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Commemorative speech topic helper

How to choose the best commemorative topic

By: Susan Dugdale | Last modified: 12-08-2023

The ideal commemorative speech topic is one that inspires your audience. It enthralls, uplifts and whirls them through a journey of transformation.

Choosing the right one goes a long way toward ensuring that, by the time you tuck your cue cards back into your pocket at the end of your speech, you'll leave your audience feeling satisfied and enriched.

Choosing the best speech topic

But how do you choose exactly the right commemorative speech idea?

For instance ...

Could the speech be based on the red field poppy?

The one that's been used as a symbol since the end of World War One to honor soldiers who died in battle - particularly soldiers from UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand?

Perhaps talking about the background of the red poppy as a symbol would be interesting.

Image: red field poppies. Text:In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row ...

According to this Wikipedia article the poem In Flanders Field about the Second Battle of Ypres fought in Belgium was the most well known poem of its era.

It immortalized the poppy, making it a natural choice as an emblem. It needed no introduction. People already knew what it stood for.  

Hang on. Slow down.

It's a great topic. And yes, it is very interesting, but wait!

Don't move so fast.

Choosing from your audience's point of view

The process of getting the best commemorative speech topic begins, not with your choice of subject, but with:

  • understanding the special characteristics of a commemorative speech,
  • understanding the purpose of the occasion,
  • and your audience.

Once you've grasped those choosing your topic will be so much easier. That's because when you've considered them carefully, you'll be more likely to make the best decision.

Let's focus on them now.

Exactly what is a commemorative speech?

Commemorative speeches do as their title suggests: they commemorate.

They celebrate, praise, or pay tribute to memories. These could be memories of a person, a group, an institution, a thing, an event or, even an idea.

See the definition

Definition of the word commemorate

What is the purpose behind a speech of this type?

The goal/purpose of the commemorative speech (or tribute speech) is always to unite the audience.

You want to bring them together, to inspire them, to re-dedicate and refocus their energies through honoring and remembering the past.

Ideally after they've heard what you have to say they'll be filled to the brim with positivity and hope.

What are the occasions where you'd expect to hear a commemorative speech?

Examples of occasions calling for this type of speech are anniversaries, reunions, dedications, national and international remembrance days and funeral or memorial services.

I have some of these types of speeches on my site. For instance, there are more than 70 eulogies or funeral speeches people from all over the world have sent to me to post. These are private commemorative speech examples, meaning they were initially written for a group of family and friends. 

In contrast the commemorative speeches marking for instance, Memorial or Independence Day, are intended for a much larger public audience.

Do your research about the event

To help yourself make the best choice of topic find out as much as you can about the event and the organization behind it.

Talk to the event managers or whoever is in charge about what they'd like you to focus on.

If it's a regular event, find out what previous speakers have spoken about or ask folk who've been in the audience what has been successful and why.

Who is your audience?

Consider who is listening to you.

  • Why are they there?
  • What unites them?
    Eg., race, gender, age, nationality, socio-economics, religion, health concerns, the same employer, hobbies, sports ...
  • What experiences have they shared?
    Eg., working together to establish something important, something bigger than themselves, a specific major event: an earthquake, a shooting...
  • What do they expect from you?
  • What do they hope for?
  • What do you know about their values or beliefs?
  • What are their concerns or worries?

And now that you know more about the speech context you're ready to start thinking about what your commemorative speech topic could be.

Highlight and honor qualities

Image: drawing of red field poppies. Text: Lest we forget.

Because this type of speech is more about honoring the qualities enabling a person, organization or group to achieve what they did, the speech is NOT primarily a recital of 'did-this-and-then-did-that' facts.

Instead the facts, when they are recalled, are a backdrop used to demonstrate or illustrate the qualities being celebrated.

So in thinking about this, what themes or values will you focus on?

Use your knowledge of the event and the audience to guide your choice.

Commemorative speech topic themes

Any of the following themes are suitable.

  • bravery
  • courage
  • dedication
  • loyalty
  • service
  • resourcefulness
  • creativity
  • originality
  • adaptability
  • openness
  • generosity
  • independence
  • perseverance
  • selflessness
  • kindness
  • cheerfulness
  • clarity
  • innovation
  • humor
  • modesty
  • respectfulness
  • leadership

Choosing material to fit your theme

Your next job is to select material to best illustrate the qualities you've chosen.

  1. Will your commemorative speech topic retell stories about past events and people already known to the audience?
  2. Will you research history to find inspiring events, stories or quotations to echo, reinforce and add to your speech?
  3. Will you use your own experiences?

The answer to those three questions is YES.

The most satisfying speech draws from all three elements and combines them eloquently.

Would you like to read an example of commemorative speech?

Vincent Van Gogh - Purple iris

Here is a tribute speech for my Mother, Iris.

You're most welcome to use it as a springboard for the commemorative speech you have to write.

Or you can find out more about the special qualities of tribute speeches with links to well known examples.

6 attributes of a great commemorative speech

In summary, a great commemorative/tribute speech:

  • is in tune with the audience's values
  • is sincere and relevant
  • uses the language of oratory (figurative language) to capture the hearts of its hearers
  • includes story telling
  • invokes all the senses - sight, sound, touch, smell & taste
  • leaves the audience uplifted and inspired

Links to kick start your imagination

If you're looking for examples of people, events or speeches to inspire your commemorative speech topic choice you'll find a wonderful collection of resource links in the box below.