Making odd topics interesting, thanks to Hasan Minhaj

Blog 8 of 8: Toastmasters, talk about what you want to know, not just what you know now

Aug 16 · 6 min read

As a member and the (former) Vice President of Education of Unity Toastmasters (a community club in Toastmasters International), I chose one of eleven Pathways — “Presentations Mastery” — as a public speaking goal. This is the blog series of eight posts I wrote in one month to complete Level 4.*

Photo credit: jankosmowski/Pixabay

I’m obsessed with bathroom upgrades, and talk show host Hasan Minhaj initiated my new hobby after discussing hygiene on “The Patriot Act.” Sitting on my bathroom floor installing a Japanese washlet and a non-electric bidet gave me the strangest sense of joy. Now I’ve moved on to realigning my kitchen sink.

This is my very first plumbing job ever: my Japanese washlet. (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Plumbing is quite possibly the strangest pastime I’ve ever been interested in for 37 years. I even asked a client could I take on marketing copy about hand-held bidets.

But before 2018 (when I purchased a condo) I would have ponied up the money for somebody to put a simple bookshelf together. Do-it-yourself (DIY) projects were absurd to me. Ugh.

So what changed? On the surface, I could say my “inner Grandad” is coming out. He passed away in 2017. I started this home decor fixation in 2018.

He was a master mechanic, a master chef, a veteran and a handyman with a tool shed that looked like something from a magazine feature. It makes sense that all those years of eyeing him fixing everything in his home — and things that weren’t even broken — would eventually help me.

It’s logical to believe that once you own something, you can now do whatever you want to the place. That’s 50 percent of the reason.

The other 50 percent is because I love to learn new things, as long as they can hold my attention.


Why your delivery matters more than your message

So why does this matter for Toastmasters (or any public speaker)? Name your most influential advocate right now. I can almost guarantee that this person is a great public speaker. And the delivery of his/her message matters as much as the actual message.

Some of the messages that Hasan Minhaj speaks about are topics that I honestly didn’t know I cared about. Apparently I do.

His show, “The Patriot Act,” is one of my top five streaming shows* on Netflix. As much as I enjoyed him on “The Daily Show,” this streaming series gives him the opportunity to explore more about Asian culture (and other cultures) in ways that are educational and comical.

Recommended Read: “Toastmasters, what’s so funny? ~ The ‘Engaging Humor’ Path launches in Toastmasters Pathways

Here are a few examples in which I learned as much as I laughed (and in some cases, more learning and less laughing):

  • Brutal as it may sound, news segments about Saudi Arabia and censorship in China would’ve normally made me reach for my remote control. (I must admit that I agreed with him about the rap video.)
  • I didn’t have a clue what a lota or a Japanese washlet was before his show and didn’t care. Now I can’t imagine ever not owning one again.
  • Whether you are for or against affirmative action, the “Affirmative Action” episode of “The Patriot Act” explores the history of why it was needed. I had a general understanding of the lawsuit regarding Harvard applicants, Asian Americans and affirmative action. But I hadn’t heard such a detailed critique from an Asian American breaking down both sides of the argument.

All of these topics (and more) have been their own episodes, intros or extra video segments on “The Patriot Act.”

I have watched every single episode of this Netflix show from start to finish at least two or three times because I like the way he delivers his messages.

These were not topics that ever previously intrigued me. But each episode of his show made me go into a rabbit hole digging up more information on all nine episodes. In all fairness, Google already had countless videos and articles on these same topics. I read several. They’re boring. Hasan Minhaj is not.


Making your speech interesting enough to share

Hasan Minhaj talks about topics that he loosely understands, but he’s quick to give credit to his staff who has done far more research to help him deliver the topic in a compelling way.

While I do believe that an informative or persuasive speech clearly works out better if it’s a topic you’re knowledgeable about, it’s not a terrible idea to explore a topic that you’re interested in learning more about.

Photo credit: TeroVesalainen/Pixabay

With only two years of marketing knowledge, I enjoyed Sam Harrison’s “Idea Spotting” book enough to speak about it during the 2018 International Speech Competition. (I did change my topic matter at the next level: area contest. But I still very much enjoyed giving that particular speech.)

With only two years of marketing knowledge, I enjoyed Sam Harrison’s “Idea Spotting” book enough to speak about it during the 2018 International Speech Competition.

I couldn’t help but notice that members who were usually quiet around me came up to give feedback on that first speech. They wanted to know more about inventors and marketing — not knowing this was the first speech topic of 10 (for Competent Communicator certification) that I knew the least about.

In your upcoming persuasive or informative speeches (or even your Icebreaker), do not be afraid to reach for ideas outside of your comfort zone. Yes, you can tell the same motivational speech or talk about the same subject that’s been covered 1,001 times already.

But why not explore a topic outside of your comfort zone? What’s the least that could happen?

  • Your persuasive or informative speech could be the speech that makes a visitor join Toastmasters.
  • Your speech could end up creating a new advocate for your cause (and maybe a few glowing evaluations).
  • Your message could be so effective that it’s banned by an entire country and makes people want to see it more.
  • You could teach people about a topic they didn’t even know they wanted to learn about.

Hasan Minhaj’s comical speech helped her be one of many who will not waste more than 36.5 billion in toilet paper annually.

And maybe, just maybe, you could be the reason why a woman sits on her bathroom floor happily humming along to her favorite songs. She’s calculating how much money she just saved on plumbing repairs. She has two T-valve adapters in one hand and an adjustable wrench in the other. She’s re-attaching plumbing from her sink and her toilet tank. Hasan Minhaj’s comical speech helped her be one of many who will not waste more than 36.5 billion in toilet paper annually.

Now she’s content speaking about a topic that may make some people uncomfortable. She’s installed something that is incredibly helpful for better hygiene and health perks (specifically for caregivers). And if all else fails, hopefully that eco-friendly tip above stays with readers long after they’ve read this post.

* The other four shows are “Kim’s Convenience,” “One Day at a Time,” “Chewing Gum” and now-canceled “The Punisher.”

Additional posts from Shamontiel’s eight-part Toastmasters blog series:

‘Are you mad at me?’: The art of handwritten letters ~ Toastmasters, handwritten letters never go out of style

Why I made my Toastmasters group cry ~ Table Topics is fun, but I turned it into therapy

Failed English final, became professional writer: School expulsion, failing grade ~ Why I chose the Harlem Renaissance for my Toastmasters speech

Toastmasters, what’s so funny? ~ The ‘Engaging Humor’ Path launches in Toastmasters Pathways

Barry Brewer: Chicago comedian keeps us laughing ~ Actor/comedian gives tips on humorous public speaking for Toastmasters

Hosting 101: Learn speakers’ names ~ Toastmasters, don’t let memorizing odd names kick your butt

Make Drake-level eye contact without being creepy ~ Toastmasters, learn how to visually connect with your audience

This post was originally published on February 23, 2019 on Chicago Now’s “Message from Montie” blog.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

14-year journalist; freelance writer/editor (Upwork); Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Toastmasters member/3x officer; cohost of Do Not Submit; Shamontiel.com

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