Tips and Tricks to Master MUN Conference Debates

by nabila.elassar on October 28, 2014

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It’s never easy sitting in that conference hall, surrounded by countless other delegations- the eager, the fighter, the hard worker and the researcher, all colliding in a heated debate to push forward their country’s interests.

At this point, mastering your speeches and learning to direct the flow of the council debate are not just good skills, they’re invaluable weapons in the artillery of the best delegate.

This article will give you a set of small, yet powerful tools to turn your speeches from good, to influential, effective, and very well remembered.

THE DO’S

#1 Come Prepared.

You would be surprised how many people miss this. To start discussing your point of view, you must actually have one well formed. Make sure that before you walk into the room, you:

1. Understand the topic fully,
2. Know your country’s stance on the case very well,
3. Are prepared with a strong opening statement

Do not just come prepared with papers or speeches written down, but with your delegation’s weaknesses, previous issues, economic weaknesses, and questionable actions about the case and prepare rebuttals for them. Other delegates will definitely be prepared, so it is your job to be well aware and prepared as well. Anticipate attacks from other delegates, and come up with answers to refute them. Receiving criticisms/attacks from your delegation can harm your influence, so be sure to address them. In addition, if your rebuttal was not ready in time, you may have a weaker chance regaining respect in the committee.

#2 Maintain Diplomacy.

The biggest indicator of a valued debate is that the two opponents respect each other. Think of presidential debates: shake hands, exchange compliments, and then get down to business. In Model UN conferences, you do not see delegates throwing diplomatic decorum out the window when they are provoked. Always maintain diplomatic decorum, in the room, outside the room, during debate, during caucus, always. Check out tips for diplomacy here.

Undermining the other person by rolling your eyes, interrupting or ridiculing makes you look weaker. It is a sign of insecurity, and it will be viewed as such by the audience. Respect the other delegates, even if they are completely opposed to your opinion or bloc. This will make you look more professional, and serve to strengthen your arguments, not vice versa. Stay away from this and focus more on this.

#3 The best defense is a good offense.

This does not just apply to American football. Start the criticism of opposing delegations with facts you have discovered weaken their stance. Demand that specific actions or statements of their country are explained. Be the first to stir the water, and this just may get them pre-occupied long enough with refuting your attacks.

You may then use this valuable time to form dialogue with other delegations, set your ground in the debate flow, or simply put them in the “defender” rather than “attacker” position. Of course, they may have already expected your argument, and immediately offer a rebuttal. They may even attack back with weaknesses of your own. But, attacking still demonstrates that you are a force to be reckoned with.

#4 The best debater is the best listener.
If you think that the best debater is the one who talks the most… Think again. You can keep talking, but if you don’t listen very carefully to what other delegations (your opponent) is saying, your speeches will be void, it will be as if you are talking in an empty room.
This mistake is made so much in MUN conferences… The delegates don’t listen carefully to each other and keep track of everything being said, mostly because they are too busy formulating their own speeches.
Remember, your speeches should be based on what the other delegates are saying. Your biggest asset, your biggest weapon in that conference is the other delegations’ speeches…. Every single word coming out if the other delegates mouth are gold… More on that later.

#5 Agree, and then refute
Here’s a very cool trick that comes from listening. Start by agreeing with the other delegation, with what can be agreed with (and what won’t hurt you) and then, refute it. It will make the power of your refute multiply.

Example:

Delegation of y supports military intervention as a means to achieving peace & stability in a region, and to maintaining international peace & security.
Delegation x disagrees. Therefore, he can say: “the delegation of X firmly agrees with the delegation of Y. This region is quite unstable and is in dire need of immediate measures to promote its political stability.”
(note: X just caught Y off guard, he can’t disagree with x agreeing with him, can he ? )

Then X can say: “however, military intervention is undoubtedly the most destructive path to achieving any stability in this region within the next 3 years. Multiple examples from previous military interventions should have taught us this by now. Does the delegation of y not agree that the intervention in country……. Has resulted in casualties amounting to……….., and does the example of …………. Not demonstrate that little/no stability has been reached even after 5 years of intervention ? Honorable delegates, let’s face it, military intervention is likely to make matters worse…”

See how this made X’s argument stronger, than if they had just began by disagreeing?

#6 Use other delegate’s speeches against them.

The best trick that can come for listening to the other delegates speeches. How can you best apply this?

  1. Try and find contradictions in the delegate’s different speeches.
  2. Remind him of when their country (delegation) did something against what they are saying/ standing up for.

    Example: when a delegate speaks about “democracy”, use the fact that his country has been criticized for level of civil democracy. When a country speaks about the rights of women, use statistics showing they have the highest number of sexual harassment and domestic violence in the world…etc.

  3. Just agree with one minor point/ concept/ goal, then refute and refute and refute.

    Example: agree with a goal that a third party made a mistake, and then show how you will fix it. Or, agree with a problem the opponent is discussing, then highlight his role in it.

 

 #7 Find a “universal principal” everyone agrees on.
First, know your audience, then start your speech by stating a universal principal that everyone in the room will agree with.

Example: “human suffering and deaths are a tragedies no one can deny” or “the secret to any solution is cooperation”, or “patience, determination, and solidarity, are the ways to reach anything worthwhile”

Notice how the phrases seem like common sense. However, before you have started discussing your actual relevant points of debate, the entire audience will have for a moment, agreed with you.  This takes you off the “bad guy, just block everything he says list” and puts you on the “Hmmm… Maybe he does have a point” list (subconsciously of course). Then, move on to your controversial points.

“The only way to stop the casualties is by intervention” or: “in order to prevent any more casualties, we must stand in the face of this intervention”

This small trick will make your speeches & arguments more convincing to the audience.

 #8 Turn a perceived weakness into a strength.
There is one timeless example to this rule.

In a presidential debate, when a much younger candidate attacked President Reagan due to his senior age, he replied by saying: I will not, for political purposes, exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience”

He won the campaign, and that says it all. When you have a weakness, turn it into a strength.

#9 Capture the audience’s attention.
The golden rule, yet one of the biggest mistakes made in MUN conferences: when a delegate fails to capture the attention of his audience. Here is the ugly truth: if you do not capture and maintain the eyes and ears of the other delegates in that room while making your speech, then your speech is not heard. It is the other delegates’ responsibility to pay attention to your speeches, but it is also your responsibility to make them know why this speech is important to them, and make it get their attention.

Secret strategy: If you want to be convincing,  capture and maintain attention, or be influential, use your body language and know the importance of non-verbal communication. This is the biggest conveyor of what you want to say.

How?
Manipulate the tone of your voice,
Make eye contact,
Make your voice clear and stable at all times.
Address a specific delegation when speaking,
Do something dramatic at the beginning,
Have confidence!

And make sure that when you speak, everyone listens.

#10 Use Facts.

The backbone of your speeches should be facts. No one can argue with facts. They can however, certainly argue with opinions. Facts are a commonly ignored, yet a pivotal weapon in debate strengthening. They make you believable; provide credibility and make your speeches virtually indestructible.

Use the facts in your case. Research more facts. Use facts as strategic weapons (your strengths and others weaknesses).

Just keep in mind: your opponent may also be prepared with facts on the same case. For instance, you both have numbers and dates of previous resolutions, strengthening two different arguments. Therefore, a tip in this case, is to use your magic. Example: “the delegation of x supports delegation y in retrieving this information. We would also like to point out to certain historic facts that are even more relevant to the case, and will serve to demonstrate and prove our claim that….”

This paves the way for delegation x’s info, even before they have said it.

#11 Capitalize on your strengths.
Many delegates forget to keep their eyes on the ball and focus on the strengths they already have that can be mentioned or used in the debate they are trying so hard to gain foothold in.

For instance, a country is accused of a specific violation, and is under attack. But this country also has some incidents in which it did something right, and that is already mentioned in the case.

A country under attack may have a specific resource at its disposal (ex: scientific research facilities for instance) that can be offered in the middle of a heated debate to show willingness to cooperate or, as a strategic leverage point.

When in doubt, always remember your side’s strengths, what good things you have, or did, or can do… And turn the focus on them.

#12 Find common ground, and keep using it.
When you find the debate is getting too heated, and you need a certain delegation on your side, try to find something you both agree on, either from your foreign policy research or the other’s speeches.

For instance, “as delegation y stated, we aim for peace and stability for this region, and let us assure, so do we, we do not disagree, so let’s work together”. If you have a common rival. If you have any common interests or stances, use them. Remember them. They will be very helpful.

#13 Small people make small points.

When you are discussing a serious and heavy subject, do not get side tracked and get too absorbed into insignificant details. Keep your eyes on the ball, as your conference time is limited. Many delegates lose sight of the main committee topic, and spend too much time arguing over a sub-topic, that will have little influence over the operative clauses of the resolution.

If you note  that this is happening, remember, small people make small points. Keep the resolution in mind, and spend your speech and debate time wisely.

#14 Appeal to Emotions.
This is a powerful tool. Most of your cases will have some kind of human aspect. The difference between a good delegate and a great delegate is that: one will just “mention” the human aspect, and the other will exploit it, capitalize on it, press on & describe it, till the people in the room actually feel it. You can say: “people died.” And you can deeply explain how many people died.

Case applying to Syria

Scenario 1: “7500 people have died since the beginning of this instability. We must take action to stop this crisis.”
Scenario 2: “seven thousand five hundred human beings. 7500 mothers, and sisters and children, daughters and brothers and friends. Some died shot in the back, running, some in the face, while defending their brothers. All for what? For standing up for their freedom. For demanding a better brighter future for the generations to come. Because they wanted to stop the oppression and injustice of a tyrant ruler? I ask you, if we as nations stand by watching this catastrophe continues to unfold. If we sit here watching silently, as those who as k for justice are murdered, how are we different from those oppressing them. How are we not contributing to their death? Will we be the ones responsible? Honorable delegates, I ask you to say no to this injustice. To save these souls being wasted every day. To join me in demanding an immediate intervention in Syria.” This case has an obvious human angle.

Case on cyber security in a NATO council

Estonia was attacked and had massive shut down of major systems for days. Doesn’t seem too emotional? Here is how it can be: “We, the proud, independent country of Estonia. Those who have protected their people and insured their rights and our sovereignty as a nation for years have been brought down. After a malicious attempt to destroy our infrastructure, and the systems our civilization stands upon was sadly, successful. Millions of dollars, lost. Thousands became unemployed. Lives of countless families have been changed forever. I ask you, our fellow nations, not to stand for this infringement upon human dignity, and basic right to live safely, freely. I ask you to assist us in punishing the perpetrators.”

 #15 Admit fault.
When necessary, when you are cornered, or when your side truly has made a mistake, admit the fault. This is not translatable into: give up on your argument. To the contrary. Admitting fault in this little part in which you can no longer prove you were right, will actually strengthen your other arguments.

Example: one side is defending republicans, and the other opposes them.
We have two scenarios:
Scenario 1: “I don’t know what everyone is criticizing. The republican party have done absolutely nothing wrong. Everything they do is the right thing. Without them, we would be nowhere! Anyone who says otherwise is just blind or a traitor! “
Scenario 2: Yes, they may have made some mistakes in x,y,z. However, these mistakes were countered by many other good actions like a,b,c. In addition, their mistakes negative consequences are much smaller than the benefits of their positive actions. They also are the only party who… “

Notice how the second scenario seemed so much more professional. Even if both times, the speaker disagrees with you. The second time, you were much more inclined to listen…

#17 Exploit Fallacies.
The most fun part. Fallacies are errors in logic and reasoning used in arguments to avoid the issue, or to use a non-scientific approach to win the debate. An eternal question. Should I use fallacies in my speech? Scientifically, fallacies once used, invalidate arguments. However, realistically, they are in fact used, all too often. In presidential debates, in political debates, even in diplomatic debates. I would advise keeping them in store for dire moments in the conference, as a final resort.

Caution: fallacies are very controversial. If you were to use one, do it very carefully.

Fallacy #1: Red Herring
When you refute an argument with an irrelevant argument, to create the illusion for response and rebuttal, when you actually have not addressed the issue at hand.
Example: you are arguing over a recent criminal court decision that found a person guilty of a particular crime. You think the defendant should have been found: not guilty. Your opponent disagrees, arguing, I think the sentence is perfectly fair. After all, under the statute, he could have gotten 25 to life.”
See how that took your attention off of the actual issue for a second?

Fallacy #2: Straw Man
When you re-state your opponents claim in a weaker meaning, or exaggerated light. It’s used quite frequently in political debates.
Example: You’re arguing about the government’s military spending, which you believe to be excessive and should be cut back. Your opponent says, “where would that money be better spent — on repaving the interstate system? I just don’t think our country would be better off defenseless and vulnerable to terrorists, but that’s just me.”
See what was done here? Another way is to simply re-state someone’s claim in an exaggerated way. Not in the exact words, but with a twisted meaning.

Fallacy 3: Slippery Slope
It is when the debater exploits cause and effect. It is when you keep drafting illogical conclusions, or conclusions that are not necessarily the result of the input variable…

Example: Someone says: I suggest legalizing abortions… I believe in freedom”. You say: “abortions in essence are murder of an innocent soul. Are you with murdering an innocent soul? Furthermore, if murdering innocent souls becomes “benign” and legal, then the concept of murder will also be “benign” and seen less negatively. And if the concept of murder becomes “benign”, then crime rates will increase, and everyone will run around killing each other! Do you want people to run around killing each other? Do you want us to live in a jungle? I would rather live in a world where killing is still seen as wrong… To be safe, and to promise a good future for my children and the coming generations…”
As you may have noticed, an alarming number of “illogical” conclusions were made from the above input of: legalizing abortions, which in reality, probably will not mean we will all live in a jungle…

Fallacy #4: Ad hominem
It is when you refute an attack with another irrelevant attack, to deviate attention from the issue, or to put them in a defensive, rather than offensive state.
Example: X says: “I believe in the importance of government spending on health care”. Y says: “It’s not like you’re very careful at watching your health”
X says: This intervention is not legitimate. Y says: Your car’s paint is illegitimate! and other personal attacks.
How can this be adapted for MUN conference?
Example: Country X is being attacked by another for an illegal action, and it is in fact an illegal action. X can flip the table, and attack the other country for any similar illegal action (This is often used in conferences when it is in fact, a fallacy)

 

THE DON’TS

#1 Never underestimate your opponent.
People have an astounding potential to surprise you, and MUN brings out the best in most of us. If you underestimate a delegate that seems unprepared, chances are, he will later start showing you just how hard he is prepared, and end up bringing out his best in that conference, and then you won’t know what hit you. More often than not, “the little country who could” ends up being remembered the most, and the highest impact on committee. Remember that next time you accidentally look over a quiet delegate….

#2 Don’t cram.
It’s good to use facts, and have a comprehensive speech. But, pay attention to speeches being too long, or listing too many historical facts in the speech (like resolution numbers, exact dates.. etc). One or two historic facts can have a higher impact than stating 10 that serve the same purpose.

The point is to be dramatic in your speeches. To make your point, convince people, and capture and maintain attention while trying to. Too many facts crammed into one speech, can hinder that.

#3 Never lose your cool.
No matter how heated things get, no matter how provoked you become or pressured you feel, do not lose your cool, composure, and air of being collected and in control. In the eyes of your audience, this is a sign of defeat. It means the other person won. Just then and there, this could change everything.

#4 Don’t use absolutes “always and never”.
Using these terms in a formal diplomatic debate can make you seem unprofessional. Try pin pointing specific incidents in which something happened. Or using “more often than not”. Or possibly asking a question.. For instance, rather than, you have never stood up for human rights in your country, say: “honorable delegate, can you tell me when your country has actually promoted human rights in a substantial manner?”

#5 Never say: this doesn’t involve me.
Every single country in the conference can be heavily involved in the debate if they choose to be. There is no such thing as ‘my country is not relevant to this conflict”.

You can make yourself relevant. As I said before, “the little country who could” ends up having the most impact on the conference. “The little country who could” is defined as a small country, that is not highly prominent in international politics that is not directly related to the conflict. These countries however, have a lot of wiggle room in the conference, and own a huge array of power.

If this is your delegation, use these Tips:

1. Start by asserting your presence in your early speeches. People pay attention to whomever they can remember. If you act “weak”, you will be seen as “a weak country”.
2. Attack and heat up the debate when the argument cools, and act as the “mediator” when the debate gets too heated, and all other delegates start attacking each other.
3. Propose practical solutions, always. When the others are caught up in a feud and things are starting to run in circles, be the one to cut in and propose the solution.
4. Offer your assistance. There must be something your country has that can be used as a tool to be offered in the time where it can be helpful.
5. Your delegation is an asset to the other countries, because your foreign policy is likely to be malleable. Every block will be trying to get your supporting vote on their resolution.
You can ask for benefits, ask for something your country (politically or economically) needs, and ask for it to be written in the resolution.

#6 Never ever lose faith in yourself.
This is my most important piece of advice. When the going gets tough and things aren’t turning out the way you want, do not sit back and start doubting yourself. “They are just too good, this is just too hard, and I don’t stand a chance”. Don’t let tough times discourage you! The conference is supposed to be challenging. When that moment comes, get up, get working and never lose faith in yourself.

#7 Always believe in what you are defending.
If you don’t believe it, neither will anyone else in the room. You don’t need to believe in the side you are defending, but believe your argument has merit.

If you personally do not believe in your delegation’s actions, remember: you are not you. You are your delegation. This country now entrusts you to maintain its welfare and interests and do the very best you can to uphold its sovereignty and final benefit. You must believe the defenses and justifications you give to defend this nation and it’s people in a simulated environment, in which a true crisis is being discussed.

Become your delegation. This will imprint on all your speeches, and the way that you say them, and how you act in the caucus, and how you perform in the whole conference. This is what makes a good delegate, from the best delegate.. One who “speaks as or on behalf of his delegation,” and one who truly is his delegation is successful.

#8 One size does not fit all.
CAUTION: These tips & tricks do not apply to every debate you enter.
In your life, there will be debates with friends, family, in a classroom, in a friendly discussion. Do not follow a friendly debate like this to the death, and stick to it till the end of time.
Define what it means to win… Ask before you even go into a debate: what are your goals, and what are the stakes?

Honorable delegate, the conference is a form of debate, where you try to convince the room with your foreign policy’s stance, and reach a resolution that maintains as many of your interests as possible. Make it count, enjoy it, and use these tips & tricks wisely.

 

  • Jitinder

    “5 Secret Strategy: Use other delegate’s speeches against them.”
    About the concept of them being hypocrites (to some extent) ie. Talking about democracy while things aren’t too great in their country:
    Is there an example of a phrase that you can give in this case?
    The one I can think of is, “The delegate spoke about democracy and how it is everyone’s birth right but isnt it ironic that in “X”Country the people have no rights whatsoever to vote for their leader?”
    Any improvements would be appreciated.

    • Fatima Ghani

      It would be better to relate to events after you state what is happening in that particular country as it will strengthen your argument. However, I don’t see the link of this with the secret strategy.
      PS: This is a conclusion of my experience and what the chairs have told me while giving a feedback.

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