Monday, October 26, 2009

speaking challenge: delivering a eulogy

"How do you give your mother's eulogy?" was the question posted on the discussion board at The Eloquent Woman on Facebook. New fan Mary Roe Eubanks asked for advice, and you responded. Here are some of the tips readers shared:

  • "Try to find a theme or ethic that defined the person's life and build the eulogy around it. For example, was family most important to the deceased? Did he or she have a great sense of humor?" suggested Shenice Ferguson. She also suggested keeping track of the details: "Write down details of the person's life, major awards or recognition he or she received, names of family members, and special memories that family members share. Ask if the family would like you to say anything specific during the eulogy."
  • "Try to tell some things that no one else knows about your mom," suggested Marti Sladek, who shared that she delivered a eulogy for her father. "Not a dark secret, of course, but perhaps a passion talent or or favorite joke or movie or crush or place she loved that she didn't talk about much. Not the stuff that is already widespread public knowledge or appeared in the newspaper. (I mentioned that my Dad wrote poetry, which hardly anybody knew because he never published or talked about it.)" She also said, "do not even try to 'be strong' or not cry. Letting your emotion show is just fine, even if you have to take a break or a breath."

My suggestions: Don't feel as if you need to detail every accomplishment--keeping your remarks brief may help you get through them--but do focus on telling a personal story that evokes something you want to share about your mother, ideally a story that involves you. Two great recent examples from the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy came from the eulogy delivered by his son, Ted Kennedy, Jr., who told this very personal story--one that only he could tell:

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. And my father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn't easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, I can't do this. I said, I'll never be able to climb up that hill. And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.

Caroline Kennedy struck a similar theme at Senator Kennedy's memorial service the night before--a telling story about how her uncle encouraged her in public speaking: of my part-time jobs has been introducing Teddy to crowds of people who already knew him incredibly well. Although this was unbelievably stressful for me, it was just another one of the gifts that he gave me. When he saw that I was nervous, he would give me a pat on the back. When he knew that I was sad, he would call up and say: "I have got a great idea. There's a convention coming up. And maybe you would like to introduce me." And off I would go on another adventure in public speaking. But, no matter how nervous I was, I always knew that, when I stepped down from the podium, I would get a big kiss and hear him whisper, "Now I'm going to get you back." And I can't believe that's not going to happen tonight.
There, she told an intensely private story--and brought it around to the present moment, bringing the memorial service back into the picture.

Have you delivered a eulogy for someone you love? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

UPDATE: I asked Mary to share with us how the eulogy went, and here's what she wrote on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook:
I gave my mother's eulogy yesterday without tears and used some of the tips from The Eloquent Woman. I also received some tips that I would like to share because I was able to do it with out crying. Write out everything you want to say. Go to a private quiet place and read it out loud at least three times so you can cry and get your emotions out. Each time you read it you can shorten the talk to the most important points. I then reduced it to an outline and penciled in
topics. I did not read it because by then it was like telling a story. My only problem was my mouth got so dry about 3 times I had to pause. The other advice I got was if the emotions well up stop, take a breath, and pause for as long as you need to get your composure back. People will understand because of the situatiion. Thank you for the tips and the kind words.

I'm happy to say that this post was included in Andrew Dlugan's useful weekly roundup of the best public speaking articles in the blogosphere, on his Six Minutes blog.

week 9: Stephanie focuses on preparation

"How do you prepare without overpreparing?" Stephanie Benoit asks as we turn to her third priority for stepping up her speaking. She shares a story of feeling nervous and underprepared, but also has written about finding that she prepares too much sometimes--another nervous response when she's anticipating speaking. She asks a great followup question: How do you prepare enough, but also leave room to change directions when you are speaking, if that's necessary? For a beginning speaker, Stephanie has a sophisticated feel for what she may need to do when giving a talk, and changing direction is a good example.

What are your tips and tricks for preparing without adding to your anxiety--or for preparing, but remaining flexible? Stephanie and I are both enjoying the feedback, so keep your ideas and contributions coming. I'll have my tips ready for her soon!