Speaking Tips from the Man Who Has Spoken At 2,500 Funerals

This week I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Neil Dorward who is the president of the Scottish region of the Professional Speaking Association.

Neil is known as The Legacy Man. He was the first full time civil funeral celebrant in Scotland, and has written and delivered over 2500 funerals in the past nine years. He is also the author of the first book in the UK on the subject of funerals ‘The Guide to a Dead Brilliant Funeral Speech’.

After speaking with thousands of families following the death of their loved ones, Neil has incredible insights into what people are remembered for and what exactly counts as wealthy in this lifetime (hint – it’s not about money!) He has had the privilege of speaking about how to live and create a legacy on stages in South Africa, Finland, France and the United Kingdom.

Neil, what lead you to becoming a funeral celebrant?

Ten years ago the only two alternatives for funerals were religious or atheist/humanist services. I wanted to be able to offer people the service they wanted. For example, they may not attend church but still want to sing a hymn during the funeral. I was a Catholic priest for twelve years prior to this role but a civil celebrant focuses on the family, not on his or her own personal beliefs. I design a service that allows families to celebrate the life of their loved one and say goodbye in a way that is meaningful for them.

What is your secret to delivering a great funeral service?

I always remember that I am an advocate speaking on behalf of the family; I speak as if I knew their loved one and I speak about them using their language in a way that the family would want. I can only do this by interviewing the family, really listening and taking the time to prepare a ceremony that truly reflects the person. When delivering it I make sure my voice tone is interesting to listen to and that I really feel the words.

When did you join the Professional Speaking Association (PSA)?

I joined seven years ago to become an even a better speaker as part of my CPD and two years ago I became President of the Scotland region.

How has the PSA helped you in your speaking career?

Being involved in the PSA is a constant reminder of the importance of continuous learning and staying sharp, of not being complacent with your speaking. Meeting fantastic orators who can communicate a message that sinks deep has had a profound effect on my own speaking. I’m in the business of dealing with sad and vulnerable people, and I want to communicate to their hearts and not their ears.

How do you keep improving your speaking ability?

I am always asking myself how I can be an authentic speaker and I have learned lots of valuable tips from other members of the PSA. One of the first speakers I saw that made me really sit up, listen and then take action was Geoff Ramm and I decided I wanted to be like that. Attending regular PSA local events and national conventions has shown me that I can always get better, as well as the fact that I can always do more to market myself as a speaker.

How have you benefited from being involved with the PSA?

I’ve heard speakers I wouldn’t normally hear speaking on topics I wouldn’t normally have listened to. Outside of learning more about speaking, I’ve learned about the business of speaking professionally including areas like branding, personal image, marketing, social media and diversification. I’ve realised that it’s not just about standing at the pulpit for 20 minutes speaking at a funeral; it’s about staying at the top of your game so that you continue to move people and continue to get booked.

Often when we work as a professional speaker we work by ourselves but the PSA is a great community – the members have enthused me, encouraged me, inspired me, motivated me and challenged me. By its nature of being a voluntary organisation, the PSA invites you to be humble and generous; I’ve definitely found that the more I put in the more I get back.

What are your top 3 tips for being an engaging speaker?

  1. Have a message that rocks their socks – it doesn’t matter what it is but deliver it in a way that makes people go ‘Wow!’
  2. Be ‘stickable’ – think about how you are going to stand out and be memorable whether that is by using props, video, voice tone, magic, your dress style, your delivery; it could be anything but make sure you do something different.
  3. Include a call to action so the audience is clear about what they should do after your speech.

Whether you get paid to speak at conferences, you work as a trainer or if you are employed by a company and speaking is a significant part of your job, have you considered joining your professional association? Click here to find out more about the Professional Speaking Association for UK and Ireland.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on
Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_