Last week I attended my Husband’s Godmother’s funeral. 20 years ago if I read that a 70-year-old woman had died of cancer I would have thought “Oh well… she had a good innings” Today 70 seems too young.

Marlene was an attractive, vivacious, young at heart woman. She was up to her ears in Grandkids, golf, friends and even working in her Son’s business even through her illness. My Mother-in-law had to prepare a short eulogy… she was Marlene’s longest friend they had known each other since they were two years old and had even built homes across the road from each other as newlyweds. She came to me a couple of days before the funeral and said she didn’t know how she was going to do it as she was afraid of breaking down.

I shared with her a secret told to me by an Adelaide newsreader who had to cope with reading emotional stories. Here it is: When you walk up to the lectern, get your sharpest fingernail and dig it into your thumb. The pain distracts you enough so you are able to focus on your story and the message you want to get across. It helped me cope with delivering my Fathers eulogy 7 years ago and is the only way I know of presenting highly emotional topics.

If you ever are faced with delivering the hardest speech here are some other tips to help you out:

1. Share a real experience.

Stories are powerful. A funeral is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of the person. Tell the audience how you met this person and some of the things you did together. During my Fathers eulogy I spent 5 minutes talking about his fishing shorts and his love of fishing.

2. It can be humourous

As they say ‘Yesterdays tragedy is today’s funny story’. At Marlene’s funeral a friend of the family talked about Marlene’s poor driving ability and how several accidents occurred when she was craning her neck out the window of her car to watch a bride arrive at the church.

3. Have a plan

Start with a large sheet of paper and do a mindmap of what you want to say. Cross off that which is too painful to talk about or stories that maybe irrelevant to the audience and put the best three stories in the order that flows best. Add an introduction and a conclusion and voila – you have a structured and planned presentation.

4. Use (some) notes.

You don’t need to write out your speech word for word, remember, your speech is just a collection of stories told by you. Type your notes in size 16 font so they can be read easily from the lectern but keep them in point form – just enough to trigger your memory. For ease of use put them in a folder with plastic sleeves so they stay flat and sit well on the lectern

5. Lastly, tell the audience what this person means to you.

This is the hardest of all and is best left till last. Take a deep breath and keep it brief. If you feel it is needed make sure you have an ‘exit strategy’. That is someone who can come up to help you deliver the rest of the presentation or walk you to your seat.

This is the hardest speech you will ever have to do – I have been delivering speeches now for over 20 years and have spoken at conferences across Australia in front of thousands of people, but it all pales into insignificance compared to the 7 minute speech I gave on the 23rd of December 2003. It is an honour to be asked to deliver a eulogy. With a bit of thought and by following the tips above you will be able to share some special memories and give some comfort to the people who came to remember a special person.

Sharon Ferrier
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