“Have you ever given a eulogy?” Paddy asked.
“Yes, I have,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Paddy said, “I have to give one on Tuesday and I’m pretty nervous about it. I can’t think of anything worse than messing up a eulogy.”
“Most people get very nervous about delivering a eulogy,” I agreed. “But they really shouldn’t.”
“Why the heck shouldn’t they?” Paddy practically shouted. “It’s a very emotional and personal event!”
“Did you know the person well?” I asked.
“Yes,” Paddy, more calmly, assured me, “I worked with him for years.”
“There’s really no need to worry about delivering a eulogy honouring someone you’ve known well,” I told him. “Just speak from your heart and keep your remarks short.”
“It can’t be that simple,” Paddy protested.
“It is,” I said. “The basic rules for any successful speech are actually quite simple. You have to know your subject well, you have to care about your subject, and you have to want to talk about it. You knew him well, you must have cared about him or you wouldn’t have been asked to give the eulogy, and you surely want people to hear your fond memories of him; so you clearly meet all the criteria. You’ll do do just fine.”
“It can’t possibly be just that simple,” Paddy continued his protest. “There must be more.”
“Yes and no,” I acknowledged. “If you’ve earned the right to give a eulogy by knowing the deceased well, it is that simple. But, you’re right that there’s more to consider. There are some steps you can take to boost your confidence and ensure your success.”
“Lay them on me!” Paddy demanded, taking some paper and a pen from his pocket.
“Okay,” I said. “First, if you speak from your heart you will do just fine speaking off-the-cuff. But it’s still a good idea to write out your comments; if not in full then at least in point form. Doing this will help you ensure that you’ve captured all the points you want to make, and it will also help you organize your comments.”
“What do you mean organize?” Paddy queried.
“For example,” I answered, “you can decide whether your comments should be organized chronologically or rather by various aspects of the deceased’s life, such as family, career and hobbies. Or, you might find it’s best to mix them up. Writing out your remarks also helps you to time your presentation. You definitely don’t want to talk too long. Overly-long eulogies lose their effectiveness.”
“Not much chance of my talking too long,” Paddy assured me as he made some notes. “What’s next?”
“You should rehearse,” I told him. “Though it’s usually not practical in the case of a eulogy to rehearse out loud at a lectern, you should at least review your notes a few times. And you can go over your remarks in your mind every chance you get until you ‘re comfortable with them.”
There was a pause in the conversation as Paddy wrote some more. Then he asked, “Should I use the full script when I get up to speak?”
“Glad you asked,” I replied.” You should reduce your script to point form for the actual delivery.”
“Why’s that?” Paddy questioned.
“If you read from a prepared text,” I told him, “you’ll probably speak in a monotone and your voice won’t have the right inflection to convey the depth of your feelings; and it’s your emotion that the audience will most identify with.”
“Besides,” I went on, “if you read your speech you’re going to be looking down too much rather than looking at the audience; and it’s never a good idea to not make constant eye contact with your audience. Also be sure that you take in all the audience by casting your eyes over all parts of the church, not just one area, such as the family in the front rows. The people at the back, in the middle, and at the sides have to be included, too.”
Paddy scribbled some more and then asked, “What if something comes to me while I’m speaking that I hadn’t thought of before?”
“It probably will,” I told him, “especially if you and the deceased were particularly close. If something does come into your mind while you’re speaking, it would be a mistake not to mention it. It’s obviously meaningful or it wouldn’t have come to mind.”
He wrote some more and then postulated, “So if I understand you right, I really have to work hard at this even though I’m not apt to fail.”
“Paddy,” I said, “if you do everything that you’ve been writing down, you couldn’t fail if you wanted to.”
“If you say so,” he said as he pocketed his writing material.
“I know so,” I said to myself as I watched him shrug into his jacket and leave the coffee shop.