In an ideal world, giving a commemorative speech would be simply pulling words straight from your heart and saying them out loud to great aplomb. However, unless you regularly chase the muse of creativity with abandon, there are not many people who can write a perfectly crafted speech without some work.
But there is a way to capture emotion in a moving commemorative speech and also give honor to a subject. A good speech seeks to entertain, engage, and move others. And this statement can also inform your audience with firsthand, personal education about the person or topic you’re honoring.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Decide on the Topic
- Step 2: Do Your Research
- Step 3: Take Notes
- Step 4: Start Drafting
- Step 5: Take a Break
- Step 6: Edit, and Draft Again
- Step 7: Finalize It
- Step 8: Share the “Final” Aloud
- Commemorative Speech Topic Ideas
- Commemorative Speech Examples
Whether you’re a confident writer and speaker who needs to brush up or someone could use a bit (or a lot) of help, here is a step-by-step guide to help you write a persuasive commemorative speech of your own.
But even with the best writing and delivery, a mesmerizing commemorative speech can only happen if it comes from the heart. Bring people to their feet with your heart, and keep them engrossed with your words.
Step 1: Decide on the Topic
Are you hoping to share a story or historical event relevant to a family member or loved one? Or, are you hoping to give a brief biography about a recently deceased loved one? The topic is entirely up to you, and you may already have something in mind.
Maybe you have a few different, but related topics you’d like to weave together. The number of topics you write about doesn’t matter, as long as you can create a cohesive piece in the end. Think about how you can guide your audience to better understand this person or event, for example, if you’re speaking on a death anniversary.
Tip: Jot down words or phrases freely to help yourself brainstorm.
Step 2: Do Your Research
Once you decide upon your topic or topics, do your research. You may not have to visit your local library and peer intently at the microfilms, even if you’re covering something really historical and not well known.
If you’re planning to write about another family member, such as a grandparent, sit down with someone else close to them. Interview them informally, but take copious notes or record them.
Depending on their level of recall, you may have to ask more than one relative. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to talk to people who may not know as much about the person or event you’re researching. They may say something inspirational or silly, but something that’ll add some whimsy and lightness to your speech.
There’s always your good friend Google, too. Get creative with your searching and what details you choose to include. You may learn something new about your loved one.
Tip: Don’t get in your own way. If you’re having a hard time writing about a certain person or topic — change it or take a step back.
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Step 3: Take Notes
Isn’t taking notes a way of putting off the drafting process? Isn’t it more writing? Taking notes is considered more writing, yes, but when you sit down to write your first draft, these notes will be your best friend.
Think of it less as writing notes but more so as writing an outline. Chances are, within your notes are some real nuggets of gold that can make your piece truly shine. Without notes, it can be extremely hard to reference anything that is not written down somewhere.
In addition, with your notes organized in an outline (check our commemorative speech templates for inspiration), you can take a deeper look at the flow and structure without having to write again from scratch.
Starting to draft a speech on a blank Word document, or sheet of paper if you’re old school, is much more daunting than if you craft notes or an outline. Identify key points as “subheadings” to give your speech some structure. Notes will also ensure you focus on important facts before going off on a tangent.
Tip: Try to organize your notes in a way that makes sense to you, either chronologically or in order of importance.
Step 4: Start Drafting
Breathe. How do you feel? Writing a commemorative speech, much like writing a eulogy, can be an emotional thing to do. If you’re not in a good headspace or a quiet, reliable place to work, your speech will reflect this. Don’t write your speech until you’re ready.
Once you are ready, open up your notebook or document. If you find yourself unable to start at the very beginning, don’t worry. Start on one section or another and fill in transitions later. You can always rearrange the content of your speech so it makes the most sense.
Tip: Give yourself deadlines to complete each of these steps, and be conservative if you tend to procrastinate.
Step 5: Take a Break
Taking mental (and physical) breaks is an important part of completing any task. If you find yourself on a tight deadline, budget an hour to do something that doesn’t require much thinking. Go out for a meal, walk your dog, or do some laundry if it’s therapeutic for you.
Walking away from your speech and revisiting it with fresh eyes will not only help you suss out any obvious mistakes or errors but likely reinvigorate you to get back to writing. There’s nothing worse than trying to write something out of frustration, rather than will.
Tip: Make sure you’re adequately fueled before you attack your speech again. Brew a pot of coffee or have a healthy meal.
Step 6: Edit, Then Draft Again
Once you get back to your draft, make any necessary edits. Read the progress of your draft beginning to end, and then backward.
Does it still make sense? If you constantly read your writing beginning to end, you may get caught up in your words and glaze over plot holes or mistakes.
Did you find some areas to make changes? Continue tweaking your draft and adding and deleting when necessary. Now that you’re further along in the draft, you can likely tell what areas need more elaboration and what areas are complete. Revisit your brainstorm notes if you have to.
Tip: Writing isn’t always a compounding process. It involves adding and subtracting. Don’t be afraid to delete words or phrases — sometimes less is more.
Step 7: Finalize It
You’re nearing the end of the writing process. Read over your draft again. Is there a theme or detail you started with? Try to bring this into the conclusion. Putting a detail from the beginning of your speech in the last line is an impactful way to send your audience off.
If this sounds too complicated, you can always keep the conclusion simple. Briefly reiterate what the person or topic means to you and why you chose to speak about it.
Tip: Don’t give complete details in the beginning. Wait till the end to disclose something about the person or topic. For example, “and that’s why…”
Step 8: Share the “Final” Aloud
If you don’t have time or feel comfortable enough to practice your speech in front of someone else, at least read your speech out loud to yourself. You can identify words or phrases that are awkward or choppy.
After all, this is a speech. If you are tripping over words, it may be a sign to simplify some of your phrasings or adjust some words.
Consider practicing in front of the mirror, too. Then, if you feel confident enough, read the speech to someone else. Getting some honest feedback will help you better prepare for the live delivery. This is also a good practice if you ever have to speak at a funeral. Although difficult and emotional, familiarizing yourself with the speech will make it easier.
Tip: Practicing where to pause in your speech is just as important as the spoken portions. Allow your audience to absorb your words, and let yourself breathe.
Commemorative Speech Topic Ideas
Now that you know how to write a commemorative speech, are you still having trouble with step one, i.e. deciding on a topic? Here are a few ideas to get you started, followed by some examples.
- A broad look at a relative’s life
- A relative’s involvement in a historical event, such as a war or movement
- A relative’s childhood or upbringing
- How a relative got into their career and details about it
- A prominent event from your hometown
- A “where are they now” story
- A speech about a relative’s last wishes or dreams
- About a relative’s marriage or family life
- About a relative’s relationship with a pet
- A firsthand account of your relationship with a relative
Commemorative Speech Examples
If you’re still struggling to get the ball rolling, here are some specific examples of commemorative speeches. No matter what person or topic you decide on, make it your own and feel free to get creative.
“Grandpa Jack was a lifelong firefighter. To me, it only makes sense that he moved up north to retire, when most people do the opposite. After decades of taking the heat, all he wanted was to feel the cold. For those of you who don’t already know, you’ll never believe how he decided to become a firefighter in the first place. This is his story... ”
“On November 20, 1962, our little town changed forever. What was once a tired, somewhat melancholy place, was suddenly bursting with life. The Jones’ family’s decision to open up a ski resort turned it into a winter paradise. As an employee of the Jones family for 25 years, I wanted to share a little bit more about their history and legacy...”
“Why did Terry become a teacher? Some of you may think she was plucked from heaven and put back on earth to do just that. I tend to think so, too. For a woman who started life as an orphan, bouncing around from foster home to foster home, she spent the remainder of her life as a voice for children. She was patient, hilarious, and sharp as a tack. She was my best friend...”
“Hank, as you all know him, came to this country in 1940. He fled occupied Poland with his father and his grandmother. His mother was estranged when he was a young boy and was never heard from again. It was suspected that Hank’s missing mother was Jewish. The result? Hank was taken from his classroom in his home country of Lithuania one day to find himself in a concentration camp far away...”
It’s Not Just About Facts
Writing and delivering a powerful commemorative speech isn’t about the many facts and figures you can spout off to your audience. A good commemorative speech encapsulates your feelings for the person or topic you’re covering.
A person’s life is more than important dates, years, or how much they did at any given point in time. Keep these steps in mind, but don’t forget to enjoy it and speak from your heart.