Model UN: Social Engineering

by Gordon on February 28, 2013

It was that time of the year again.  As I stood in front of a roomful of parents, students, and teachers at our annual Club Night, my mind whirled through the same formal speech I had given before.

“Model UN is a club that academically simulates the United Nations. Its immediate aims are to educate participants about current events, international relations, diplomacy and the UN agenda. It is intellectually stimulating and more importantly, colleges love it.”

That last bit always particularly pleases the parents. Yet, it was only after I had given this annual spiel that I realized how little about MUN I was able to convey to these prospective members. Sadly, that surface level definition is the closest most students ever come to understanding MUN. And without fail, it’s not long before these students quit. I am here to say that the most beneficial part of MUN is not the academic knowledge we research but rather the social intelligence learned from conference. Here are a few social skills I have garnered in my past few years of Model UN.


1. The Art of Small Talk

 

As much as we all hate small talk, it is an essential skill that needs to be honed in order to make it in the corporate world today. No matter how many times we hear the trite phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we do so anyways. Those first few instances initially meeting someone are of utmost importance in forming your future relationship. In fact, most of the time people never change their assumptions about a new acquaintance after this initial meeting, especially if there is limited follow up communication. As such, small talk is important. The key to memorable small talk is how personable and memorable you can be. Don’t talk so much about a committee topic, but rather your personal life. Something both parties can relate to. At conference, you have all of the next couple of days to debate international issues. You should take the limited time before conference to connect with other delegates on a personal level. I learned and use this lesson at every conference before committee session starts. Many MUN delegates are too scared, at least initially, to talk to complete strangers. After all it is human nature to want to stay within your own school group and comfort zone. What people fail to understand is that there is a good five to ten minutes of personal time before session commences. This time is invaluable in building future alliances. Even if you are the USA and the person you happen to talk to is Iran, this personal contact will go a long way to making other delegates more amicable to your demands in the future. Apart from Model UN, small talk can go a long way in creating relationships at work or with adults. Something key to remember is that the act of talking by itself is not enough. We have all had those terribly awkward conversations with new acquaintances. This is not an effective first impression. To make yourself memorable and form a good impression, you have to be personal.

2. Simplification

We have all borne witness to overwhelming speeches. That first speaker up to talk for conference decides to bellow out a two minute speech filled with SAT words, statistics, and empty rhetoric. It is true that the ability to craft such rhetorically eloquent speeches is important for debate. But, this go-to strategy of trying to intimidate your fellow delegates into listening to you doesn’t always work. My experience has taught me that sometimes the simplest explanations work the best. Think about it. It’s the third committee session on the first topic. The committee has already progressed to multiple resolution papers on the floor. Tensions are running high and tempers are flaring. The best thing to do in this situation is to be as simple as you can. In keeping with the UN philosophy, it is cooperation and compromise that define the UN. How can you promote either when you attempt to drown your fellow delegates in a sea of rhetoric? When you’re trying to explain the formation of a new committee including its makeup, representation, and voting procedures in a short thirty second moderated caucus speech, it is best to approach it simplistically. There is something about debating complex issues and wearing snazzy suits that makes us talk bigger and elaborate more than we usually would. However, we must always remember that at its base, effective communication is the key to winning. I often see delegates fall into the trap of continuous long-winded rhetoric. There are times for those eloquent speeches such as in opening statements, but there are times to be simple so that everyone can appreciate the infallible logic of your proposal. This simplicity goes far beyond Model UN. In the future corporate world you may be called to give a short presentation on an incredibly complicated issue for your boss. Our first nature is to cloak ourselves in “intelligence” in order to show that we know our stuff. But, having the ability to take a complicated issue, simplify it, and have immediate general understanding is an incredibly rare skill not many people possess but everyone will appreciate.  So if the next time you’re having trouble conveying an idea to a group of delegates. Dumb it down. People will still acknowledge you as an expert on the topic, but they will also appreciate the effort you made to ensure general understanding and participation.

3. Identifying what Drives People

Not everyone at conference is there to win. A committee will consist of a diverse assortment of people. Some people are there for grades, or just to skip school. Others generally want to discuss international issues but in a non-competitive manner. Figuring out other delegates’ goals and what they want from conference will help you in merging and compromise. This skill is most useful in the merging process for resolutions. Typically, there are those individual lead sponsors that are in it to win. As such, what drives them above all else is sponsorship. So in merging with these people, you appease them by giving them sponsor status. Some others will accept a signatory status as long as they are allowed to present ideas to the committee. Right before voting on a resolution, those students that are apathetic towards MUN are your key targets. Since they have yet to be firmly grounded in their beliefs their vote can be easily swayed. Sometimes it just takes a few personal interactions and their vote is yours. Other times they may want something more specific dealing with phrasing or a certain word. In garnering votes or just general support, identifying what drives people can help you influence them. This way there is less posturing and gesturing. You can get straight to the point and efficiently acquire the necessary  support for your ideas. Understanding the social environment and makeup of your committee will go a long way towards helping you navigate the intricate social web at conference and in the world.

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