Use Your Voice! The Best Ways to Stand Up for Yourself and The Funeral Profession

As a funeral professional, chances are you face plenty of misconceptions about who you are and what you do, everyday.

You may even feel that you have to defend yourself from time to time.

After all, there are the unfortunate few we see in the news that don’t have families’ best interest in mind, and give the rest of the profession a bad rep.

So how do you stand up, use your voice, and speak the truth of the great work YOU do, at your funeral home? Lesley Witter, NFDA Senior Vice President of Advocacy, is one of those people who are here to help.

As a lobbyist in Washington D.C, who represents and advocates for legislation that supports the funeral service industry, this powerful woman knows her stuff, and had a lot to share with us at the 2018 NFDA International Convention.

Here are 3 insights Witter had to share about standing up and speaking up for yourself, and for the funeral profession!


Insight #1: Focus on your words — they are powerful!

To explain how to advocate for the funeral profession, Witter started off by reminding us that the words we choose are so important. Words have power. Even in the bible, the first line mentions the WORD god, that began creation.

So, it’s easy to see how words can easily create understanding between you and the person you’re speaking to, or they can set either or both of you into a defensive, messy, argument. It’s critical that you select your words carefully. Here are her tips for how you can use words to strengthen your position:

  • Pay attention to your use of positive vs. negative words, such as “assertive” vs. “bossy.” Try to stick to the positive connotation of words, so that you’re not putting the opposing party in a place of defense.
  • Be aware of internal vs. external words. External words are those labels that others put on you. Internal words, on the other hand, are words that you choose to describe what you observe in your experience. This creates more space for the person you’re speaking with to own up to their responsibility in the conversation, and puts less pressure on them.
  • Be careful of stereotypes—once you’ve placed a stereotype upon someone, it will cloud your ability to work with them.
  • Speak with authority! Phrases like, “I think,” “I feel,” and “I believe,” are too soft. These words come from you—but frankly, your opponent is not you! They’re not so concerned with your feelings as the facts and experiences you have to share. Instead, state your opinion with “I recommend,” “I suggest,” or “Have you considered…?”
  • Own your position and your argument. When your goal is to convince someone of something, don’t start with “I’m just…” or “I’m not expert, but…”. Remove filler words like “actually” and “um” and questions like “Does that make sense?” These simply weaken your statements.
  • Make firm requests. Notice the difference between “can you?” vs. “will you?” To avoid any wiggle room, use “will you?”
  • State your needs. In legislative language, there is a big difference between “may” and “shall”.  “May” means you’re okay if your need doesn’t happen. “Shall” indicates that you’re standing strong in your request, and expect it to be met.
  • Use short sentences. Long sentences give room for you to make excuses. Own your statements by keeping them concise and to the point.


Insight #2: Become a storyteller

When you advocate for anything, you become a storyteller. The secret is to combine your experience, your voice, and the right words to effectively tell your story. Witter  walked us through some subtle, but key aspects of developing the story of your argument:

  • Develop a credible position. Compile your research and facts. Remember, emotions don’t win arguments—facts win arguments.
  • Know both sides. NEVER advocate for something without knowing the opponent’s position.
  • Be authentic. Use your own unique voice! Share your own opinion. People can sense if you’re not speaking from a place of authenticity. So own it!
  • Use personal examples to support your points. This keeps you real and connected to your audience. Making connections will get you further in your advocacy.


Insight #3: Get involved on a deeper level

Finally, Witter gave us the top ways for YOU to get involved in advocating for the funeral profession in your local community, or even on a bigger scale:

  • Use your voice! As Laura Bush reminds us, “That noise is the home of democracy.”
  • Attend (or even host!) fundraisers. Use these as opportunities to network with legislators.
  • Volunteer on political campaigns. Your service and devotion will create ripples in your work and your business.
  • Write about it! You can write to Congress, you can write op-eds (opposite editorials) to express your opinion and submit to a local newspaper or magazine for publication. Get your words out there if you feel called to. Someone will resonate, support, and benefit from it. Trust that.
  • Attend the NFDA Advocacy Summit, April 3-5, 2019 in Washington D.C.. And if you’re interested in participating in NFDA, reach out to someone in the organization and let them know. “We need leaders who speak up and advocate,” Witter says.


Why advocate in the first place?

The funeral profession is in a very transitional phase at the moment. What’s arising is a unique opportunity to change the way the world thinks about funerals. And if we don’t speak up on the value of what we do, no one will. To best explain this, Witter quotes Dr. Seuss from The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

How do you speak up for the funeral profession in your community? Tell us in the comments below!


About the Speaker: Lesley Witter, MPA, CAE, NFDA Senior Vice President, Advocacy. Lesley Witter is a lobbyist who represents and advocates the best interests of funeral service in Washington D.C. every day. She shares how funeral professionals can strengthen their arguments to stand up for themselves and the funeral industry.


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  3. Tina DeHaan

    My husband and I have both been in the funeral industry for an almost combined 50 yrs.I have been an embalmer 26 yrs. and currently work for three funeral homes. Tory works for a local funeral home. We started a new YouTube channel called Death talk with Tory & Tina to speak about everything that’s involved in our profession. We’re also making it entertaining. We realise others are using this platform, but we thought a married mortician spin might be educational and fun.

  4. McKinley Corbley

    With more and more people becoming aware of the environmental consequences of traditional mortuary habits, the NFDA has reported a growing amount of public interest in “green funerals” because they are cheaper, more eco-friendly, and more emotionally consoling than typical mortuary practices. If the government offers tax breaks for businesses and individuals who pursue eco-friendly lifestyle choices like installing solar panels and buying electric car, why shouldn’t they offer tax breaks for funeral workers who encourage sustainable funeral options? This way, funerals would not be as harmful for the environment and the industry would not be so competitive for vulnerable consumers who feel pressured to spend thousands of dollars on expensive funerary procedures.

  5. Sally Belanger


    I work with the Alabama Funeral Directors Association and have been asked to share a brief, but good recap of grassroots lobbying. As a long-time member of NFDA and its Advocacy Committee over the years, I turned directly to Lesley, remembering a presentation she did for the NFDA Professional Womens Conference several years ago.

    As Lesley is out of the country at this time, she shared your blog. With proper attribution, I’d like permission to use your article in an upcoming issue of the Alabama Funeral Directors Association’s newsletter or as a stand alone note to the membership. From what I’ve been told, there may be some critical issues coming up in ‘Bama. What do I know, I’m in Maine? I’m just following instructions and this piece is perfect!

    Drop me a note and let me if it is okay to run with this.. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

    All the best,
    Sally B

    Sally Belanger, CFSP, MBIE
    Administrative Assistant
    Alabama Funeral Directors Association
    [email protected]

  6. Rilee Chastain

    McKinley, this is a great idea! And due to the nature of this blog, it sounds like something you could bring up in your local community and see what happens. What if you used this as an opportunity to let your voice shine? This would certainly create lots of trust in you and your service, and hopefully support, too!

  7. Rilee Chastain

    Tina, thanks for sharing this with us! Could you send us a link to it? We’d love to share it with our community! Good luck to you and we hope this channel is very successful for you!