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5 Lessons We Can Learn From Erica Lafferty

A year ago most of us had never heard of Erica Lafferty.

Safe to say no one outside of her circle of family and friends in Newtown, Connecticut had heard of her. Even six months ago we had never heard of Erica or Newtown. Why is she important to us today?

Erica is the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Dawn is the woman who rushed out of her office when she first heard the blaze of gunshots. Erica has lobbied on Capitol Hill, in her state, nearby states, and in the national media.

Some want to make her out as a puppet of the Left; others want to make her a demon to the Right. She is neither. She is once removed, one very small step, from a horrible crime. She didn’t ask for this role. Her big role this summer was supposed to be as bride not bereaver. She has stepped up to put a face and a name on an issue that regardless of your stance is at the forefront of our lives and our politics.

1. Every cause needs a face.

Beverly Sills, an American operatic soprano, became even better known after she retired. She served as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera and the Lincoln Center, putting a face on the arts for people around the country. Known as Bubbles to her friends, she transformed the arts from a concept to something real to what became legions of admirers. Numbers tell one story: 33 killed at Virginia Tech, 12 at Aurora, 26 at Sandy Hook. But numbers tell only one side of the story. When Erica speaks, she is not a pundit, an NRA member, or an elected official worried about their poling numbers. Erica puts a face to a dilemma and a challenge that could face any of us at any time.

2. Bleed a little.

To connect with your audience you have to be willing to bleed.. a little. The downside of an expert is that they don’t bleed. That is also their strength. The challenge for a normal person turned spokesperson like Erica is to be human, but not too human. We want to hear a personalized story, but we don’t want it to be too emotional.

3. Be succinct.

Even a victim telling their story has certain parameters, unwritten and unspoken though they may be, to the listening tolerance of their audience. Erica has been so succinct in her answers that when she replied a simple, “absolutely” it was almost over before I heard her. The rules of communication are the rules of communication, regardless of your title or story. The speaker has to have clarity and be able to communicate it in the time it takes to walk across a room, even if you are the victim of a horrendous crime.

4. Answers are never written on the ceiling.

Often it is in the details that we give away our inexperience. People often cover the big stuff, and are prepared to enter the lion’s den of the press. Often Erica would look to the ceiling in search of her answer, like a third grader hoping to find the test answer buried somewhere in a ceiling crack.  When we speak, to one or a CNN audience, we have to cover the little points along with the big stuff.

5. Go where others have not trodden.

We can’t stand out doing what everyone else has done. Erica is not taking solely a traditional route to get her message heard. Erica went to a Town Hall meeting in a state in which she is not a resident to question Senator Kelly Ayotte, N. Hampshire senator. Erica is attending the national NRA Convention to put a face to her mother’s name. We don’t have to be as brilliant as Albert Einstein to know that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity.

Erica Lafferty is my new hero. She didn’t ask to be a victim of a violent crime. She did not ask to be motherless at her wedding this summer. She has decided to use her voice. Isn’t that the great equalizer in America?  Whether we are a president, a senator or a victim’s daughter, we all have the choice to use our voice.

Read more posts by communication expert, Leslie Ungar, here.