Although trained as a lawyer and CPA, my friend Marvin Blum keeps getting asked to give eulogies. I can still recall the emotion and grace when Marvin spoke at his Dad’s funeral.
I interviewed Marvin so that we can all glean some ideas when faced with the honor and responsibility of giving a eulogy.
“What are the elements of a fantastic eulogy?” I asked Marvin.
He replied, “Humor, customization, and stories.”
Humor — “Laughter mixes well with grief”, Marvin commented. He said “Don’t be afraid to get people to laugh. You’ve got to warm it up.” He began Mr. Johnnie High’s eulogy with, “Wanda (his wife) said a reporter would want just five minutes with Johnnie, and she’d say ‘Johnnie can’t even say hello in five minutes.’” The audience laughed. They could identify with the comment and find comfort in the shared memory and humor.
Customization — Marvin is careful to speak to the people who are closest and have played dominant roles in the deceased person’s life. He also uses the deceased person’s own words in his words. “It’s always good to eat”, Uncle Albert would say. Or, as Johnnie High always surmised during his long life, “I never did it the easy way”. Again, the mourners could relate. Marvin also mentions the names of the bereaved loved ones with the admonition to be sure to include all of the family members.
Stories — Tell the story about the person. Marvin observed, “Don’t say Johnnie was generous. Tell the audience some stories that showed Johnnie’s generosity. Like the time he lent someone his car, for months, and Johnnie couldn’t afford to lend anyone anything at that time!” He said the audience will listen better this way.
“How do you put the whole thing together?” I asked. Marvin said, “It doesn’t happen overnight. Well, actually it does. I start thinking about the person and I wake up during the night and start scribbling. I like to jot down all of the ideas and then come up with a theme or some type of organization.”
Marvin’s effective eulogies model what I preach about how to communicate and sell. If you want your message to stick, use humor, customization and stories.