation feeling uncomfortable and striving to suppress your own emotions? With a bit of understanding, we can all follow the Kennedy example and deliver speeches that help the emotional healing process while celebrating the life and stories of the recently deceased.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, that won’t apply to me for a long time. Nobody is sick or old in my family”. The reality is that death has a way of being very unpredictable.
Ten Tips for Delivering a Successful Eulogy:
1) When developing the outline of a eulogy, talk to friends and family and discuss what stories could be included. Refrain from stories that could offend anyone.
2) Structure your speech with a strong opening (start with a story, humorous if appropriate).
3) Bring the recently deceased “back to life” by reminiscing with vivid stories.
4) Provide visual details in the stories so the congregation can clearly relate to the event.
5) Read your speech when practicing, and identify areas that will challenge you to maintain composure – if possible, leave these parts out. Remember, on the day of the funeral, the emotional level can be even higher.
6) Read your notes many times, and identify words that are hard to pronounce, or ones you keep “tripping over” – change them.
7) Put your page-numbered notes on stiff paper (32 lb.) in as large a font as your eyes need. Use heavy paper to counter the potential for shaking, nervous hands. It also provides for less rustling noise if there is a microphone. Put the pages in order, and slide them to the side when each page is finished (don’t staple them).
8) If there is a podium microphone, determine if you will have to switch it on (your preference should be that someone else looks after that). Do not tap on the microphone to test it.
9) Adjust the microphone close to your mouth, and remember that if you move your head to one side, the congregation will not hear you clearly.
10) Finally, the audience is not your psychiatrist. Do not bring everyone to tears with details of negativity and suffering. It’s not beneficial.