How to write a eulogy in 6 steps

Mature man in casual clothes sits on top of a rock overlook with paper and pen

Being asked to deliver a eulogy is an honour, but one few of us seek out.

If you’re writing one, odds are it’s happening on the heels of a personal, painful loss – the sort of experience that often leaves us struggling to catch our breath, let alone give a speech.

It can be daunting to share your reflections while trying to be concise, manage your emotions, and do your loved ones’ life justice. After all, a life well lived isn’t easily captured in a short speech.

But if you’re called on to pay tribute to someone, whether during their life or after it, it’s probably because you knew them better than most. In a way few others could, you can share the very best of them with people yearning for just a little more time with someone they loved.

If you’re putting pen to paper on a eulogy for a loved one, we’re here to help. Check out these tips to get you started.

Focus on feelings – not facts when writing a eulogy

Celebrated poet and activist Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did – but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

When it comes to eulogies, that reflection serves a dual purpose. First, don’t rhyme off a list of facts about the subject of your eulogy. Many of them will already be known to your audience. Instead, focus on how the subject made the people around them feel – whether it was joyous, loved, heard, respected, or something else altogether.

Second, if listeners feel moved by your eulogy – rather than informed – they’re more likely to think fondly of it.

Ensure the eulogy is personal and conversational

Generally, the bulk of a eulogy should be respectful, if not solemn. But that doesn’t mean you can’t infuse it with a touch of comic relief in the form of a funny story or anecdote.

Remember that a eulogy isn’t meant to be a formal address. It’s okay to speak the way you usually would with family, friends or close colleagues. Informality helps reinforce the closeness you shared with the subject of your eulogy while making your reflections more personal.

Professional writers and even pastors recommend keeping eulogies short and sweet – anywhere from three to seven minutes of speaking time will do.

Write about your loved one, not about you

At the outset of your eulogy, it’s a good idea to let the audience know what sort of relationship you shared with the person you’re eulogizing. Sharing a memorable story is an effective way to capture (and keep) an audience’s attention.

But a eulogy is a tribute, first and foremost. It’s an appreciation of someone else’s deeds and accomplishments. Don’t share so many inside stories that those in attendance begin to wonder who the eulogy is about!

When you can’t find the words, borrow someone else’s

There’s no doubt that eulogy writing can be incredibly difficult. It may feel as though the task has fallen squarely on your shoulders.

But while you may be one of the only people sharing your loving reflections at a microphone or lectern, you’re almost certainly not the only person who has them.

If you’re struggling to find the words, speak with others who cared for the person you’re eulogizing. They may be able to help you sort through your feelings and put them into words. Asking several people close to your loved one for personal anecdotes, stories or memories can be a good place to start. This can help you form the basis of your eulogy and make others feel included in the process.

Tell the truth

As the world is imperfect, and so are the lives of everyone who calls it home.

No one can lay claim to having lived a perfect life. That’s why a eulogy shouldn’t gloss over the challenges or circumstances that the person overcame.

Your eulogy should be a respectful, appreciative tribute, but it should also be an honest accounting of the life you’re reflecting upon. And while it can be difficult to resist the temptation to shower superlatives on the subject of a eulogy, your audience will appreciate something realistic, something human – and something imperfect.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way towards a great eulogy. But if you’re interested in taking a great eulogy and making it exceptional, read on.

What makes a eulogy exceptional?

The difference between a great eulogy and an exceptional one is this: a great eulogy uplifts – but an exceptional one empowers. It leaves your audience feeling not just as though they’re part of a community united in grief, but as though their grief can give rise to a renewed meaning or purpose.

A call to action in the name of the deceased – to love more fiercely, to live more freely, to support a cause near and dear to their heart – is a powerful way not only to conclude a eulogy, but to pay tribute to someone you loved.

The 6 steps to writing a meaningful eulogy

  1. Focus on feelings: How did your loved one make people feel?
  2. Be personal and conversational: It’s ok to speak the way you would to a friend.
  3. Write about them, not about you: Ensure the eulogy is a tribute.
  4. Gather anecdotes and quotes: Speak to other loved ones for their input.
  5. Tell the truth: It’s OK to be honest about challenges your loved one overcame.
  6. Be uplifting: Make your eulogy exceptional by using a call to action.

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