When a close friend or family member dies, you may be asked to deliver a eulogy at their funeral or memorial service. A eulogy is a speech delivered in honor of a loved one who has passed away. It’s an opportunity to remember the kind of person the loved one was. It can also celebrate their accomplishments and highlight their good acts.
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Many people who are asked to deliver a eulogy have never crafted one before. Some may not have even seen a eulogy before. They don’t even know how to write a eulogy, let alone how long it should be.
Here, we’ll talk about how long a eulogy should be. We’ll also give tips and tricks on shortening or lengthening a eulogy so it’s the proper length according to funeral etiquette.
Is My Eulogy Too Long or Too Short?
The length of a eulogy can vary depending on a variety of factors. At the funeral for someone famous, a eulogy may be longer and more drawn-out. This can also be the case at a formal religious service. However, certain religions and secular services often feature much shorter eulogies.
Overall, eulogies tend to be between five and ten minutes. Shorter tends to be better, though: between three and five minutes is a good target. People who are grieving don’t always have the energy to pay attention to a lengthy eulogy. Ultimately though, you should get guidance from the family of the deceased or the funeral coordinator.
7 Tips for Shortening (Or Lengthening) Your Eulogy
When you’re giving a eulogy, there are many tips you can follow. Some of them are good overall rules of thumb. Others can help you specifically with managing your time properly. Here, we break down some tips that can help you get your eulogy to the right length.
1. Write the eulogy out
Experienced public speakers may think they can handle speaking extemporaneously at a funeral. If you’re comfortable in front of a crowd and used to working off notes or a rough outline, you could be forgiven for making that assumption.
But funerals can be emotionally draining. Even a skilled public speaker may find themselves overcome with emotion. This may affect their ability to speak off the cuff. If you just have a note to recount a particular story, but you haven’t written the story out, it may mess with your timing. You might find yourself stammering or getting off track, adding minutes to your speech. Or, if you’re feeling choked up, you may rush important details.
No matter how confident you feel in your speaking skills, a written eulogy will help you keep time.
2. Practice until it’s perfect
Preparation is always key when you’re delivering any kind of speech in public. This includes reading the speech out loud. In this case, you’ll want to practice reading the eulogy out loud several times.
There are several reasons for this. First, people tend to rush when they’re nervous. Practicing will make you feel confident in your writing. This can keep you from rushing on the day you deliver the eulogy. Next, people often underestimate or overestimate how long it takes to read something out loud.
Just reading it in your head won’t give you a realistic example of how much time your eulogy will take. Practicing out loud will help you make sure you’re hitting your target time.
3. Focus on your enunciation
When you practice, be sure that you are speaking clearly enough to be understood. You could write the best eulogy in the world, but that won’t mean much if people can’t understand what you’re saying.
If you find that you aren’t speaking clearly when you’re practicing, you may need to slow yourself down. This can help you enunciate and speak more crisply. However, it can also push you outside of your time window.
4. Plan for pauses
When you’re reading the eulogy out loud, make sure to plan for any pauses you may need. If you’re going for levity and including amusing anecdotes about the deceased, you may need to pause for laughter. If part of the eulogy makes you choke up, you may need to factor in a few moments to regain your composure. If your mouth gets dry easily, note places where you can take a quick sip of water.
These may seem like inconsequential things to track. But small pauses can add up quickly. It would be a shame if those small moments pushed your eulogy too long.
5. Don’t be afraid to edit
When you’ve written a heartfelt tribute to someone, it can be hard to cut parts out of it. But if your eulogy is too long, people may check out. Funerals are draining and emotional for everyone. Mourners may not have the attention span to sit through a long eulogy. They may end up tuning out entirely after the first five minutes.
Don’t be afraid to cut out part of what you’ve written if your eulogy is too long. Sacrificing it for length may allow mourners to take in more of what you’re saying overall.
6. Practice in front of someone else
When you’ve written something, it can sometimes be difficult to edit it on your own. If your eulogy is still too long, even after edits, you can enlist the help of a friend. It helps if they knew the deceased. However, it shouldn’t be a close family member as they are likely grieving intensely.
Deliver the eulogy to the person who is helping you. They can give constructive feedback on a variety of fronts. Most importantly, in this instance, they can help you trim any fat from your planned speech. Plus, practicing in front of someone else will boost your confidence.
7. Ask for backup
One of the biggest things that can delay a eulogy is an outpouring of emotion. You may find that despite your best efforts, you get choked up delivering a eulogy.
If you find yourself unable to continue in a timely manner, you can have someone on hand to help you out. Make sure you’ve provided them with a written copy of the eulogy ahead of time, so they can pick up right where you left off.
Keeping Eulogies Short and Sweet
Speaking at a funeral can be nerve-wracking. Even reading a brief funeral poem can be challenging for someone who fears public speaking. A eulogy poses even more challenges. You have to write something that sums up a person’s life and pays tribute to them. You also need to keep it short and engaging enough to keep people’s interest.
It can be a real challenge to strike the right balance between being comprehensive and embracing brevity. You can always look at these short eulogy examples for inspiration. Ultimately though, the most important thing to remember is to speak from your heart.