By your second or third year in the Model United Nations world, it is often easy to forget how difficult your first competition was. Back when parliamentary procedure was gibberish and the ‘I-can’t-stop-shaking-my-paper’ syndrome felt like some chronic disease, Model United Nations was about as scary as it was amazing. The truth is that we do remember it; all presidents and head chairs could probably tell you every detail of their first committee. Why? Because no one walked in his or her first time as best delegate. We too shook, had awkward lapses in voice, and got lost in the barrage of arguments.
So, after talking with various new members, I’ve gathered a list of tips to help beginners get a head start. The list is based on common problems faced by members in their first few competitions.
The Night Before – Be as prepared as you can be
It’s a really sad scene when delegates wait till the morning of the conference (sometimes minutes before) to finish printing information or writing up their policy statement. And if you’re new, the scene is especially difficult.
- Don’t leave printing or really anything to the morning: you don’t want to feel rushed or unprepared. The situation is nerve wrecking already; being prepared is a way to combat the feeling.
- While last minute research is common, if you do resort to it, make it effective: Find concentrated paragraphs of information – don’t just print out 10 different websites and expect yourself to read it all.
- Lay your clothes out the night before; you definitely don’t want to be late because the blazer you were going to wear mysteriously disappeared.
- Finally, get a good night’s sleep. Seriously. It is by far your best weapon against stress.
The First Day
- Get yourself to say at least one thing. New delegates who speak up just once the first committee session, are much more likely to participate the next few than if they had stayed quiet.
- Don’t worry too much if it’s the most amazing question or comment in the world. Rather, think about it as breaking the ice: the hardest part is over – all you’ve got to do now is keep it up.
Everyone, and I repeat EVERYONE gets nervous in some way or another. Some shake, some laugh a little too loud, and some just refuse to speak.
- First step: acceptance. Acknowledge the nerves. They’re there and while they shouldn’t take over, it’s often worse to pretend they don’t exist.
- Next step: Friend them. Nerves provide valuable adrenaline that’ll keep you focused. Its even been proven that a little bit of nerves are better than none at all.
- While speeches are easier to improvise with time, writing what you’re going to say beforehand really helps ease nerves. It prevents the common stumbling or attack of ‘umm’s…” that afflict most beginners.
- Finally: If you choke at one point, take a quick brake outside or walk out for a moment to just talk yourself through it.
Un-moderated Caucuses – the un-mod
When you’re new, it’s a little harder to approach people when the un-mod starts. I’ve even heard of newbies who said they had no idea what the term even was (Shame on you veterans! Help them out!). The important thing to remember is that its purpose is to negotiate and combine similar resolutions: so if you’re North Korea, don’t go strolling over to USA!
- Connect with delegates who have similar policies or ideas by passing notes to them. Do this so that you know who to go to when the un-mod comes.
- Don’t get intimidated or let down when older kids don’t listen to your ideas – the key is to stay confident and demand that they listen. You’re as important as them, remember that.
- If you were a bit lost in the debate, get the job of writing/typing the resolution. That way you’re contributing to and learning about the topic at the same time.
- Take them seriously – un-mods can be as important to chairs as the actual debate.
Parliamentary Procedure – ugh, the formality!
While many aspects of procedure are uniform throughout the world, remember that your region may have some specifics. Reading about the general procedure is often not very helpful because the instructions tend to be flowery and confusing.
- The trick: Read basic parliamentary procedure and highlight terms or aspects you don’t understand. Then ask a member with experience to explain them to you.
- Getting used to it is often a matter of time, so don’t get stressed if you mess up a few times and are called out for it. Even master debaters occasionally forget standard procedure.
These are just few of the many predicaments new delegates face. Please feel free to ask questions or post suggestions on obstacles that weren’t addressed here.
Here are some funny stories from the MUN community so know you’re not alone:
“I was in the seventh grade, and I was representing Peru, when I got up to give my position on the topic… My voice got so high pitched people actually motioned (motion of personal privilege) for me to speak in a lower tone.. I was unable and simply sat down…” – Cristobal Cardenas, Media Associate
“One time I stood up by the chair to make a speech. I started speaking and completely blanked out and forgot what I was going to say. I ended up just kind of trailing off and said ‘thank you’ then ran back to my seat. I stayed there with my face down and everyone laughed. I’m pretty sure I blushed for like 10 minutes” – Sarah Doreen Collins, Media Associate
“My first time freshman year, I was Burkina Faso in the same committee as the head delegate from my school. When I stood up to give a comment, instead of ‘I commend the previous speaker’ I said condemn. After I managed to get a crude resolution together, I remember that when our head delegate started poking holes in it in formal caucus, I had no idea what to say so I just gave lame responses like ‘We can figure out funding after the plan is in place’ I think I blushed for the next century.” -Ellen Perfect, Media Associate
“I used to visibly shake when I spoke. I’d also try to hide behind a piece of paper because I didn’t know what to say and needed notes. Worst part was that holding that piece of paper only magnified my shaking to everyone.” – Kevin Felix Chan, Co-Founder
“I was the delegate of France and I thought it would be interesting if I gave my opening speech in French. 5 seconds through, the chair interrupted me” -Shreshta Balachandar, Media Associate
“So I was Israel and the topic was Alternative Energy. And I had never made a speech before, so I was something to the effect of this: ‘Well, in Israel, we like celebrate Hanukkah. And in Hanukkah we celebrate when we made a miniscule amount of oil like, last eight days or something. So I think this committee needs to perform a miracle too and conserve our oil for generations to come.’ And then when it was time for questions Iran asked ‘So…you’re saying it’s going to take an act of God to solve this problem?’ – Ashley Inman, Media Associate