The Eulogy

In one of Jerry Seinfeld’s monologues, he said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” I want to help you avoid that kind of dread by providing some tips for delivering a eulogy easily and comfortably.

Recently I was a part of a memorial service where there were four lay speakers. In recent years, friends and family members often speak at memorial services in addition to or instead of clergy. This is not an easy task and yet one which can lend much comfort to the family. The eulogy Edward Kennedy delivered for his brother, Robert, on June 8, 1968, is a most memorable eulogy of a famous person by a relative. You can watch that eulogy on YouTube. But what about you, the average person, at a friend’s memorial service?

Your content should connect with whatever reason you were chosen to speak. Maybe you were a childhood friend, so you should relate to your experiences as youngsters. If you are a co-worker, then talk about your relationship in the work place. Include a specific story from your connections with the person you are remembering.

Be upbeat in your comments. There is nothing wrong with relating a funny anecdote or an embarrassing moment involving the two of you. In fact, a bit of laughter is often exactly what is needed at that time. Remember that your words are to comfort the family and other friends. The fact that the person is no longer with you and there is a void because of this is obvious; don’t belabor it.

Keep your message short. Usually the non-clergy participants should speak no longer than five minutes. Brevity is especially important if there are several speakers. Tell your connection to the deceased, deliver your story, tell why the person will be remembered, and sit down.

Write out your message. This is not the time to speak “off the cuff.”  You want to use just the right words, so craft your message carefully. Enlist the help of others to read and comment on your remarks. For example, I wanted to describe the distinctive way this young man dressed, and after consulting with others I said this: “Marcus had a studied haphazardness about his appearance.” That specific term was possible due to feedback from others in preparation and using a manuscript. The smiles and chuckles let me know that others related to that description.

Writing out your message is also important because in such a situation there is a tendency to be overcome with emotion; paying attention to the words on a piece of paper can help to remove some of the emotional attachment you are sure to be feeling. If you do lose control, do not be embarrassed. Simply pause until you regain control and read on.

On your manuscript, use lots of space and incorporate a font size of at least l6. Double-space so you can read and still look at the audience. Type only 2/3 down the page to insure that the audience will see your face and not the top of your head.

Having delivered many eulogies and listened to others, I have a list of my favorite lines and readings to include in a eulogy. If you would like that list, simply email me from my “Contact Us” form. In the Comments section, enter the word eulogy. My book, From Dull to Dynamic, also has an entire chapter on presenting eulogies.

Now you have the basics on what to say and how to deliver a eulogy. Probably my favorite line about a eulogy comes from George Carlin, “I’m always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I’m listening to it.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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