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June 3, 2022

Yesterday I delivered a tribute (eulogy) to my grandfather at his funeral. It was the hardest public speaking event I have ever done. I drew on all my skills to write it, prepare for it, and deliver it.

Last fall, my 97-year old grandfather asked my dad to arrange for his funeral. He was not sick at the time. I believe he just felt it was the right thing to do given his age. So, my dad did. Pop shared his wishes and Dad followed through. A while ago, Dad asked me if I would deliver the eulogy at Pop’s funeral when the time came. I immediately said yes. I am the oldest grandchild, comfortable speaking in public. It felt right.

The time came

Two and a half weeks ago, my grandfather was admitted to hospital. It became clear fairly quickly that this time he just might not rebound. I began to start thinking about his eulogy. Ideas rattled around in my mind. Phrases. Images. Random thoughts. As Pop’s end came closer I began to put words on paper. The ending was easier to write than the beginning so I started there. I wrote the rest of the tribute and then stepped away from it for a day.

Know your audience

One of my mother’s sisters, who has written several tributes, asked me to share it with her. As I was in New Brunswick celebrating our daughter’s graduation from UNB last week, we video chatted and I read it to her. She gave me some very valuable advice and feedback. She reminded me the tribute is not for ME. It is for the FAMILY that is grieving.

A lightbulb moment. I realized that what I wrote did not reflect the skills I teach in workshops. Certainly I should have known better. Over the years I have trained people in public speaking, presenting, and public engagement. The first rule is know your audience.

Words matter

When I went back to what I had written, I realized it was not inclusive of the family. I am one of 11 grandchildren yet I only said My Grandfather in the tribute. Consequently, I changed my to our. One word now included all my cousins. The ending I wrote still spoke to me so I kept it and scrapped the rest. I rewrote it and again, stepped away for a day. Once again, I shared it via video with my aunt and she liked my changes.

Rewrite

The next day, I woke up thinking, this just does not feel right. I was happy now with the opening and the ending; however, nothing in the middle spoke to me. Again, I rewrote the tribute. Finally, I was happy with what I had drafted. It spoke to me and I felt it would connect with everyone in my family. That was Sunday. Pop died on Monday. Tuesday I made an addition to the tribute. Wednesday, when I arrived home from New Brunswick, I spoke to my father and all his siblings about their dad. That evening I added in their stories. I printed out the eulogy to read in church the next morning. On Thursday, the morning of the funeral, I made another addition and a few minor changes. So again, I printed it out.

Part of the public speaking process is reviewing and revising what you are going to say. Whether that is based on new information, feedback, or simply a gut feeling, in most cases your first draft is not what you will end up saying in public. That is okay.

Practice, practice, practice

Practicing is different than memorizing. Personally, I find memorizing tends to make me more robotic. If I happen to go “off script” it throws me more than ad-libbing with a speech in front of me.

I practiced my tribute. I had already read it out loud to my aunt twice. Even though it no longer truly resembled the original message, it had the same rhythm and some of the same components. I read it silently to myself. I read it out loud. Above all, it flowed through me.

Prepare for delivery

On the morning of the funeral I was confident. I had my tears with the family at the wake the night before. While in hospital my grandfather planned his funeral down to the readings, the hymns, the pall bearers. I had the bulletin so I knew the order of the service. Thankfully, I was early in the service. Therefore, I was certain my emotions would not get the better of me.

Once the service began, I settled in and participated along with my family. I felt strong. It was going to be okay.

The delivery

When it was time to deliver the eulogy, I walked up confidently to the podium. I felt in control. I said, “Good morning” and the congregation replied. Then it hit. The emotions. My legs started to shake. I was trembling all over. For a brief moment, I actually thought I was going to fall. Now what?

Thankfully, all my years of experience kicked in. I started drawing on every trick and technique I know. I shifted my weight from one side to another. A slight step back broke the trembling in my legs. A firm grip on the podium anchored me. A glance up to focus on my husband and daughters centred me. In the space of 5-10 seconds, I was back in control. I now used those emotions to fuel me. As I often say to people, nervous energy is energy. Use it.

Things were going really well until I came to the ending. My emotions threatened to get the best of me once again. This last part was the most heartfelt. I felt if I kept going I was going to start to cry. Knowing this, I again drew on my toolkit. I shifted my weight once again, anchored again, and took a deep breath. While there may have still been a slight tremor in my voice, my emotions were now under control and carried me to the end.

Saying goodbye

The funeral Pop planned was absolutely beautiful. I am proud of the eulogy I delivered for him. Family members and other mourners all felt a part of the tribute. All my skills helped me do what I wanted to do.

The next time you are preparing to speak in public, remember the steps I have outlined here:

  • Know your audience
  • Words matter
  • Rewrite
  • Practice
  • Prepare
  • Deliver

If I can be of assistance, do not hesitate to reach out. ~ Carole

Closing from the eulogy of Gordon Wilfred Wagg

“I was born in poverty. I will die in poverty.” Another thing our grandfather told all of us.  If you measure a man’s worth by the balance in his bank account, then technically that might be true. However, I do not use that measure. Pop lived life. He had sorrows and joys; challenges and successes. He outlived his six siblings. He buried his infant son Wallace, his adult son Jim, his granddaughter Lisa, and his wife of 50 years Gladys. During his life he raised his family. He lived to see his surviving 5 children and his daughter-in-law raise their families. He became Poppy Wagg to 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He was Uncle Gordon to many nieces and nephews. He instilled the value of hard work and the importance of family in all of us.  I think I must disagree with you Pop. I do not believe you died in poverty. I believe based on the love you showed us, your faith, and the love shown here today, you died a rich man.