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!