4 Communication Tips For Non-Native English Speakers ~ Shunyao Li

It's super important to be able to communicate effectively with your cohort members, especially considering that you're serving people from all around the world. That's why I interviewed Shunyao Li to learn 4 communication tips for non-native English speakers.

We Covered
  • How Shunyao got started with helping non-native English speakers to improve their communication (01:17)
  • Shunyao paints a picture of what it’s like to communicate more effectively with the cohort (06:24)
  • Why concise communication is so important (08:03)
  • Examples of concise communication and how to do it (10:10)
  • Email is another area where concise communication is important (13:54)
  • Another communication tip is structuring your message (14:41)
  • How to get the data you need from customers to structure your message using sales calls (16:45)
  • How to frame your message by anchoring on the problem (17:53)
  • Why it’s best to give generously rather than pitch a sale (22:40)
  • Another communication tip is to improve the feedback you deliver (25:09)
  • How to provide specific feedback and avoid being vague (26:51)
  • How to deliver positive feedback that feels genuine (27:53)
  • How to get on the same page before delivering feedback (29:41)
  • It matters where you deliver the feedback (32:56)
  • Another communication tip helps to facilitate the cohort by doing warm-ups and clarifying goals (34:01)
  • Final questions (37:14)
In a Nutshell
  1. Use concise communication to avoid cognitive overload
  2. Structure your message by anchoring on the problem to grab attention
  3. Provide genuinely positive and negative feedback by getting on the same page and then being specific using examples
  4. Use warm-ups, and clarify goals to facilitate your cohort more effectively
Full Transcript

[00:00:13] Jonathan: Ahoy, captain! Welcome to Cohort Captain, the only super actionable podcast made for cohort-based course creators. I'm your host, Jonathan Woodruff.

As modern-day online cohort-based course creators, we often cater to a global audience. You might not be a native English speaker; some of your team members may not be native English speakers; some of your cohort members may not be native English speakers, even though you're conducting your entire business in English. And that presents a lot of communication challenges. 

That's why my guest today is Shunyao Li of CommunicateAtWork.org. She has a cohort-based course called Workplace Communication Bootcamp, which you can see on Maven. And she is here right now to give you some practical tools that you can use to effectively communicate with your team and cohort members. 

What’s up, Shunyao?

[00:01:17] Shunyao: Hey, Jonathan. Thanks for the intro. Yeah, I can do a quick intro then.
[00:01:22] Jonathan: Yeah, a hundred percent. Go for it.

[00:01:24] Shunyao: Yeah. Awesome. Totally. I'm Shunyao. I grew up in China, spent about 20 years there. Moved to the America for my PhD engineering. And I just remember when I first moved here, I like, me and my advisor, we could not understand each other, and literally every single group meeting I had to rely on someone in the lab to rephrase everything that I said to my advisor. 

I also lived with a few Americans at a time, but I was just like too scared to talk to them. So at the time I thought English was the problem. So I kind of practice a lot of English. But later I joined Google as a product manager and working just like, with like a different cross functional team.

And the core of being a product manager is communication. You have to align with different stakeholders to get things done. And that's when I realized that it's not only about language, but also about communication. Because there have been numerous of times that we’re in a meeting where we seemingly agree with each other, but as soon as the meeting is over, we kind of just like go separate ways and do our own things. Or, you know, you have like emailed people a couple of times, uh, and you thought you have made it clear, but nobody remembered what you said in the emails, and you're just like, didn't I mention this three times already?

And there's also kind of like the confidence level, cuz I didn't grow up here. And when I'm lost in the conversation, I don't want to ask because I don't want to look stupid. You know, maybe it's just like me not understanding basic things rather than, you know, just like some reasonable questions.

So that kind of experience prompted me to think deeper about communication. I started to develop frameworks of how to communicate clearly with a team. And also there are just a ton of other non-native English speakers at work who are also struggling with communication and are somewhat at a disadvantage in their career.

So, I thought this would be helpful to them as well. So that's why I started the CBC, Workplace Communication.

[00:03:20] Jonathan: Yeah. I'm glad that you brought up even, like native English speakers and the communication aspect of this because, yeah, I mean, even if the workplace or CBC in this case is like, everyone speaks like native English. There still can be some communication problems that can arise anyway. 

I mean, no matter what, like communication can be a challenge. And, I mean the world is full of extroverts and introverts and everything in between. And, you know, the, there can be different reasons why someone is not confident in their speech. Right? I mean, I can think of, you know, speech impediments or anything else. You know, or just for any reason whatsoever that someone could feel not confident in their communication.

So, that makes me very eager to kind of dig deeper into this. And I'm kind of wondering like what's the before and after picture look like for someone taking your workplace communication bootcamp, like what do they tend to struggle with in the beginning? And then what are they typically able to do by the time that they're done?

[00:04:26] Shunyao: Yeah. So for context, usually there are two kinds of trainings in the market. There are trainings purely for ESL, like English as a second language. That's usually about pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and all of that. And then there is communication course, which is like public speaking, active listening, all of that.

Now non-native speakers are kind of like in between of each. And I feel like the target user that I have, the people, students that I have, their English are not necessarily bad, but also are not perfect, but like, it's not like learning an extra word is gonna like, move the needle that much, but it's really about the framework of how to think about it, how to approach it that's gonna change a lot. 

So the before and after picture is usually like before people are just like, knowing that, okay, I'm bad at communication. I need to learn English. I need to practice. That'd be it. And then after it's usually like, Okay. Now I know what the problem is. I have a framework and I need to practice a little more.

So I think communication is very interesting because it's like, it's a skill that's not going to change overnight because I can tell you all the frameworks that I have, but you still need to practice that so that it becomes part of your muscle memory. And it's really hard for non-native English speakers, because, like you take extra brain power to think about the language part and the communication part, you really have to like, practice to a point that you don't have to actively think about it. So with that said, usually for my students, I think the transformation comes from the mindset.

But we also try to build a community for these people so that they continue to practice even after the bootcamp.

[00:06:14] Jonathan: I was going to say, because yeah, as soon as you said that there needs to be continued practice. I was like, Ooh, that's a great opportunity for a community. So I'm glad that you offer that.

[00:06:22] Shunyao: Absolutely.

[00:06:24] Jonathan: Okay. Awesome. So there's a lot of things to break down there, and I want to get to that mindset piece, and maybe it'll just kind of come throughout, but I want to start by digging a little bit more into your story and where you've been able to apply these things into your own cohort based course, and where you see my listeners, other cohort-based course creators being able to improve their communication and being able to apply what they're learning today.
Like how can this improve their cohort-based course?

[00:06:56] Shunyao: Yeah, absolutely.

I can think about a couple of different aspects here. Number one is when we are making the sales, like when you're talking to potential students, how do you address their concerns? How do you communicate your course so that they're interested in signing up? 

Second is. Uh, when you communicate to your members, to your students, how can you be concise enough? Like only talking about the most important things. How can you try to use recap to make sure they get what you're talking about? How can you prompt them to react to your course, to your, to our content so that you know they get your point? 

I think there's also an element of like, how do you talk about feedback, like when they ask you a question, when you notice something that like, could be improved, how do you deliver that kind of feedback? 

I think there might be an element about facilitation. like how do you make the course just like fun to engage with. Not just like you having like a one-person show. 

So yeah, I guess there are so many different aspects here I can talk about.

[00:08:03] Jonathan: Okay. Awesome. Let's start digging into some of those. So one of those things that you mentioned was using concise communication, I think, on your sales page, you call it summarization to get on the same page. And so when I was looking at that, I was like, okay. It seems like, you know, the application here is like, when you're trying to explain a concept, maybe you're trying to teach something in a module and it's just not making sense. Is that kind of the core problem here for a CBC creator, or what kind of problems arise here when summarization is not being used and there's some issues here?

[00:08:40] Shunyao: Yeah. I think there are two main benefits of using summarization. Number one is just to be concise. Now, I think it applies to everyone, but especially for non-native English speakers, like we still need to recognize that not speaking a perfect language can increase cognitive load, making it somewhat a little bit harder for others to follow, you know, whether it’s accent phrases or just language in general.

So if you say too much about unnecessary details, people can get lost very easily. So always trying to think about, okay, how can it be more concise? Is this necessary? Can I do a recap? Can I fit this into a theme? So that's kind of the thinking of like the thought behind it. Like how can I just be concise  enough to deliver the message?

So. number two, I think this is actually more applicable in work, but can be applied in CBCs as well. It's just like check if you're on the same page with each other, because very often you thought you said something, you thought you understood each other, but no, you're not. But when you ask the other person to like, summarize what you said, or when you summarize what the other person said, that's where you realize, okay, like we're actually, there's like a gap in our understanding here.
So in the CBC, I guess like that can also apply when you see a student asks you a question, maybe they didn't really explain it very well, or you didn't get exactly what they're asking about. So that's where you can just like have a chance… to use summarizations so you have a chance to clarify, so that you're actually answering each other's question.

[00:10:10] Jonathan: That makes sense. Yeah. I can totally see that, coming into play during group coaching calls if you're all on the same call together and, yeah, one, one person is talking to the other and you just want to make sure that you understood the question or that, if you're the student and your teacher gave you the answer, like you use summarization to make sure you understood the answer.

Yeah, I could totally see that going both ways in a dialogue situation. So what would be an example of how to do this properly? How do you use summarization in your CBC, like if you’re on a group call, for example, how would you do that?

[00:10:44] Shunyao: Yeah. There are different levels of it. I can talk about Q&A first. Very often again, I think my target user is non-native English speakers as well. So sometimes when they ask a question, it's not exactly clear what they're asking about… This is when I would just like quickly recap their questions and be like, “Hey, just to make sure I understand correctly, are you asking about this?” And then they'll be like, yes, that's right. Or no, let me clarify. And then they'll clarify again. And then if they clarify, I'll use the same techniques as like, okay, so you're asking about this and then they'll be like, yes. So that's like basically having that a little bit back and forth to make sure we understand each other. And then I'll answer the question. 

And another benefit for this is, like sometimes the other students might not understand the questions either. So having that a little bit of recap can also clarify for others.

[00:11:34] Jonathan: That makes sense. and this would be a great way to combat, you know, even if, let's say that, you know, the teacher is a native English speaker and you know, the student is not, there's the kind of this stereotypical situation where like, if you feel the other person doesn't understand you, you, you like raise your voice or like, try to, I don't know… Have you ever experienced that where someone, like a native English speaker raises their voice at you because they think it's going to help you understand what they're saying better?

[00:12:11] Shunyao: I think people do that kind of in a subtle way. Not necessarily like, like I'm yelling at you because you're gonna understand me, but more like, oh, but it's kind of like that it'd make it sound obvious,

[00:12:21] Jonathan: Yeah.

[00:12:21] Shunyao: I think. but I guess like, Usually again, I kind of try to assume that people are reasonable, try to assume that, you know, they're just like wanting to make sure I understand it. So personally, I don't think too much about this.

[00:12:34] Jonathan: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. I feel like this would be a practical tool to really communicate effectively without doing any of those kind of, I don't know, ineffective ways. 
So how do you begin to do this? How do you begin to put this into action? What are the steps to improve your communication and start using summarization?

[00:12:56] Shunyao: Yeah, so a key thing that I usually ask my students to do is, you know, when they go to breakout rooms, like when they're practice with each other, whenever they feel like they're not a hundred percent sure what the other person means, just like a quick recap. Hey, just want to make sure what I'm hearing is this, is that right?

If it doesn't take like five seconds to do that, but it's actually works really, really well. So I'll recommend the same for people who are just like, whenever you're not sure about it, just like double check. Right? I think it's a lot worse when you answer a question that's… where you did not answer directly about the question, I’d say that's a lot worse than actually trying to clarify and answer the question.

[00:13:38] Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. And so it almost seems like you could practice this just on a regular basis, like even outside, like, even in the course of a day, like going to the grocery store and talking to the cashier. Right?

[00:13:52] Shunyao: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

[00:13:54] Jonathan: That's awesome. So, okay. So we have, summarization, anything we didn't cover there that you wanted to mention?

[00:14:00] Shunyao: I think another thing that also what I noticed when you write emails, I think emails is the ultimate form of you want to be as concise as possible. Like I used to write really long emails and be like, oh, here are the five things you need to know. But then I realized that people would just read the first thing or the first two things.

And if I asked them to do five things, they almost like never do it. This is also something that I noticed basically just have one call to action per email, be very direct, clear about what this email is about. Be very direct about what you're asking for, be very direct about like, why they should do this. So just like another level of communication. Yeah.

[00:14:41] Jonathan: So glad you said that. That's something that I learned the hard way back when I was working my first job out of college, I would write these long emails, and it was frustrating when I would ask, like, let's say two, even two questions sometimes. And the person would only respond back to one of the questions or, you know, I got called out on like, Hey, Jonathan, you really need to simplify your emails… cuz they just don't have time to read them. So, yeah. I love that you mentioned email has an application here too. 

So, summarization is one area where we can improve our communication. And another one you were mentioning earlier was, like, structuring your message to help with making sales.
So, you know, it seems like this could be an issue when you're trying to convey what your course will help people to accomplish, but it's just not resonating. 

Is that kind of right? Or what's the, what's the application here?

[00:15:38] Shunyao: Yeah, Yeah, absolutely. I think the key takeaway here is usually a CBC has multiple different benefits. You might have multiple different value props, like, you know, falling under the same theme, but still like you might have four chapters and like your potential student might only care about that one chapter.

So I think a common mistake is to just like, talk about what you think would benefit them. And they ultimately just like, “Hey, I don't care about this. I don't want to listen.” Maybe they just walk away.
And this is a sales technique I learned from another CBC creator as well. So it's just like, instead of pitching, you just listen. You ask about their problems, their questions, their challenges, and if you can help them on that call, you would just help them. And then you can say, you know, after you deliver a little bit of value, you can say more about, okay, this we're going to continue to cover this part in the course, you know, in chapter three, uh, you're going to do these exercises with like these people, that kind of thing.

So ultimately you want them to… you want to know what they care about and target that instead of just like talking about what you care about.

[00:16:45] Jonathan: Okay. And you, and you mentioned that you can learn what they care about through doing video chats with them?

[00:16:52] Shunyao: Right. So I guess like, what I was talking about is, so I try to do like a sales call, like an intro call. I think there has several layers here as well. it's like a pretty heavy lifting approach of sales, but also I feel like for CBC is like a premium kind of product and they're paying a lot for these kinds of things and they really need to have a high level of trust to the instructors.

So that's why I set up these calls and just be like, “Hey, like I want to make sure I can deliver what you're looking for.” Also. I want to make sure you are going to be a good fit for the community. So it kind of goes both ways, but in these calls, I try to just like mainly tailor towards what they care about.

[00:17:32] Jonathan: And how do you find out what they care about? Is it through these sales calls?

[00:17:38] Shunyao: Right. So you ask questions, right? What brought you here? Can you talk, tell me about the challenges you have? Can you tell me about what you're looking for in the class? What's the ultimate, what's the ideal outcome for you? 

So all that different kind of questions, just to prompt them to talk. Yep.

[00:17:53] Jonathan: Okay. Yeah. Totally. And then like, once you're getting like their challenges and things, is there a particular structure? Like how did you put together your sales page on Maven, for example? Cuz by the way, for our listeners, I really like Shunyao’s landing page on Maven. I recommend you just check it out, even if it's just to look at the landing page. Cuz it's really, well-written uh, it's very clear. 

So yeah. Is there a particular, like structure to your landing page once you have kind of their own words verbatim and you've learned what they need to know?

[00:18:30] Shunyao: Yeah. I'm sure you heard about this, you know, try to use whatever their own words and like use that in your landing page and be like, “Hey, number one, we heard you, we have the same problem. This is exactly what we're looking for.” And number two, how can, how we can solve that? Right? 

So instead of saying, okay, summarization to get on the same page, instead of like talking about what summarization is, I try to anchor more on what kind of problem this will solve.

So for example, do you feel like you're lost in the conversation? That's something that’s gonna resonate more with students. Do you feel like you have trouble articulating like a complicated concept? So it’s more like about like anchor on the problem rather than anchor on what this chapter is about.

Cuz they will have no idea just like, just from that sentence, they still don't know what the chapter is about, but they know more about their own problems.

[00:19:19] Jonathan: That makes so much sense. And it reminds me of when I was interviewing Sean D'Souza, he was talking about, The Brain Audit and he wrote a book called The Brain Audit and basically how the brain takes seven steps from start to finish in the buying process. 

And the first step is the problem is, like, the problem is like the initial part of the attraction. And it's the problem that really speaks to the person because they share that problem. And it's different than like, if you were just to say the solution or the benefit, it wouldn't speak to them quite as much, but if you can really get them to resonate with the problem, then it really turns on the light bulb for them because they feel that they can like connect with that problem and that ultimately like the entire business of the CBC is built on solving those problems. 

So I liked it. I liked the way that you said that with like, you know, the, you anchor on the problem. That makes a lot of sense.

[00:20:27] Jonathan: Okay. So in essence with structuring your message, talk with customers, especially over sales calls, learn what they need to know, slap those on the landing page, anchoring on the problem.

Anything else major here that CBC creators should know?

[00:20:45] Shunyao: Yeah. And also just want to... I don't really know if this is… I consider it as a successful example because I actually have zero audience on social media and, but the sales calls have really high conversion rate. So it feels like, I feel like what worked really well is just really trying to solve problems for people.

Again, don't treat those sales calls as pitch calls, but treat it as opportunities that I can showcase a little bit. “Okay. Here's what I can help you within the 15 minutes. And if you think it's helpful, then imagine how much help you get, how much value you would get in a four week bootcamp.” So it was just like, you know, really trying to deliver value upfront because that's where the trust comes in.

[00:21:29] Jonathan: That's so cool. Cuz I have basically zero followers on social media except for maybe LinkedIn. So that's just, and I know that other people are like that too. So how do you even begin, like getting sales calls? Like, how do you, like, where do you go to invite people to do sales calls with you if not on social media?

[00:21:48] Shunyao: Yeah. So before I officially launched a CBC, I do have… I ran two pilots with just like, friends. So those are free. Those are just like, you know, I want to test out my content. So they liked it. And some of those sales calls come from word of mouth and they recommended to them. 

Apart from that, I also just like wrote a couple of different blog posts about: here are the three little stories about communication, mistakes that I like, you know, I learned at Google, that kind of thing. And that kinda attracted a little bit of people. 

Also I offer free group coaching, like when I say group coaching, it's more like, kind of like a mastermind type of calls, and it's free and they just come in, talk a little bit about their challenges and then I offer some help. 

And usually again, they'll ask about the course and this, when I tell, tell them about the course.
So it was just like, is yeah, like mostly it's like these, these channels. Yeah.

[00:22:40] Jonathan: Okay. I love that. And something that really stood out to me with everything that you were saying is, you know, on your sales calls, it's not a pitch. You're just helping them and see where it goes. Even on your free events that you were just talking about, It's just helping them -> see where it goes.

And you said you don't even talk about… You're, you don't even try to sell your course until they start asking about it. Right? 

So that's something that I've been learning. And, it's… What I see is kind of the status quo, or what often we're taught to do, is to do these pitches is to do these webinars where it's not really about helping them. It's really about the sales pitch at the end. And the rest is just kind of leading up to that pitch. 

And I was part of one of those recently, and, to be honest, these days, it just felt really inauthentic and really like selfish even, to be part of that, to like, honestly want to be helped, but then to feel like the whole thing is just a sales pitch and I'm just kind of a, a fish to be caught. 

And so, I just really like that about what you're saying. And I would like to see… I know there's plenty of creators doing this and I'd like to see just more and more and more creators kind of switching from this pitch frame of mind to this genuinely being helpful, and just honestly waiting for the other people to ask. Right? 

Because it's, otherwise, it's almost like, you know, we’re fishing, fishing, fishing. And, it can come off as aggressive, I guess. Whereas like, you know, that's not even I guess probably what we want business to be. We want business to be where we’re not forcing people to pay us money. It's like, we want them to want to pay us money. We want them to want us to help them solve their problem and to initiate those kinds of kinds of sales conversations. So yeah.

Anyway, long story short, I just really appreciate everything that you were saying.

[00:24:38] Shunyao: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, because again, I feel like the key part of CBC, cuz you're just, again, unless you're like a really well-known figure on the internet. At the end of the day, they're trusting you as a creator with a lot of money. So I do feel like that level of trust is really, really important for that initial payment.

So when they come to these calls… like they know you're trying to sell a course, that's obvious, but what they really want is to see what you can offer. So yeah, again, like trying to deliver value first.

[00:25:09] Jonathan: Yeah, that makes so much sense. So, okay. So we have summarization to get on the same page. We have structuring your message. These are two ways that we can improve our communication as CBC creators.

A third way that you mentioned was delivering feedback. So, you know, this could be, I think you mentioned where, someone asks a question about how they're doing and you need to provide feedback. 

In my experience as well, if you have assignments in your CBC and they submit their assignment for the week, that's an opportunity to provide feedback as well.

In the group calls even… if they're giving you an update on their progress, that's an opportunity to provide feedback. 

So, what's an example of where this can go wrong? How do you not provide feedback?

[00:25:59] Shunyao: Yeah. First of all, I want to caveat this. Usually it's actually easier to deliver feedback in a CBC context because you know students want them. It's not like at work and suddenly like, you know, you're just telling someone they're not doing a good job. It's not like that. Right?

So, knowing that they want feedback, how to deliver it properly. I think a typical mistake is only talking about, well, there are a couple of mistakes. 

Number one is only talking about bad things rather than good things. Number two is being vague about it, like just saying, like being broad and vague without specific examples. Number three is I feel like just, you thought to do something, but they actually didn't mean it. So like number three is like not asking enough questions to make sure to understand what's actually going on. 

So I think that I can go deeper into any of those.

[00:26:51] Jonathan: Okay. Let's go deep into all of them. So what's an example of, like being too vague?

[00:26:57] Shunyao: Being too vague could be… So, an example is sometimes they ask the peers to give feedback, and someone would give a speech and the other person would be like, oh, this is good, but I want you to be more specific, give more explanation on like, whatever concept. So that's like, the particular feedback is to give more explanation.

And then you can imagine the other person would be like, oh, I already gave a lot of explanation. I explained this and that and this and that. And it was like, I don't know what you mean. So in which case. Again, you'll want to be more specific about, okay, what I heard is you said this and then this, and then I think there's a gap between whatever you're going to say next.

I think I have these questions. So maybe it's better for you to cover these things as well. So want to talk about your thought process instead of like, say, yeah, just give more explanation.

[00:27:53] Jonathan: I love that. That makes so much sense. And then the next one was being all negative. And one thing I'm interested in picking your brain on is because is like, so I have kind of scars from the past of being delivered a feedback sandwich or whatever you call it. I forget what the name is, but like basically it's a compliment and then the negative and then followed by a compliment.

And it always felt disingenuous to me because I knew the other person was just trying to tell me the negative stuff, and the positive stuff was just to make, you know, it was kind of a cheap effort to make me feel not too terrible about the negative stuff, but I just, I knew that the only thing that really mattered to them was the negative things.

So, so how do you deliver feedback with being positive without making it feel like… with making it feel genuine, that you actually really do mean the positive things that you're saying?

[00:28:53] Shunyao: Yeah, absolutely. I think, two things, number one is instead of using this way as a manipulative approach, you'll want to frame it as, “Hey, I actually recognized there are lots of positive things that you do here. It's not like you did everything wrong. I really like these specific parts of it.” So I think that's like a little bit of a framework change, but I think it's also important to be very specific about what you like.

It's not like, oh, I think you'd do a good job overall, but I think whatever, whatever, whatever, but it's more like, I really like the part where you mentioned this particular thing upfront that you explained in context that you went to details about this and this. So just like you want to have specific examples on the good things rather than just make it kind of like a blank statement.

[00:29:41] Jonathan: Yeah, that makes sense. cuz then if you go into detail on it, it really does feel, like, it assigns importance to those things that you're saying. It doesn't seem so flippant. 
And then not asking enough questions. I loved that so much because, so, um, so, so when you said that, like a third pointer on delivering feedback is to ask deepening questions before actually providing the feedback.

And I love that and I want to get your take on why it's important to ask those questions first and how to do that.

[00:30:18] Shunyao: Again, I think this is kind of like a very typical communication thing because, sometimes you thought someone meant something, but they actually don't mean it. I think there's just like a little bit of gap between what they try to say versus what you actually got. So you might have a problem with what you actually got and want to give feedback on that. But first I want to make sure if there's a gap in between. 

So you can start like a feedback with, “Okay, yeah. I think like this part could be better and you say a lot about it,” and then they'll be like, “Oh, actually I didn't really mean that part. What I wanted to say is so-and-so.” So I feel like asking that question in the beginning, making sure, “Hey, like here's what I understand. Is that right?”

Just like having that a little bit of like a clarification upfront can make so much, just like, make your feedback a lot relevant to what they like, what they actually did.

[00:31:09] Jonathan: I love that, and it's not, it's something that I see not happen quite... I feel like it could happen more. I feel like there's an opportunity for improvement here, for like a lot of us, including myself because it's an expression of love. I think it's nothing short of an expression of love to actually ask a deepening question before responding, because when you're truly trying to understand the other person, that makes them feel understood. It makes them feel seen. And that's rare. 

And that's unique to cohort-based courses because in an on-demand course, it's harder. I mean, you can't do that. I mean, there's no group coaching happening at all, but in a group coaching scenario, in a CBC, when you're all meeting together and someone asks a question and you, and it's just a great opportunity to really, truly understand them and what's going on. And, it's bonding. It's, it's, it's loving. So.

And it's effective, right? I mean, you can give feedback on what you think they just said, but if you don't truly understand what they're really saying, I mean, it's not going to really be as effective just teaching wise I guess.

[00:32:22] Shunyao: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. What I usually do, in a class, like I'll get two volunteers to do an example for everyone. And then usually I'll ask how do you feel about it? And then they can, like, try to just like, number one, do a little bit of reflection of what they did, but number two also just like speak out how they feel and what are some questions they have.

And that's when I can jump in and be like, I agree with this part. I think, like you could, you can also try this particular thing. So just like always ask first. I think it's just like also beneficial too for people to have self-reflection first as well.

[00:32:56] Jonathan: Yeah, for sure. For sure. So is there anything else on feedback that we didn't cover? I think we covered the three biggie ones, but is there anything else that's important for CBC creators to know here about giving feedback?

[00:33:09] Shunyao: A super quick example that I think could be interesting is, you also want to maybe think about what kind of scenarios to give feedback. Cuz sometimes there are people who text me, and, in the text, I can probably see there are certain ways to improve, but maybe that's not the right forum to give feedback.

So what I tried is. I would say, Hey, here's the observation, like one quick note for improvement is to do this. Let me know if this is helpful, and if it’s not I'll stop doing that. And then the response that I got is, yes, this is helpful, but I prefer to hear about this in like a coaching session so that we can have like a deeper conversation instead of doing this, you know, in chat.

So I think that's also interesting to me, like for me as like a learning, learning as well, just like kind of forums to give people feedback.

[00:34:01] Jonathan: And then you mentioned. Even like facilitation, as an example for like, an area where communication can really shine, you know, making it fun to engage with the teacher and with peers or not. So where does communication kind of come into play?

[00:34:19] Shunyao: It's interesting because I actually teach facilitation in my class as well because sometimes my students want to learn how to facilitate in like group meetings and such. I think there is a distinction between facilitation and teaching, I think, depending on what kind of session you're leading, you might be somewhere in between.

When you think about teaching, it’s usually about doing a presentation and talking about things… like you talking. And facilitation, it's more about I think the other way around you make it comfortable for other people to talk. And I think there are several elements here. 

Number one, do they feel comfortable talking? Do they know each other? Are they like warmed up enough? Like, are they still thinking about something before this call? So just like, I feel like if it's a facilitation heavy session, then that initial warmup making sure people are comfortable speaking up is important. That's number one. 

Number two is about, like the goal. Why should they be engaging? What kind of benefits would they get? What are we practicing here? So sometimes people will say, Oh, like, now you do this. Just telling me exactly what I do. And I'd be like, oh, I don't want to do that. I think that happens a lot. If you don't clarify goals, you ask them to do things and they just don't do it.

So that's number one, clarify goals.

I think there are also just like, setting examples, making sure it is clear enough what they're doing. Like, what we usually see in a CBC is that as soon as they go to breakout rooms, they have no idea what's going on, even if you already tell them here's what we're going to do. And as soon as they leave, if they're just like, wait, what are we doing?

Exactly. So having that couple of examples upfront, like giving them feedback and also in breakout rooms, they're going to give each other feedback as like, you know, like a peer learning process. Give specific examples of what kind of feedback you're looking for, setting examples. I think now zoom has like you can share screens in break our rooms, you can have a timer in the breakout rooms.

All those like tiny little tactics can just like, make a big difference in like how engaging people are.

[00:36:24] Jonathan: So when you're warming them up and facilitation, is this warmup happening at the very beginning of the cohort and then it's done, or do you have to warm them up like every session?

[00:36:35] Shunyao: Every session because they might be thinking about something else, like what's happening just before the course when they dial into the zoom call. So you want to kind of slowly transition them from whatever their previous state is to, okay, now we're talking about CBC and we're going to do this and that.

So what I usually do is, kind of like, sometimes I'll do a recap on what happened last week. Sometimes I will do a little quiz about, Hey, like, you know, last week we did an introduction. We kind of did all those, uh, networking events. So here's a quiz about your team. 

Or I'll do like, what's a high or low of the week? So it's kind of like getting them into the mode of, okay now they're doing something else.

[00:37:14] Jonathan: Awesome. Love it. Well, Shunyao, I have a few more questions for you before we run out of time here. And the first one of those is what is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a cohort-based course creator so far? And how did you solve that challenge?

[00:37:35] Shunyao: It's a good question.

I think my challenges are always evolving. At the beginning it was like, what do I teach? What's the content? How can I effectively teach things to people? How can I make this fun? So it was all about like, course content, workshop design, all of that. 

And then it was about community building, because again, I want to make this like an engaging space for people even after the bootcamp. So how can we build the community? 

And then later it is about how can I market this course to more people. So I'm kind of like, in between the second stage or third stage right now is still something that I'm figuring out. But I feel like for the first part I already kind of did a couple of different iterations to make sure I'm pretty comfortable with it right now.

So I can talk more about it if you're interested.

[00:38:18] Jonathan: Yeah. You mean right now? Or like after?

[00:38:22] Shunyao: Yeah, whenever.

[00:38:24] Jonathan: Yeah, I'm all ears right now, right now. Um, yeah. Tell us more.

[00:38:27] Shunyao: Yeah, so for course design and course content or workshop design. I actually did benefit a lot from the Maven course, that whole community about like the different coaches telling me different things, like doing small pilots with friends and with other CBC creators because just like so many things can go wrong, even if you have the slides ready.

So I feel like the biggest learning I have there is, test it out, record it, rewatch it, make changes, test it out, record it... So I think it's just like iterations, and usually I feel like the recording part is really, really important because after a while where you watch it and you're just like know there's so many things that you can do better. So I highly recommend just like, you know, doing a couple of pilots first before you jump into it with your students.

[00:39:19] Jonathan: Awesome. What's been the most challenging part about the marketing so far?

[00:39:22] Shunyao: I think just reaching audience, I guess that's the whole part of marketing, right? I again, I didn't really have, I have zero audience on social media. I'm not, like consistent writer of any sort, I’m kind of thinking about it. 

So... Even though I have like a pretty strong word of mouth. but still like within that two, three weeks of windows of application, I feel like I still have to really, really push it out, share it with as many people as possible, asking people to share it, write a little bit things. I think that part I could have done better, just like being more consistent instead of just doing marketing with an application window. I think that's like, yeah, something that I want to focus on in the future.

[00:40:04] Jonathan: And what are the top three resources… if you can think of three, that you'd recommend for listeners to learn more?

[00:40:14] Shunyao: Again, I do think that the Maven course is pretty helpful, not only the course, but also just community of creators, so highly recommend that. 

I love… if you're interested in community building, Circle has a community for like community builders. So in that community, they have like weekly calls, office hours, and talking about different kind of community-building tactics. That is really helpful. 

I started joining the SPI Pro, so it's just called like Smart Passive Income. So that's like a lot, it's a space for a lot of creators of various degrees, online courses, podcasts, email marketing, blogging, all of that. So they have different kinds of mastermind groups that, just like talking about different challenges. I think that's something that's really helpful for me as well.

[00:40:59] Jonathan: Love it. And is there a particular person or topic that you, as a listener of this podcast would like to see on the show?

[00:41:09] Shunyao: I think marketing tactics for people who don't have an audience, marketing tactics that doesn't involve like a never-ending writing gig. I feel like the typical marketing content marketing is like, oh, you write blog posts and you like publish something once a week. I feel like I'm not really up for that. So it's just like different kinds of marketing tactics.

[00:41:28] Jonathan: Love it. And where can listeners keep in touch with you, Shunyao?

[00:41:33] Shunyao: Yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn, Shunyao Li. You can subscribe to my upcoming newsletter at CommunicateAtWork.org. Yeah, I think these are probably the two best places to find me.

[00:41:48] Jonathan: Love it. Love it. Well, Thank you so, so much, Shunyao. Very, very grateful to have you here and to learn from you. And I know the listeners are as well.

[00:41:58] Shunyao: Thank you so much Jonathan. Happy to be here.

[00:42:05] Jonathan: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to listen to more episodes, hop aboard CohortCaptain.com. If you'd like to be my matey, I would love for you to message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. And remember, always captain your cohort, always be my matey, and never lick an iceberg while your ship is passing by.

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