Writing a Commemorative Speech

If you are writing a commemorative speech for someone who has passed away or for a celebration that commemorates a person, place, or event, you need to write something meaningful, respectful, and courteous. When making a tribute to someone or something with your words, let others know you care. Highlight why this person, place, or organization was and continues to be important.

Writing a Commemorative Speech Writing a Commemorative Speech

Brainstorming Topic Ideas

Before writing a commemorative speech, brainstorm some ideas for information you can include in your speech. Rather than trying to write out the whole speech at once, start with a list of elements you want to include. To identify those elements, consider the following questions:

  • How can you respectfully share the significance of this person with others?
  • If someone were giving this speech about you, what would you want them to say?
  • What key memories, ideas, or information about this person do you want to share with a greater audience?
  • What stories would you want to hear if you were listening to this commemorative speech?
  • Who was this person to you, specifically? Who were they to the people in the audience? What are the relationships between people that you want to highlight?

Your aim is to make the audience remember. You also want to express yourself and motivate others to feel just as strongly. Sometimes these speeches are filled with emotion, and other times, they are filled with inspiration, hope, and information.

3 Laws of Commemorative Speechwriting

When writing, ask friends, family, and colleagues to listen to your work and help add clarity to the points you're trying to make. Even speeches given by experts can be difficult for a live audience to follow, and it's all the more difficult when emotions are running high. Something on paper that makes sense might not be as easy to follow when spoken aloud.

Ask others for advice about changing phrasing, word order, and even speech patterns so your writing becomes comprehensible. Remember, constructive criticism isn't an attack on your work. No work on your written speech can replace the vital input derived from giving the speech out loud and incorporating feedback.

Before you get to the editing stage, however, make sure your speech follows the three laws of commemorative speechwriting.

  • Balance tradition and formality with personal touches. The basic structure of formal speech can be summed up in the classic business adage: "Tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them." That's a recipe for clarity. Use that basic pattern to construct your speech. However, you'll likely sound distant and artificial until you lighten up the text with some personal observations.
  • Respect your subject, your audience, and yourself. People judge both the speaker and the subject by the speech.
  • Write from the heart; edit with the head. An audience can tell when you're speaking about something that isn't important to you. At the same time, it's important to look over your text in a detached manner and identify which parts will resonate with the audience, as opposed to things just personal to you. If you have trouble, ask a friend to look it over.

If you still don't feel inspired, talk to others who have been motivated and inspired by the thing you are commemorating. See if you can draw ideas and inspiration from their passion.

Commemorative Speech Examples

A commemorative speech might be addressing anyone or, indeed, anything. It can be understandably difficult to start writing with so little to go on. We've assembled a few examples of how to address particular subjects that might be of use to you.

  • About a Colleague or Supervisor: Whether you're giving a speech about someone you work with or work for, the approach is largely the same. Keep the tone professional, with just a short anecdote or two for sweetening. Focus on specifics. Why does this person mean so much to you?
  • About a Friend: In terms of tone, this sits between what you might write about a work colleague and what you might write about a parent. You can share a few stories, but you should also focus on the real, concrete importance of this person in your life. It's also very easy for a speech about a friend to turn into a speech about yourself. Focus on their accomplishments, not your own.
  • About a Parent: No one expects a speech about one of your parents to be dry and clinical. Don't shy away from an anecdote or two, and don't be afraid to tug on some heartstrings.
  • About Someone in the Room: This is hard mode. You have to strike a balance between funny, respectful and detailed. Restrain the urge to acknowledge the person or make them accept a round of applause. At most, do it once. Ideally, not at all. Speak as best you can as if they weren't there, sharing what they mean to you.
  • About Someone Who Has Passed: Obviously, respect and restraint are called for here. At the same time, you should honor the effect this person had on your life. Engage the audience: talk about events you all might have shared with the person, or aspects of their life you all knew about.

Tips and Tricks for Writing Your Best Speech

Recognize that you will probably be speaking in front of an audience of different backgrounds - some people might be very familiar with the topics you discuss, while some might be listening to this information for the first time.

  • Be clear with your words. For example, take the time to explain things instead of using jargon that might go over some people's heads.
  • Be personal - up to a point. A brief anecdote or joke about your relationship with the subject is welcome. After all, the audience has a relationship with the subject too. That said, the operative word is brief. An anecdote is a hook to get people's attention. The rest of the speech should focus on the subject.
  • Don't talk down to your audience. Acknowledge what they already know and share new things with a tone of conversation between equals, as opposed to showing off your own knowledge.
  • Keep it simple. Clarity stays with people. Florid wording makes them tune out.
  • Remember that this speech is not about you, nor is it really about the subject. It all comes down to the audience. Commit your speech to addressing their feelings, helping them to express themselves, and representing their collective voice.

Speaking Well

Do not use this speech as a chance for self-promotion or to share your hubris. If you are worried about how people will perceive you - like how your boss may be in attendance - remember that if you can give a selfless speech, this will speak more than threading personal pats-on-the-back into what you have to say.

When writing a commemorative speech, keep it simple, respectful, and honorable, and people will want to listen. For more help, look at our six tips for giving a great speech. Break a leg!

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