17 November 2018

What to say at a funeral: advice for people on speeches and etiquette

3 min read

 

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Giving a funeral speech can be daunting, challenging and upsetting. What should you say and how should you say it? Should you crack any jokes? How long should you make your speech? And, most importantly, what should you not say at a funeral?

Squeezing a person’s life into a few minutes while dealing with your own grief is hard enough without the pressure of etiquette to contend with. Here’s some advice on how to give a speech at a funeral, from penning funeral anecdotes to finding inspiration from literature. 

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Getting started

Think about your audience when sculpting the tone of your funeral speech. The personality and life of the deceased will help you decide whether to keep things light-hearted and humorous – or serious and weighty.

Keep it brief

Funeral speeches should be around three to five minutes in length, which is the equivalent of roughly 400-600 words. But do make sure you write everything down. Paying your respects to someone is very different from casually toasting a family member at a wedding.

Make a funeral speech personal

A funeral speech is a personal tribute to someone delivered from the heart. State your relationship to the deceased at the beginning of your speech with a brief anecdote or personal memory about that person.

Speak to loved ones and family members

Brainstorm ideas for your speech by spending time with loved ones, colleagues and family members. Note down any memorable stories or events that can then be turned into funeral anecdotes.

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Choose poetry and music for inspiration

The funeral scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral sees John Hannah’s character Matthew look to English-American poet WH Auden for inspiration. Using poetry or prose to express our grief can be a powerful tool – sometimes we can simply feel lost for words. A list of funeral poems from the Poetry Foundation may inspire you. Music can also be a potent source of inspiration – is there a particular song lyric that holds some significance?

Focus on good memories

Try not to fill your speech with too many dry, biographical facts or achievements. Set the scene, of course, but regaling your audience with stories about the deceased is more appropriate funeral etiquette. Do not point out their foibles. Funeral anecdotes should paint the deceased in a positive light.

Don’t give up

Allow yourself plenty of room for improvement. Start off by writing a rough draft that covers the basics – you can go back and refine it later. Read your speech out loud, seek feedback from others and remember to practise the final version as much as you can before the funeral.

Steady your nerves

Let’s be honest, most of us hate public speaking. Breathing exercises can help you overcome pre-speech anxiety, while thanking funeral attendees at the beginning of your speech can be a good way to calm your nerves.

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