Introduction: why you should read this
If you are teaching students from another culture and would like to get more students for your independent teaching business, this series ‘How to win students and influence parents’ is for you.
Many independent tutors try to recruit new students by selling a website and a teaching package. This often doesn’t work, especially interacting with someone for the first time. The process of selling starts from understanding and influencing, particularly with students and clients from a different culture.
This blog shares a powerful way to win and influence clients – authentic storytelling. The example quoted here is based on my collaboration with a parent influencer in China. Through that particular storytelling event, I grew my network, doubled my event enrolment, and gained feedback such as ‘I am so touched’, ‘thanks for connecting us’, ‘now I see the real family stories which I thought only existed in western movies’.
A Chinese mom influencer invited me to interact with her community via WeChat text chat for one hour (similar to Twitter chat). The topic was on the cultural differences of parenting styles. I knew that to make a real impact, it is important not to say what I wanted to say but to tell what mattered to the audience. Therefore, I needed to do audience research.
The community is a group of 40 mothers who aspire to raise their pre-school children as global citizens. They are based mostly in 3rd or 4th tier cities in China which enjoy lower quality educational resources and have limited exposure to other cultures. Through internet and social media, they had heard about the concept of ‘global citizen’ but didn’t know what it means to them and their children. They had watched Hollywood movies but probably didn’t have experience of living in another country.
Think About User Journey
With that audience profile in mind, my next task is to design a pleasant user journey for them. I wanted the whole journey to be an experience for them instead of being a lecture. An experience that is joyful, fun and engaging. Meanwhile, by delivering value to them I hoped to achieve my objective to grow my network and client base.
They were curious about the education and parenting styles of other cultures. At the same time, they had heard slogans such as ‘global citizen’, ‘well-rounded child’, ‘grow empathy’.
Why should they listen to me? What makes my story deserve their time, attention, and action afterward? What positive impact can this bring? I decided to tell five real stories, using the power of storytelling, to bring a rather broad concept home.
Make it Real
I chose four parenting and education stories from friends and colleagues I work with. These are daily life stories from Australian, French, British and American families. These are stories about how parents interact with children, spend time with them, support them to be loving, caring, and responsible individuals.
For example, instead of pushing her daughter to study hard, a mom took the girl for university campus visits so that she could see what college life would be like and what she was working for.
Behind these real-life moments are some major cultural differences. But first, I needed to make it fun and interactive so that audience could warm to these stories.
Make it Fun, Make it Interactive
Before I told each story, I made an interactive quiz for the audience. It was fun and at times quite silly. For example, before I told the Australian family story, I asked the quiz question “Is Australia famous for having kangaroos or having pandas?”
Of course, everyone laughed and chose kangaroos. With their laughter, I could start telling the story.
There are many reasons to start storytelling with an interactive (sometimes silly ice-breaker) question.
It makes the atmosphere light and helps me to assess the audience’s knowledge and interest in a fun way. Usually, the parents get it right. This makes them happy and gives them the confidence to continue to explore and engage. In the area of cross-cultural communication, confidence is such an important foundation. When you make people smile, that builds a stronger basis for everyone to learn and share.
Also, it allows them to respond without losing face by getting a wrong answer. A simple true or false or multiple choice question creates a low requirement for participation, as students or parents will not be embarrassed if they don’t have confidence in their English language level.
Make an Impact
I chose these stories as I knew they would make an impact.
Due to cultural and structural reasons, Chinese parents are highly involved in their children’s school performance. But these stories will make them ponder, reflect, and think.
I didn’t choose stories of revolutionary ideas, about how one changed an education system or an education culture overnight. Rather I chose stories to encourage small incremental changes.
A good story influences people by allowing them to change their ways of thinking, seeing, and acting. The power of storytelling comes from its immediate effect, does it make an impact, what can you do after hearing this story?
Show not Tell
I was invited for a one-hour interactive text chat with the mom’s group via social media. However, I didn’t want to limit the communication just to text. Pictures and videos are powerful ways to communicate ideas and messages. This is especially true if you are using English, a language non-native to many parents and clients.
So, for each story, I prepared pictures and videos to support the storytelling.
This is one video example I shared even before my sharing started. The video has Chinese and English subtitles to set the tone and help the audience to hear authentic voices with language help.
I also highly recommend you find a language and cultural partner to help everyone navigate and overcome the language barrier. This person can be your existing client or a volunteer or a paid help. This is essential.
The process of influencing takes time, patience, and empathy.
Imagine that you just moved into a new neighbourhood. It’s probably a good idea to listen, observe and give before you try to sell anything to your new neighbours. Do give people time and opportunity to know who you are and what you represent. Telling authentic stories is a great way to build your connection, influence potential clients, grow your network and eventually recruit more students.
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