The commemorative speech is probably the one speech you will more than likely give at some point in your life. It’s your chance to express the meaningfulness of someone or something else, the impact felt on your life, and the significance of the moment. For now, let’s assume you are paying tribute to a person, someone you know well.
This speech will be the one chance you get to let other people know how you feel. But more importantly, it will be an opportunity to help them understand why you feel this way, and perhaps help them to feel that way, too. How do you do that?
Attention to Detail
Unfortunately, I listen to a lot of commemorative speeches that mean well, but say little. It becomes a listing of all the possible nice things one can say about someone else. The words of praise tend to be rather generic, peppered with the word “always” or “never” (as in, “Uncle Bob was always cracking jokes and making people laugh,” or “Uncle Bob never said a mean thing to anyone.”)
I have no doubt that this is coming genuinely from the heart. These are expressions of the love we have for that someone special. The only problem is that there’s no structure, no detail. There’s no sense of that person. We have no idea who she was; we only know that you cared enough to ramble on about how nice she was.
Notice the past tense (“she was”). It’s unfortunate that we often wait until someone has passed before we discuss their significance in our lives, but it helps us to feel as though some measure of immortality is achieved through honoring that person. And, that’s a nice sentiment. Some cultures speak of the dead as not truly gone until every person who remembers them has passed away, too. They live on through remembrance.
If there’s any truth to that, it’s up to you to bring those memories to life. You do that by discussing very specific memories. Instead of talking about how Aunt Ruth was a hard worker or volunteered all the time, talk about a particular day on the job that shows the kind of character she displayed while at work. Talk about that one time when…
In so doing, you will begin to paint a picture of this person for the audience. They will imagine her life as it was (or is!), and though it’s not a memory, the vividness of the imagery mixed with the emotion you convey will make it feel like a memory. They will laugh and smile and cry along with you, and the love you feel will be equaled or augmented in some measure by each member of the audience.
For every nice thing you have to say, tie to it a specific memory of when. That’s how we best honor those that mean something to us. By taking our impressions and providing detail, we help the audience to understand how we feel. That’s how we write with the mind. That’s how we speak from the heart.