15 Tips to Being a Good Committee Chair

by KFC on April 13, 2011

The committee chair makes a big difference on each delegates’ Model UN experience. Well-run committees are fun, memorable, streamlined, and purposeful (e.g. appropriately educational or competitive). Poorly-run committees can be frustrating experiences to say the least.

Here are 15 tips for chairs so that they can be more of the former than the latter. Feel free to add more advice in the comments!

1. Know the topic better than any delegate. Delegates are putting hours of research into their topic and Chairs should too — Chairs’ expertise should not be limited to the topic synopses that they wrote. Chairs need to be experts in the topic so they can clearly see which solutions are actually good and which ones only sound good. And chairs need to know how to merge resolutions and push certain sub-topic emphases when needed.

2. Don’t be afraid to be correct. Know your rules as best as possible, but don’t be afraid to have to check on the short-hand rules reference sheet in front of you. And don’t be afraid to confer with someone else on your dias when you are not sure about a rule or if a delegate tries to correct you. Delegates want you get it right or give them a good explanation on why you ruled a certain way.

3. Be approachable. Delegates are always looking for guidiance on either the rules or the topic. Invite delegates to approach the dias during unmoderated caucuses. Better yet, go out with the rest of the dais to the committee floor and roam around to check out different blocs. Smile and make eye contact — or even say hi — so that delegates know they can ask you a question and that you aren’t just an intimidating judge who’s scoring caucus points.

4. Explain the rules. Ask the committee if they understood a motion when it’s made for the first time. Pause to explain the rules, particularly if they are unique to your conference or committee or if you have many novice delegates in your committee. This will help delegates get involved — it’s more difficult to get them engaged in debate if they already feel lost.

5. Be encouraging. Ask those who have not spoken if they want to speak. Go around the caucus room to answer questions. Encourage delegates who look lost or not interested to get involved — sometimes giving them a piece of advice or a certain clause to focus on is all it will take to get them to start participating.  

6. Don’t lose control of the committee. Raising your voice or banging the gavel multiple times is actually a sign of a weak chair. A strong chair is able to get decorum by asking the committee to do so once. Develop respect by being knowledgeable, approachable, etc. rather than authority through the gavel.

7. Enforce the rules. Make sure everyone is playing the same game so it gives all delegates a fair chance to participate as a delegate. Be aware in catching plagiarism, the use of pre-written resolutions (unless it’s a docket-style committee), and the use of any technology or tools that are banned from committee. Be stern, and make sure not to embarass the delegate — you can make a general comment to the committee or ask to speak with them individually during an unmoderated caucus.

8. Move debate forward. You have to manage your time throughout the day and there will be certain times when you want to encourage certain motions or rule others dilatory in order to move debate forward and increase productivity (i.e. when you need to prefer motions for caucus so the committee can work on drafting of a resolution). Help the committee transition through the different stages: speeches, caucus, writing resolutions, and debating resolutions.

9. Be as fair as possible.  Try to pick different people to speak. Look at different parts of the room when selecting speakers. Don’t be afraid to take some time to refer back to the scoresheet or tally sheet to see if you’ve called on delegates an even number of times. Consider how far down the speaker’s list a delegate may be when calling on speakers for comments or moderated caucus. Delegates get frustrated when they are not called on as often as others — or not called on at all.

10. Calibrate your biases. Everyone has biases on what a good delegate looks like or what a good speech looks like. Make sure your biases are calibrated and in line with the conference’s philosophy of awards. Chairs should practice scoring speeches together to get calibrated before the conference starts, know the rubric for each action (are they scoring for both substance and style when a speech is made?), and should understand what this conference is looking for when giving out awards (e.g. an aggressive vs. a diplomatic delegate, rewarding accuracy of policy vs. good delegate skills, creativity vs. realistic solutions).

11. Always be enthusiastic. This helps distinguish a memorable chair from one that just knows how to run the rules well. You are leading the committee and the debate is only going to be energetic and enjoyable if you are feeling that way too. Make sure to get enough rest and food (and coffee) in the morning so you can keep debate exciting throughout the day. Introduce yourself at the beginning of committee. Smile throughout the day.

12. Empower the dais to help. You want to be fair but you might not be able to see every action, so you need to get the rest of the dais to help you. Have them go around caucus so you have more eyes seeing the room and answering questions about draft resolutions. Teach them to chair for a little bit — it gives you some rest and even helps calibrate the scoring if they score a round of speeches or moderated caucus.

13. Make conference services your ally. Be friendly with the conference services team and thank them for their work. This will help you get what you need — missing placards, copies of draft resolutions, etc. — faster. Give them clear directions and ask for an estimated time of turnaround so you can manage your expectations for them and your committee’s expectations of you.

14. Be purposeful in throwing crises or bringing in guest speakers. Don’t throw a crisis for the sake of throwing a crisis, especially when the committee is already being productive. Throw a crisis or bring in a guest speaker only if debate is getting stale, needs to head a certain direction, or if delegates are substantively lost. Each crisis and guest speaker should help guide the committee to a pre-determined direction or action.

15: Talk about college and share advice. College students who are chairing high school committees should always take some time to talk about college — how they got in and picked their college, what their experience is like, what college MUN is like, etc. High school students are curious and answering their questions will go a long way in helping them understand and be more enthusiastic about going to college.

What are some other tips to being a good chair? Let us know in the comments!

  • Sohail

    Pedantry can get in the way of learning.

    • KFC

      Agreed. Chairs should see themselves as leaders and educators, not just facilitators of the rules.

  • http://www.shumun.com Marco

    This is a great post; in fact, it’s pretty spot-on! The only change that should be made is an additional number 16: Have a sense of humor! All too often chairs feel that they need to be strict as anything and cannot smile – ever. Herein lies a major problem. Model UN is an educational tool and if you do not let your delegates have fun, then they will learn nothing. Just recently I had a delegate actually say in his first committee ever, “Motion to Table the Chair”. She meant topic – I hope. But the entire committee laughed. Yes, keeping order is important and when she said it she was obviously feeling embarrassed and there’s nothing that a strict chair can do about that! Therefore, by being able to smile and laugh – and laugh at yourself at times – a situation like this can be resolved. Once she said it, I responded with, “I’m sorry delegate, but I don’t think that UN actually recognizes that rule. *I smiled* However, I think you want to Table the Topic. Correct?” That ensured the committee that the dais wanted to laugh, and then made it apparent to the delegates that we still had work to be done.

    Always smile and encourage your delegates – they’ll always remember that chair that helped them with humor… not the mean one : )

    Happy Munning!

    • KFC

      Agreed. I try to smile often and insert some humor to my committees too. My personal example: things get serious late in the topic and unmoderated caucuses become routine. During one of the motions that clearly passes, I will deliberately mistaken the vote count by saying “this fails… I mean passes!” Kids get a good laugh at this.

  • J. Watanabe

    Clear, consistent, and efficiency.
    Be clear with the rules and expectations from the start and be consistent in implementing those rules and following through on what you say. Also, make sure you keep a committee efficient and be willing to rule down motions if you feel the time is better spent in other areas. However, also allow the delegates to control the flow of committee (a tough balance).

    While keeping a relaxed environment, especially in a larger committee, it is important to keep the reigns on early and slowly allow the environment to be more relaxed if you feel you can keep control. Once you lose control, it’s probably too late. Keeping the committee under control will help make the experience for those who are truly in the committee for the learning experience. At NHSMUN, one of the best chairs I have ever seen was very structured in the way he ran in committee, yet he was clear about it when the committee began and ran one of the best main committees that I have seen to date.

    Know the topic but also know policies so that you can help guide students back towards the correct policy. The better you know the topic, the better able you are to run your committee and provide the students with a learning experience.

    Also, be aware of the time and effectively plan your schedule so you are never left with “extra” time. If you have “extra” time and have two topics and did only one, start debate on the second topic, otherwise, a conference shouldn’t make students do twice the amount of work if they plan on not covering the second topic!

    Furthermore, keep an ear out for good substance rather than just be swayed by great speaking skills. While great speaking skills is important, by encouraging substance at every conference, the level of debate will increase, as will the confidence of each delegate.

    Finally, throw out trying to appease the committee. While you want to connect with the committee or make sure they have a good time, it can ruin the experience of MUN when you allow for delegates to make a mockery of MUN with joke speeches or have students include “music phrases” into their speeches. While the students who were “bored” are now enjoying themselves more, you polarize them from those who prepared for this learning experience and leave a bad feeling about the committee after the conference. Also, avoid the joke awards, as I have learned first hand as a Secretary-General, there could be larger consequences to these awards if they get out of hand and offend people and are not worth doing. As mentioned previous, if you do have extra time, discuss colleges choices or MUN experiences (such as volunteer efforts, committees, great experiences, etc.) that would provide a greater learning experience for the delegates.

    • KFC

      Thank you. This is very well-written and I encourage all chairs and Secretariat members to read these comments. In fact, every leader should — being clear, consistent, and efficient are cornerstones of good leadership in MUN and in many other situations in life.

      I agree with the low value of joke awards or superlatives. They may be fun way to end committee at novice conferences, but they shouldn’t be done at any college-hosted high school conference. One of the best ways to end committee is to share the takeaway or lessons learned from the committee. The chairs could do this, or could ask the delegates to share their takeaways or their favorite part of the weekend. One of the most memorable ways committee ended for me was when Iris (your former student) and I were chairing Historical Security Council together at UCLA and she shared a very moving and inspirational speech on what Model UN has meant to her. I think that provided much more value to the delegates.

  • Molly

    Marco, stop stealing mine!

    Its important to focus on the students not the advisors. In my last conference, the kids loved it but some of the advisors hated it. There comes a point where you just have to say “thank you for you critique, it will be taken under advisement” and then roll your eyes when they are out of the room. Most (not all) students are in those committees because they are interested in the topic.

    I like to also have extra materials available for the kids. That way if they did get assigned to the topic or did think to look in places, you have extra sources available. This makes them feel like you really care and you never know… that delegate from Bulgaria may become an EU scholar someday because you turned them on to it!

    • http://www.shumun.com Marco

      Molly! I love how you integrate so much more than just chairing; in fact, you brought up interest.

      A chair can know infinite amounts of knowledge on a topic – say, Bulgarian Finances – but when it comes to the committee, they do not know how to explain things to delegates nor do they seem interested. This is a BIG FLOP. Once you seem uninterested, the delegates will be as well, and then you have a debate of people that don’t even want to be there!

      What I like to do to resolve this predicament is start the entire conference (our first session together) by explaining why I like/love the topic. (Even if I don’t!). Showing enthusiasum will really rally the delegates and make them want to be active. Don’t pick a side! Once you say that “North Korea is better” as a chair, the delegates will try to make you happy… so just talk about the topic in general.

      Oh, there are so many more things we can get into, but I’d like someone to tell me their thoughts first… Molly? : )

      Happy Munning!!

  • R. Timberlake

    J. Watanabe hits many things right on the head. Many chairs need to realize that delegates talk about the chair and what is going on to many people, their friends, advisors, parents. Who intern talk to each other and to administrators. If committes are a poorly ran, joke awards are the best part, food for speaking, plaigarized topic synposis common, serious delegates are denigrated, sexual harassment waved off and faux policy replaces true policy then this is just wrong. It not only embarasses the conference but school districts /boards wonder why we would let anyone go to cross country to an event masquerading as a conference.

    Being “cool or fun” is not the main purpose of high school Model UN. It is to be challenging. It is learning through simulation, so that those who do it are not self indulgent putz’s whose callousness does not insult real people suffering through real issues. They may even be incited to greater things by these simulated introductions.

    I might add that what is really starnge is the meager amount of awards given by conferences / chairs. Though many say awards are not important the small number guarentees that many who worked so hard will not get just recognition. The atmosphere will also be hyper competitive for the few awards available thus always endangering cohesiveness. Long term advisors know that in so many committees at least 20% of those there deserve recognition yet maybe 5% will even in a committee of over 200.

  • Kanupriya

    omg is that Ryan Kaminiski in the picture? I had him as a chiar once hes really nice and makes the whole experience less nerve wrecking 😀

    • KFC

      Yup, that’s Ryan Kaminski! I purposely used a photo of him since I know he’s an excellent chair. Glad to know one of his delegates think the same!

  • Matt Barger

    This is great. There seems to be two types of chairs out there: those who strongly enforce the rules and those who emphasize discussion facilitation. The most important thing is to strike a balance between the two.

    IMO, the rules are there to enforce fair facilitation of discussion. The chair must be able to understand where he must step in to make the discussion more fair and productive in spite of the rules (such as rules that speaking time changes requires a two-person debate).

    But this is mostly for college conferences. High school conferences require more attention to the rules.

    In other words, great post, KFC. 😛

    • KFC

      Thanks! I agree with what you wrote — chairs need to be able to have a spectrum of leadership styles and know when to enforce rules vs. facilitate discussion. These are two hidden skills that help distinguish good leaders from normal chairs.

  • Anelise

    Does someone know how an audition for chair looks like? (is it just questions? on what?)

    • http://bestdelegate.com/ Ryan Villanueva

      By “audition,” do you mean applying or interviewing to be a chair? For Global Classrooms, we had to apply, provide a resume/CV (including MUN and chairing experience), and answer questions.

  • Ivy Zhong

    I recently found out about Model United Nations and I think that it could make a very fun and memorable experience but since I am new to this I have many questions. First, what is the difference between a delagate and a commitee chair? Is there a certain age you have to be in order to apply to be a commitee chair? Do you have to have previous Model United Nations experience to being a part of it (as a delagate or as a commitee chair)? And about how many hours would you have to commit in order to be in Model United Nations? Thank you~~!!!

    • Nick

      delegates participate in debating at the MUN conference by representing a country and debating on resolutions for your committees topic, and they usually work in pairs. Committee chairs are in charge of, judge, and guide the committees. So if you are new you will want to be and should start as a delegate.

  • Ivy Zhong

    In order to be a delagate do you have to participate in your high school’s team because I don’t think my high school have a Model United Nations team? (I’m new to this .. sorry for my lack of info)

  • Guest

    you must not feed.

    • Guest

      if you don’t , I’ll carry you with my zed.

  • Guest

    Do you guys know me? XD

  • Jessica Devine

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