The shooting at Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, FL nearly two weeks ago claimed the lives of 17 people and sparked a nationwide movement, led by students, to reform gun legislation. I live less than 20 miles from the school and have watched in awe as brave teenagers all over my community take to the stage to voice their outrage and demand change, even as they grapple with the pain and devastation of saying goodbye to their fallen peers.
It's inspiring to watch, because even though many of these young people aren't even old enough to vote, they are a generation on the rise -- many will take up positions of leadership in the years to come. They make up what is known as Generation Z, a demographic cohort loosely defined to be between the ages of 11-19, and soon they will replace Millennials both in the workplace and in the marketplace.
If the students of Parkland are any indication, these teens are smart, articulate and know how to communicate what they want. There's a lot we can learn about effective communication from these brave students.
Here are three takeaways from the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:
1. Have a clear focus.
Within days of the shooting, student Cameron Kasky, who, along with his brother survived the Valentine's Day attack, rounded up some friends at his home and began sketching out the #NeverAgain movement.
In the beginning, Kasky told reporters, he directed his rage toward Republican lawmakers who, he felt, had failed to enact legislation after the Newtown and Sandy Hook shootings to ensure students' safety. But right away, the Parkland student realized that was the wrong approach.
Instead, students' decided their movement had to be bipartisan and they had to be clear about what they wanted to accomplish. They understood that if they wanted their voices heard, they need to be focused and stay on-message.
"The important thing here wasn't talking about gore," Parkland student Cameron Kasky, who helped launch the #NeverAgain movement, told The New Yorker. "It was talking about change and it was talking about remembrance."
Good communicators know what their communication goals are and they are disciplined about staying on message. Strong leaders know this as well.
2. Be prepared.
At a press conference in Florida's capital shortly after the shooting, 11th grader Delaney Tarr expressed her disappointment at legislators' decision not to take up the issue of gun reform. But she assured lawmakers students' would be back again with their list of demands.
"We came here prepared," Tarr told those gathered.
"We know what we want: we want gun reform; we want common-sense gun laws; we want stronger mental health checks and background checks to work in conjunction," Tarr went on. "We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can't just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15. We want change."
Like all good communicators, Tarr was prepared. She and her peers had a strong sense of purpose, clearly defined goals and a list of specific demands. They were ready.
At work, preparation is key to effective communication. It shows the speaker has given thought to a matter and is ready to articulate his or her ideas clearly and succinctly.
3. Don't be afraid to show emotion or vulnerability.
After a whirlwind of media appearances, Tarr explained how tired she was after several grueling days on the road meeting with the president, legislators and the media. The teen, so eloquent and poised, revealed that she had been asked to write a seven-minute talk and instead decided to speak from the heart.
"Instead of writing words from an overworked brain, I figured why not stand in front of these cameras and show them exactly how I feel," she told reporters at a televised press conference days after the shooting. "Because speaking from the heart is what we do best. This movement...is based in passion and it is based in pain."
Tarr had the courage to be vulnerable and, in doing so, connected with people in a powerful and authentic way.
Good communicators can communicate their values, their vision and purpose, clearly and powerfully. Good leaders know that to connect with an audience effectively, they have to reveal who they are and touch people on an emotional level. If the hallmark of great leaders are their ability to inspire change with their words, then our future looks bright indeed.