A tribute takes on so many different meanings, it can be hard to remember what it’s supposed to be. But when you write a tribute speech, you can get to its true purpose, which is to honor a specific person. Usually, you can hear tribute speeches at funerals, memorials, and celebrations -- but all tend to follow a similar formula.
Here are some helpful steps for writing a tribute speech:
- Think About the Person
- Write an Outline
- Get the Audience’s Attention
- Make Your Points
- Finish Strong
- Practice Your Speech
If you’re speaking at a funeral or at a memorial, you might need to write a tribute speech. Or even if you’re speaking at a celebration and simply focusing this piece on a loved one who has died, this guide is for you.
You want your tribute speech to use the right words and to paint an accurate, admirable picture of the person. A heartfelt speech evokes emotion in the listeners and conveys a clear message.
Tip: While speaking at a virtual event, like a live-streamed memorial organized by a service such as GatheringUs, practice your speech using your video conferencing software ahead of time so you can anticipate and fix any audio issues.
Post-loss tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Step 1: Think About the Person
What purpose does your tribute speech serve? Are you sharing a particular moment in a loved one’s life, writing about their successes, or about their positive attributes? Do you want the audience to come away with a particular message or understanding of your loved one?
Brainstorm a few characteristics or key points you’d like to include in the tribute speech. With these kinds of speeches, it’s ok to evoke emotion and share that feeling with your audience. What emotions do you want your audience to feel? If you’re giving your speech at a memorial, you might want your words to highlight a sense of fondness or happiness. Make sure you are considering your audience as well as the person you’re writing about.
After all, writing a tribute speech for your mother will be very different than writing one for a friend.
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Step 2: Write an Outline
Before you begin writing, create an outline. Writing an outline helps you organize your thoughts before putting pen to paper. Most tribute speeches follow the same format. Here’s a quick guideline to follow:
- Introduction: Who is the speech about? What is your relation to this person?
- Main point 1: Start off with a key characteristic of the person you’re talking about, such as their caring nature or listening skills.
- Evidence: What evidence do you have that supports your main point? For instance, if they were a caring person, talk about a time they helped others.
- Main point 2: What’s another point you’d like to make about the person?
- Evidence: Again, support your point.
- Conclusion: Repeat your crucial points and end with something meaningful.
You can include as many main points as you’d wish, but less is usually more. If you’re giving a speech at a funeral, there may be time limits to consider. Knowing what to say when someone dies is never easy. Using an outline organizes your thoughts in a clear way no matter the purpose of your speech.
Step 3: Get the Audience’s Attention
The hardest part of a tribute speech is often the introduction. How do you capture the audience’s attention? If your speech is during a funeral, for instance, emotions are already high. If you’re giving a speech at another event or celebration, you similarly need to capture attention. How do you hook listeners with your tribute?
Start by relating to the listeners themselves. You need to appeal to the audience on a personal level to develop a connection with your words. If you’re speaking at a funeral, remind them how the deceased person brought everyone together. Open with your relationship with this person, and talk about your loved one’s role in your life.
A good way to start is with a personal story. Humans naturally are drawn to stories. Including one at the beginning of your speech brings the audience closer to you. From there, it’s easier to share your main points with the listeners’ full attention.
Step 4: Make Your Points
It might be tempting to drag out your introduction, especially if you’re using a personal take to capture the audience’s attention. Consider keeping the introduction brief so you can get to your point sooner rather than later. A concisely worded speech makes more of an impact through brevity and pauses than long drawn-out sentences.
With a tribute speech, you might include any of the following:
- The person’s characteristics
- The person’s accomplishments
- The person’s lasting impact
- Your experience with the person
All of these need real-life evidence. Memories, attributes, and physical creations provide plenty of support for what your loved one did in their life, and how they made you feel. How you share these main points is up to you.
Consider how you knew this person personally. Do you have a particularly funny or touching memory that was not shared widely? Did you see a special side of this person? These are all valuable questions to answer when writing a memorial tribute.
Step 5: Finish Strong
Finish your tribute speech on a high note. Popular quotes or poems can provide a way to tie up your speech. Or even ending with a quote or familiar saying from your loved one can leave your audience fondly remembering the person. Wrapping up your tribute speech can also be used to recall your main points and making a final statement about the person.
You might ask the audience to remember their own favorite memory of this person or to think of them when they visit a certain place. Either way, leave them with something memorable.
Step 6: Practice Your Speech
Finally, before you present, it’s time to practice. If you’re anxious, use these tips to put you at ease:
- Think of your speech as a performance, not just a reading
- Make eye contact with your audience
- Stand up straight and tall
- Focus on your storytelling skills
- Let your passion show
As long as you’re putting emotion into the topic, this shines through for the audience. Practice really does make perfect. Don’t be afraid to share your speech with your friends and family before the big day.
Tribute Speech Topic Ideas
For inspiration planning your tribute speech, review these topic ideas below. Your tribute can be about anything that matters to you.
- Write about a physical tribute to made for your favorite person.
- Write about a loved one who passed.
- Describe an event involving yourself and a loved one.
- Share a memory.
- Give a tribute to a place that matters to you.
- What movie or book inspired you?
- Did an incident ever change your life?
- Give a toast to someone who matters to you.
- Share someone or something that changed your mind.
- Explain the relationships that mean the most to you.
Tribute Speech Samples
To get a strong feel for what a tribute speech looks like, read through these samples below. Each speech serves a different purpose, but you’ll see how they impact the audience through storytelling and compassion.
Tribute to a friend after their passing
"Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining me to celebrate the life of my dear friend, Julian. All of us here admired Julian’s devotion to his family. I first met Julian through his wife, Stephanie. There was never a time when he wasn’t raving about Stephanie and all of their adventures together. I remember specifically one late night at work. Julian was the first to tell the whole office to head home. He always said nothing was more important than family, and that was certainly true. That’s the legacy Julian leaves behind: his shining family. I know we’ll all remember him even though he’s no longer with us. We still see Julian in his son and daughter, Mark and Mandy. Let’s make sure he’s never forgotten."
Tribute to a coworker
"Thanks for joining me at this year’s celebration. Today, I’d like to highlight the success of Luisa, one of our best underwriters. Luisa is dedicated to her clients and helping them secure the home of their dreams. When Luisa first began working here, she would spend hours pouring over each applicant’s documents. She wanted to get everything right the first time. “The family is counting on us,” she would say. Luisa is right. It’s this kind of passion and attention to detail that makes her such an asset to our company."
Tribute to a sibling for a wedding
"I’m so thankful to be speaking about June on her wedding day. June and I have known each other for basically our whole lives, give or take the two years of me being an only child. Since then, June has always been the one who had my back. From the playground to college, she was always there. June is the first person I want to tell about my day — even if she’s bad at answering her phone! I am so grateful for our special bond. I just wanted to say thank you to my little sister for being my rock.:
Write a Powerful Tribute Speech
With the steps and examples listed above, hopefully you have some inspiration to help you write a top-notch tribute speech. From learning how to hook listeners to find the right words to say, you have many paths you can take with a tribute.
And in the end, a tribute speech is a commemoration of someone special. Whether you’re giving your speech as a sympathy message at a funeral or at a celebration, make the most of this opportunity.
Everyone deserves to be remembered. Creating a tribute speech is a powerful way to evoke emotion and build strong relationships. They are for personal and professional relationships, remembering those who have died, and even just reminding us of the things we love most. It’s time to put your own pen to paper in honor of someone special.
For more help finding the right words, read our guide to what to say on a death anniversary.