Model UN is a service. Conference organizers are paid to provide the services of writing background guides, organizing the conferences logistics, and facilitating committee discussion. Delegates and advisors are customers paying fees to experience this service.
There are no standards for quality customer service in Model UN, but at a minimum, most customers expect substance, procedure, and organization. In business terms, that means well-written background guides, consistently well-trained chairs who are fair, timely communication before and during the conference, and smooth execution of logistics.
But some conferences go above and beyond on customer service. They understand that having well-trained chairs is the foundation of the committee experience, but there’s more to that in the overall conference experience.
Having traveled to conferences around the world, here are 10 first-hand observations of things that the best conferences do differently to provide a good conference experience.
1. Invite a keynote speaker who understands his/her audience.
Most of the Opening Ceremonies I’ve attended are pretty bad. Keynote speakers talk about something they’re experts in but no one really cares about or sees its relevance and the delegates end up tuning out the speaker.
Keynote speakers need to understand their audience. Delegates are anxious to jump into debate and are in the middle of their Model UN journey. The speaker should provide some relevant takeaway for the immediate weekend experience or inspire them to turn their Model UN journey into a world-saving career or to make a difference in the world.
Some of the best speakers I’ve seen include:
- Hoops for Hope founder Austin Gutwein at McGill SSUNS (shared how he started an NGO in Africa as a high school student),
- Ban Ki-moon and Monique Coleman at UNA-USA’s GCIMUN (their speeches focused on empowering youth rather than on high-level policy),
- Rutgers Head Delegate Samip Joshi at J.P. Stevens’ JPSMUN (showed how an alum could get involved in local government), and,
- Invisible Children founder Ben Keesey at various conferences (we all know Invisible Children can tell an inspiring story that makes us want to get involved).
2. Provide professional development for faculty advisors.
Conferences should invest in faculty advisors because they are the key buyers. They bring in all the customers — the delegates.
I’ve run my fair share of free workshops for advisors. I saw the best attendance at Boston University BosMUN, U. Chicago MUNUC, Cornell CMUNC, George Washington WAMUNC, Nationals NHSMUN, London LIMUN, and Montessori MMUN.
Montessori has the most parents attending of any conference and they had plenty of workshops for both parents and teachers. McGill SSUNS provided training in the form of a Security Council simulation, and the advisors who participated in it said they loved it.
3. Treat advisors like they are VIPs.
If a business gets a frequent or recurring customer, that customer is usually seen as a VIP already since most customers only buy from a business once. In business terms, this is referred to as the “lifetime value” of a customer. Similarly, conferences want their advisors to return every year instead of going to other conferences and should treat them like VIPs.
Boston University BosMUN hosts a nice continental breakfast for advisors every morning. U.Penn ILMUNC and McGill SSUNS host receptions for the advisors with open bar. Mission Viejo MVHSMUN had an omelet bar in the morning and prime rib during lunch for the advisors. UCLA BruinMUN had a chocolate fountain for the advisors; one advisor was so impressed that he brought that up at another conference.
4. Listen and implement feedback from advisor meetings.
Advisors provide feedback because they want the service to be better. Good conferences listen and take this feedback to heart and make the appropriate adjustments.
In customer service theory, customers are more likely to be happy when a service provider improves and delivers a great experience at the end. A strong last impression can overcome an initially mediocre one (although not necessarily an initially weak one).
Advisors and head delegates know whether a conference is giving lip service or making real changes. You can overhear it during breaks the next day when delegates say “it’s going much better today” or “it’s much more exciting today.”
5. Hold a discussion on chairing philosophies and calibration.
Most chair training sessions focus on WHAT to do, such as rules of procedure, logistics, maintaining decorum, and troubleshooting, but conferences should also train their chairs on HOW to do it. Are all chairs following a similar philosophy? Are they using the same terms and phrases? Delegates want to know not only what they’re being evaluated on but how they are being evaluated, and teams expect consistency among chairs.
Georgetown NAIMUN is one conference that has held this chairing philosophy discussion. UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms conferences do it too since they draw staff from different colleges, and I’m pretty sure The Hague THIMUN, Nationals NHSMUN, Nationals NMUN, and U.Chicago MUNUC also do it based on the consistent experiences and emphases I see across committees. I used to judge Speech & Debate, and we had to calibrate for consistency by holding up a sign of how many points we thought a sample speech was worth.
Here’s a question for conference organizers: if a committee’s entire dais staff was swapped out with another dais, would the delegates’ experience be more or less the same?
6. Understanding that smaller committees allow for better participation.
In general, smaller committees or at least a cap on large committees provides a better experience for delegates because it offers them more opportunities to participate. In contrast, large committees (business translation: cash cow committees) tend to offer a poor experience because delegates will only get to speak once or twice the entire weekend even though they paid the same delegate fee.
Most high school-hosted conferences limit their committees to the size of their classrooms. For example, Santa Margarita SOCOMUN has about 30 students in each committee despite hosting a 1,300 delegate conference. Brown BUSUN has an average of less than 30 students per committee as it has one of the highest number of committees simulated in the world despite having only 800 delegates; crisis-oriented conferences like Columbia CMUNCE and Stanford SMUNC offer similar experiences. Boston University places a cap on the size of their General Assembly committees.
We understand there are a lot of reasons for large conferences to run huge committees — limitations of hotel or classroom space, not enough staff to spread out, they’re cash cows, it’s truly realistic — but we commend those who give more students a chance to participate.
7. Conferences are in the 21st century when it comes to technology.
This has been covered periodically on Best Delegate and could be a whole other series of articles. But basically, students are immersed in technology these days, many facilities have access to technology, and most would agree that the conferences can provide a better experience by implementing technology. Georgia Tech GTMUN and NYU’s NYUMUNC are among those with a strong usage of technology.
8. The conferences have educational events beyond just the committees.
Most conferences have a social, but few have additional educational programming beyond the committees. Additional events allow delegates to broaden their horizons and see where Model UN can take them.
Many of the larger conferences have campus tours, movie screenings, or a special guest speaker as a start. Georgetown NAIMUN, George Washington WAMUNC, Nationals NHSMUN, and U.Chicago MUNUC set up embassy and consulate visits. NAIMUN had a social justice symposium.
At the middle school level, Montessori has students create poster boards about their country to be presented at the conference, and CalYMCA has an election campaign of the Secretariat during the conference. And although this is technically a committee, THIMUN has a Youth Assembly committee that is focused more on practical solutions that can be brought home rather than broad country policies.
9. The conferences hold the staff accountable to a providing good customer service.
The McGill conferences, SSUNS and McMUN, have been commended multiple times in this article already. But they have achieved their quality by design. The McGill conference staff go through something called dais wars, where staff compete on various criteria, such as being commended at faculty advisor meetings, or having their committee contribute quotes to the Press Corps.
Georgetown NAIMUN runs a variation of this for their charity contest, and UNA-USA’s GCIMUN does something similar as well between the Undersecretaries-General groups. I’m sure other conferences do something similar, but the aforementioned conferences heavily emphasized this aspect when I visited.
10. Create a rewarding Closing Ceremony.
I mentioned earlier that in customer service theory, it’s important to end the experience on a high note. It’s what people will remember when they go home.
The emotion that conferences should be eliciting during Closing Ceremony is for the participants to feel proud of their accomplishments and success (however you define both). Students feel rewarded for the solid effort they put in over the weekend.
For conferences that give awards, I think Santa Margarita SOCOMUN does this best as the Closing Ceremony feels like a big rally and so many delegates show happiness and surprise that they won an award (the novice conference gives out awards for about 40-50% of each committee).
For conferences that don’t give out awards, I think the THIMUN conferences do it best as the students do MUN because they love it for what it is and are always genuinely sad that their weekend is coming to an end.
What else have some of the best conferences you’ve attended done to make the experience better? What do you wish conferences would do more of? Let us know the comments below!