How to “Compete” in Model United Nations

by Ryan on January 19, 2009

In the spirit of Kevin’s post on the return of the MUN season, I’d like to share excerpts from an e-mail exchange between me and someone wanting to become more “competitive” at Model UN.

My Response

I believe that becoming “competitive” at Model UN means developing proficiency in various skills that enable you to demonstrate leadership throughout an MUN conference. By skills, I mean broad skills, such as research and public speaking, but also strategic skills, such as deciding what country you want to represent at a conference and what ideas you should present to the committee, as well as tactical skills, such as choosing with which delegates to form an alliance. And by leadership, I mean a trait that other delegates and the chair apply to you because you are able to lead the committee to find some sort of solution to the problem it faces; this is a trait that must be earned. This focus on skills and leadership is the bedrock of the philosophy.

So if skill proficiency leads to leadership, which leads to success, then how do you develop such skills? The only real way, of course, is experience: going to as many MUN conferences as possible, practicing with your club, etc. You can also deliberately practice individual skills, i.e. researching papers transfers to researching for a conference, being an active participant in a small seminar is much like speaking in a small committee, etc. Having someone coach you is important, too; solicit feedback on how you are doing from older MUNers in your club whom you trust. And it helps to have some theory, i.e. =P

From the sound of your e-mail, I hope you don’t feel intimidated by the “competitive” aspect of MUN. By this, I mean awards, and how aggressive other people might be in trying to win them; such things are meant to be incentives to take this seriously, but they are not to be the point of doing MUN. This activity is one huge “head fake” (see Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture”) to develop the skills mentioned above, which are transferable to other endeavors in life, to meet intelligent and interesting people, which sounds like you have, and to learn something about international relations and, maybe, human behavior and social interaction. It sounds like you already have a good approach to MUN; I would just encourage you to jump in, and do as much of this stuff as you can, and don’t worry so much about being “competitive.” Learn from others; be an active and thoughtful participant; and most importantly, have fun!

The Counter-Argument

“I do agree that the most important aspect of participating in a MUN conference is the personal growth that comes from doing so; however, the awards seem to allow greater involvement in the college circuit – those who do well are frequently asked to return. For this reason, it seems harder to ‘try my hand’ at Model UN that at other college activities, because reputation is important and I understand that the club seeks those who can uphold its reputation.”

Developing Leadership vs. Winning Awards: An Actual Dilemma?

I think that my response captures part of our “MUN philosophy” here at focus less on awards and approach MUN as a way to develop your leadership skills. But the counter-argument illustrates a central dilemma within the Model UN community: awards may not be the point of doing MUN, but winning them enables greater participation, which hopefully leads to the development of leadership skills.

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