Writing a Commemorative Speech That Makes an Impact

A commemorative speech is a presentation given to pay tribute to a person, a group of people or an organization, or in honor of an event or situation that has taken place. This type of speech is typically given at a special event or ceremony. The content should highlight why this person, place, organization, or event was, and continues to be, important.

woman giving commemorative speech woman giving commemorative speech
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Tips for Writing a Commemorative Speech

Commemorative speeches are often written as a way of remembering who has passed away or for a celebration that honors a person, place, or event. Such a speech needs to be meaningful, respectful and courteous. 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.

Choose a Theme

Since a commemorative speech focuses on recognizing accomplishments, it's important to choose a theme consistent with the person, group, organization, or situation that is being remembered. Think about the impact the subject of the speech had on you and the audience as you are reflecting on what the theme should be.

Brainstorm for Content 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?

Craft an Outline

Once you have selected a theme, write a speech outline that highlights the main points you want to cover. Before filling in the outline with details, review to verify if what you are sharing is focused on paying tribute to the subject of the speech rather than merely conveying information. Tweak as needed so that the content is appropriate for the audience and occasion; it's important for your words to resonate with those who will witness the speech being delivered.

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Write an Attention-Getting Introduction

Begin your speech with an attention-getting statement, such as a sweeping assertion about the impact of the person, organization or event that your commemorative speech is about. Make it clear that your goal is to bring attention to the subject of the speech for the specific purposes of commemorating key accomplishments. Build a personal connection with the audience by using figurative language and allowing your feelings about the subject of the speech to shine through.

Share Key Details

With a basic outline in place, the next step will be to add details. Include factual information about the subject of the speech, along with some personal observations or anecdotes. Talk to others who have been motivated or inspired by the person or thing you are commemorating, as you may be able to draw ideas and inspiration from their passion. Add quotes as appropriate, including sayings that can be attributed to the subject of the speech if such are available.

Conclude Naturally

Structure the conclusion of your speech so that it flows naturally from the details you are sharing, whether you're citing a quotation, telling a story or listing accomplishments. Since the purpose of the speech is to commemorate, reiterate accomplishments achieved by the subject of the speech and express what their impact has been, and will continue to be. Consider a call to action designed to inspire audience members to follow the example set by the person or other entity about which the speech was delivered.

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Practice in Front of an Audience

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 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.

Common Commemorative Speech Topics

There are many kinds of commemorative speeches. This type of presentation can be delivered for a wide variety of purposes at many different kinds of events.

  • retirement speech in commemoration of someone's accomplishments at work
  • eulogy in honor of someone who has recently passed away
  • graduation speech presented at a ceremony in which diplomas or degrees are being conferred
  • farewell speech to someone who is moving away or leaving a job
  • anniversary speech in honor of a loving couple
  • years of service milestone for a long-term employee
  • accomplishment of a company milestone, such as receipt of an industry award or significant business anniversary
  • gratitude for a loved one's special support

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.

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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?

Bob's retirement is a bittersweet occasion. He is such an integral part of the XYZ Corporation team that it's difficult to picture what the workplace will be like without his smiling face. However, it is also an occasion for joy, as Bob so deserves the opportunity to retire and follow his dream of traveling the country in an RV. Bob is an incredible coworker who sets an ideal example of what it means to be a team player. He was always the true north for our department. While we may not be following his lead on the next critical project, we'll continue to follow his example. There is no question that Bob left his mark on his team and the overall company. We wish him a safe journey and a most excellent retirement.

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.

What can I say about Lisa, who has been my closest friend since the first day of high school? How long do I have to speak? Actually, I only need a few moments. It doesn't take a long time to convey that she is loyal, kind and brilliant. In short, she is extraordinary. It is no wonder that we find ourselves saying both goodbye and congratulations, as she has always been destined for great things. She may be moving away to explore her dreams, but her inspiration will stay with all of us forever. Distance may be physical and far, but friendship is forever and the bonds run deep. Please join me in thanking her for being a part of all of our lives while wishing her success for the future.
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About Your Parent(s)

No one expects a speech about one or both 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.

On the occasion of my college graduation, I am not the hero of the story. I'd like to take the tie to commemorate the two people who have not only made this day possible, but who have together made me who I am as a person. I can say firsthand that raising me was not the easiest of tasks; I often saw to that through my words and my deeds. When others may have given up on me or thought I was destined to fail, my parents persevered. Even when I was sure that I could not succeed, they helped me find my way. I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have been raised by these incredible people. Today is their day; celebrate their accomplishments as the two best parents that anyone could ever have.

About Someone Who Has Passed

Obviously, respect and restraint are called for when delivering a eulogy. 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.

We are gathered here today because we all loved Violet. She touched each of us in her special way, along with countless others who crossed her path. Violet never met a stranger and was never burdened by lending a hand to help others in need. We can all learn what faith, hope and charity truly mean by learning from the example she set. If she were here now, she'd smile and say, "I just did what anyone would do," but we all know that she was in the habit of going way above and beyond to leave the people who crossed her path better than she found them. Her loss is felt deeply and truly, but so is her impact. Resolve today to carry Violet's spirit with you and bring joy and light to others, just as she did for you and me. She is gone, but not forgotten and she lives on in each of us.
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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 holding a conversation between equals, as opposed to showing off your own knowledge.
  • Keep it simple. Clarity stays with people while being overly verbose can cause audience members to 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 and representing their collective voice.

Speaking Well

Do not use a commemorative 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, review these helpful tips for giving a winning speech. Break a leg!