3 Public Speaking Lessons From Hasan Minhaj's Homecoming King

3 Public Speaking Lessons From Hasan Minhaj's Homecoming King

4-part case study on how millennials can overcome stage fright, hook audience attention, and speak your truths.
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His high school basketball team cut him 3 years in a row, but he shot his shots anyway, until one day he made the Netflix hall of fame. In his standup memoir, Homecoming King, Hasan Minhaj lets it fly story after story, catching fire with punchlines, and driving home the point and underlying theme of the show: A New Brown America.

As a brown millennial still driving a Camry, as a husband and father in an interfaith marriage, and a student of the skill of storytelling, I constantly put the Special on repeat and recommend it to anyone that comes over.

My wife’s worried my obsession might lead me to quit my job and my startup, to become a standup comedian. The truth is I'm obsessed with patterns, and I enjoy reverse-engineering works of art to uncover solutions for major problems.

Specifically, I study Minhaj’s content, delivery, and punchlines to understand how introvert professionals and business people can overcome glossophobia - aka stage fright - and deliver articulate presentations, pitches, and all forms of public speeches.

In the age of social media and artificial intelligence, every millennial needs to up his or her game at public speaking. After deliberate practice, the second best advice I offer on how to improve this ability is to study professionals, such as journalists and comedians. By breaking down their work into bits and pieces and patterns, we can put in the work without having the talent. In this 4-part series of articles, I'll share my process and my findings.

1) The Lesson of all Lessons: Tell Stories

The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic ‘right-brain’ thinkers.

--Daniel Pink, author

Telling stories is like saying sorry, please, and thank you: we all do it, but not enough.

Standup comedians know this better than anybody, and Minhaj nails it by telling dozens of short stories for 70 minutes straight.

Whether you teach, sell, or inform for a living, narrative intelligence is a skill and artform that differentiates humans from artificial intelligence, whether used in a 1-on-1 setting, or on stage.

“Powerpoints are the peacocks of the business world: all show, no meat.”

-Dwight Schrute, ordinary genius

2) Use the Rule of 3

Throughout the show, Minhaj uses the rule of 3 because 3 is a golden number. When you use three items in a sentence, joke, or title, the reader or listener finds the point or punchline more concise, memorable, and satisfying.

The rule of 3 is universal. You can have 3 of anything work effectively:

  • Letters in acronyms: LAX. NYC. UPS.
  • Words with repetition: Location, location, location
  • Words in a title: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
  • Actions in a sequence: I came, I saw, I conquered
  • Parts in a joke: I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.

2 isn’t enough and 4 is too many. It’s why you don’t see Moe, Larry, Curly, AND Shemp in 3 Stooges episodes.

Now that you’re aware, re-watch the Homecoming King, and notice the frequency and mastery of the Rule of 3 in its glory. Examples:

  • LA, Chicago, New York
  • Starbux, WiFi, Highways
  • Cody, Corey, and Cole
  • Soul Cycle -> Yoga -> ZeeTV
  • Hannity, Coulter, O’Reilly
  • No Fun, no friends, no girlfriends

3) Play with Words, Numbers, and Figures of Speech

Every speaker is tasked with the challenge of holding the audience’s attention still so that his or her message, tone, and punchlines are delivered as the speaker intends. When the audience, hungry for laughter, pays attention, every person’s brain is locked in connection-making mode, eager to chomp on the next simile, metaphor, or pop culture reference dropped by the speaker.

Wordplay - the art of infusing sarcasm, puns, and figures of speech within your content - keeps the audience hooked and wanting more.

For it to work, wordplay has to be subtle and nonchalant, as if you’re just having a casual conversation with your audience. Otherwise, you risk coming across as cheesy, scripted, and trying too hard. Though for beginners, the payoff is worth the risk.

Hasan Minhaj’s use of wordplay is so powerful you forget he uses it, so it required me to re-watch the show a dozen times to identify all the different techniques used. At the risk of giving away too much, here’s a list of examples:

Alliteration

  • Beautiful blue BMX bike
  • Cody, Cory, and Cole
  • Creed, color, class

Fun Words (or Names)

  • Pitter-patter
  • Rajesh Rengatramanajananam

Anaphora

  • No fun, no friends, no girlfriends
  • That kid won’t choke on camera. He’s been slapped on camera. – Of course he can spell “knaidel”. – Knaidel. Look at that face. Nothing. Nothing! He’s 12 years old. Nothing! This kid just won $30,000 cash. Nothing.

Assonance

  • I actually had the Audacity of Equality

Metaphors

  • It’s a Fair and Lovely World (Fair N Lovely is a popular skin whitening product in India)
  • We’re the rappers that made it.

Similes

  • Like a Brown Mr. Miyagi
  • Off with the head. Like a goddamn emperor
  • It’s like Tinder with no photos
  • I crushed it like a Voldemort Horcrux
  • Hindus and Muslims are like the Montagues and Capulets of India. We’ve been warring for centuries.

Irony

  • Every day I walk past their building during lunch. I’ll see all the [FOX News] employees, Hannity, Coulter, O’Reilly, leave their building, cross the street, walk past me, and line up for halal chicken and rice. I’m like, “Uh… Racist Randy wants that red sauce.” Your brain can be racist, but your body will just betray you.

Sarcasm

  • Population of 990,000, that’s a small town in India
  • Do you know what it’s like to have a parent that controls your life? “No, I don’t. What is that like? Do tell. I would love to hear that story.”

This concludes Part 1, check back next week for Part 2, where we go over self-deprecation, callbacks, and the Bookend Technique.

If you've considered professional speech lessons, I recommend you check out TakeLessons' private speech tutors. Full disclosure: I work for TL, and I unapologetically promote the work we do to connect students and teachers.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

Popular Right Now

To The Nursing Major

Is it all worth it?
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"You're going to feel like quitting. You're going to struggle. You'll have days where you'll wonder, 'what's it all for?'

You'll have days when people attempt to break you down, or challenge your intelligence, skills, and right to be where you are. You'll have moments when you question your own abilities, and perhaps your sanity - but you'll rise.

You'll rise because your strength as a nurse is not determined by one grade, one shift or one job - it's an ongoing journey of learning, honor, humility and a chance to make even the smallest difference in the lives of your patients."

Don't ever give up on achieving your dreams to be a nurse. Keep pushing forward, no matter how hard it is. Nursing is not an easy major. You will have very little, if any, time to do anything other than study. But just think about how great it will feel to connect with a patient, pray with them, and even save his or her life.

This will make all of the late night studying, weekly breakdowns, countless cups of coffee, and tests so hard all you want to do is cry, worth it. To see a patient's face light up when you walk in his or her room will make your heart melt and you'll know you chose the right major.

The kind of nurse you will be isn't based on a test grade, it's based on your heart for the people you are caring for. You may have failed a class, but don't let that ruin you. Try again and keep pushing toward your goal. Don't allow others around you to drag you down and tell you that you aren't good enough to be a nurse.

Show them how strong you are and that you will never give up.

There will be days when all you want to do is quit, I know I question my major more than once a week; however, there is a patient out there that needs you and your caring heart. You can do this, have faith in yourself that you can move mountains.

I will say that you definitely must have a heart for nursing.

Personally, I want to be a Pediatric Oncologist and work at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Just the thought of those precious children going through the hardest part of their lives, keeps me going so that I can be there for them. I want to be a light to my patients and their families during a dark time. When I feel like giving up, I just think about how many lives I have the chance to touch and I keep on going.

So when you feel like giving up, just think about your future patients and how you can make a difference, even if its only for one person. I love the quote from Katie Davis that states, "I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. But I can change the world for one person. So I will keep loving, one person at a time."

Even though this quote is about foreign missions, I believe it fits the mold for nursing as well.

Nurses have the opportunity to change the world for people every day. Just remember that, smile, don't give up, and keep pushing toward your goal.

Cover Image Credit: chla.org

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