The hardest speech of all is the eulogy

What makes a great speech great?  Is it the content, the delivery, a combination of the two?   Great art, so they say, is in the eye of the beholder.  Whatever the equivalent for speeches, the circumstances of the listener, might also play a part.

When it comes to speeches, they aren’t necessarily what they appear to be.  Behind the words there can be a great deal of preparation and research.  Also the subject about which the speech is written can be highly emotive.  This applies very much in the case of death and the eulogy delivered at the time when the deceased is remembered by family and friends.

Writer Tony Wilson is mad about great speeches, and not just the classic ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ kind.

Tony Wilson has taken it upon himself to collect great speeches and compile them into a digital library – Speakola, All speeches great and small.   The collection that is ongoing, is not limited to what he says are the stars that burn the brightest.  There are many great speech given by ordinary people, and some of these have made it into the list.

He began the project after he had to give the most devastatingly sad speech of his life.  The sudden death of a close friend who committed suicide.  Not unsurprisingly, one of the 13 categories is Eulogies.

Tony talks in detail about his love of speeches in this interview with Richard Fidler: The speech collector, (Conversations, ABC radio, Monday 4 May 2020)

When it comes to writing a eulogy for example: “There’s a certain pressure that descends on you, gee I need to get this right.”

“What I’ve learnt over curating the [Speakola] site is compiling anecdotes and collecting stories about the relationship (with the person who is the subject of the speech) are what ends up increasing the power of the speech …. it’s not unusual to lose it pretty much, when you’re in the preparatory stages of writing a eulogy,” says Wilson.  But that’s what goes to making it authentic and sincere.

Eulogy – to heap praise on somebody.  It’s different to an Obituary – a factual report or story of a persons life.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, knows how to prepare and deliver a great speech. “She speaks with an empathy for the moment and also with a certainty of purpose,” Wilson tells Fidler.  This speech would have been scripted.  Remember that scripted speeches can be just as genuine as unscripted off-the-cuff words delivered on the spur of the moment. 

In fact most great speeches are well prepared scripted works written by or for the person who will deliver them.  

Tony Wilson loves all the uplifting, tear-inducing, nation-building, heart-swelling words said during awards ceremonies, at funerals, at University graduations and to near-empty houses of Parliament around Australia and the world.

He doesn’t mind if the people giving the speeches are brilliant orators, or have never made a speech in their life.

One of the take home lessons for us is that as far as eulogies go, since we all know that we are going to die and those close to us are in the same boat, collecting some anecdotes and stories and compiling them into a coherent draft speech wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Just like preparing for the ending of days of the body, preparing for the funeral event of which the eulogy is an important ingredient, is best done well before the event. An added bonus, it could be a very cathartic process for all involved.

To listen to the full program click on this link: The speech collector on ABC local radio

Further information: Explore Speakola  :::  Tony also has a podcast about great speeches



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