So you want to be on top?
I remember my first Model UN conference. The passage of time has left me with a pleasant reminiscence. However, in reality I was so nervous beforehand I was struggling to function normally. Not only was I the only one from my school going, I wasn’t sure what to wear, how much I was expected to know or how I was going to find the entrance to the university building.
USEFUL TIP #1: RELAX
Model UN, while intellectually stimulating and sometimes challenging, is meant to be fun. Conferences are what you make of them, and so with this blog post I hope to impart a few tips that will help you make the most of events.
Chances are, if you are taking time to read this blog, you are committed to a number of extra-curricular activities already. Preparing for a Model UN Conference need not be a major time-suck. It in fact can be quite a fulfilling experience. Allocate some to reading a little about your country- a useful guide for this, especially for first-timers, is the ‘My Country’ sheet.
You are not expected to be an expert on your given country, but knowing about its government, history, and economy will facilitate your involvement in committee sessions. Read-up on recent news articles relating to the region and your member state.
USEFUL TIP #2: A real gold mine for research is the website of country’s permanent mission to the UN. There, you will find their foreign policy outlined in black and white, and I would highly recommend taking a look.
Read through the resolutions beforehand, and make sure you understand why the issue is being discussed. Because UN Youth is nice and helpful, you will often be provided with a briefing paper. Ensure you understand all the terminology, because you don’t want to waste valuable committee time getting explanations for something you could have Googled yourself.
USEFUL TIP #3:
Before the conference, I always found it helpful to go through each operative (numbered) clauses and, using your understanding of your country’s stance on the issue, marking it with either a tick, cross, or question mark. By doing that, you get a rough idea of where your country stands on the resolution as a whole. You may have to remove or alter a certain clause in order for the resolution to be favourable to your country, for example.
USEFUL TIP #4:
The first part of a resolution, what are known as the preambulatory clauses, serves as an introduction to the issue, and they are not subject to debate. They will often mention previous documents or resolutions pertaining to the resolution at hand. What I have found helpful in the past is to research these referenced resolutions and look up the voting records. This is likely to give you a very clear indication of where your member state stands in relation to the issue, as you will be able to see how they voted in the real UN.
Now, remember that you are representing the government of your member state, not the population. This can be easily confused, especially if there are popular movements occurring within their borders. It is not your place to decide whether the governmental stance is right or wrong, for you are playing the role of a public servant, and you are there to voice their official policy. While this can sometimes be difficult, being forced to argue from another point of view is one of the beautiful education journeys you will embark on with UN Youth.
For more experienced delegates, one thing I found useful was researching your state’s foreign relations, and there is a section for it on most country pages on Wikipedia. This means you can approach other countries with authority, for example ‘We have strong diplomatic ties, so you would probably be interested in supporting this…’ It can be particularly useful to see how your country gets on with the more powerful members, or countries which are especially concerned by the resolution, as this may influence your state’s voting.
In addition, if a clear divide in the issue becomes apparent during your research, looking into the opposing side’s views, the reasons for it, and the actions taken, will mean that you will be able to question their stance more competently, and perhaps give you a better chance of reaching a compromise.
That brings me to an important point: act in a constructive matter. The goal of a Model UN is to achieve something, namely to pass a resolution. Thus, your goal is to make that document appealing for your country, and ideally the majority of others also.
Always remember that your country is in that committee, debating that resolution, for a reason. Its relevance may not be instantly clear, but you have to look beyond the obvious. If you are truly lost as to where your country’s government opinion lies, take a look at some of your allies, especially your regional grouping. You will have mutual goals and views a lot of the time, so work together.
If your country isn’t a fan of the resolution as it stands, propose an amendment; try and make it better. Do not, however, get hung up on what percentage of GDP should be dedicated to whatever cause. This is just annoying.
Furthermore, in the real UN, they can spend hours debating the placement of a comma. In Model UN, we simply do not have time to dedicate to such details. By all means, strive for accurate semantics and sound wording, but often you will have to allow for things that are less than perfect.
This will all probably seem more complicated than it really is. So I will ask you now, please do not be intimidated by the more experienced of the bunch. Just because they come up to you wielding a pen and an amendment form and using words you don’t understand does not mean you have to sign it. You and only you are the representative of your country, so how your country chooses to vote is your decision.
If your member state is particularly relevant to the issue, you have a specific responsibility to be prepared. For example, if you are the delegate for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and you are debating nuclear disarmament, the debate will not be as interesting or active if you cannot participate in a capable manner. You can research as much or as little as you like, but Model UN conferences are always more fun if you have a firm grounding in what is going on.
USEFUL TIP #5:
If you are nervous about speaking, a really good place to start is by asking a Point of Information. This is a question directed to a delegate at the conclusion of their speech. Committee sessions are a lot more enjoyable when you’re participating in them, so do not be afraid to raise your placard and express your country’s views. If you don’t understand a point that they’ve made, you can use a Point of Information to ask the delegate to clarify.
Similarly, if you have made the leap into giving a speech, don’t be nervous about taking points of information at the end. It makes you appear significantly more confident in your country’s stance, and if your understanding of the issue is sound, fielding questions should be a breeze.
If another delegate asks you a question that you can’t answer, remember that there is no cross-floor debate, so it is easy for you to avoid the question. Just reply nicely that this delegate believes it should be examined at a later date.
The points do not have to be means by which you rip apart a delegate’s speech, you can also use them to offer your support or emphasise a particularly positive point another delegate has made.
USEFUL TIP #6: As long as you seem confident, chances are everyone in the room will think you are too.
While it is tempting to call everyone by their country name, also take the time to learn their real names and get to know a little bit about them. You’re likely to find a whole lot of people who are as nervous as you. One of the best parts about Model UN is the opportunity to meet a variety of new people, so make friends, talk to people, and at the next conference you go to you will feel popular and it will be awesome.
Don’t just approach others when you want them to be signatory for your amendment. If you take interest in their country’s views and ideas, they are more likely to give you the same respect.
USEFUL TIP #7:
Use unmoderated caucus time (Model UN-speak for a free-for-all lobbying session) to see what the other member states are hoping to achieve. Do not sit in your seat and pretend to be texting.
And please, take it seriously, but not too seriously. You are here dressed in a suit and wearing a name badge out of choice, so no one is going to believe you are too hipster to care. On the other hand, we know it’s cool to be the USA, but never forget that this is Model UN, and if you want the people in your committee to accept your friend requests later, try and not let the power go to your head.
In large sessions, such as the General Assembly, you may find it frustrating trying to get on the speakers’ list. I have a few tricks that may help in this situation, but number one, thrusting your placard in the air and making faces at the Chair is not going to help your case.
The Chair will try and give everyone an opportunity to speak, so one way to improve your chances of getting to the podium is to save raising your placard until your country really needs to speak. If you haven’t been chosen before, it is more likely you’ll get picked.
This is also a reason why you should aim to be as involved as possible in your smaller committee sessions, because you’ll regret the relative ease with which you could share your country’s views once you compare it to the plenary.
USEFUL TIP #8:
If you’re feeling especially OCD, you can pre-write notes to the Chair, such as ‘The delegate of [your country] to speak for the resolution’, so as soon as note passing opens, you can get your note to the Chair. I have found this eliminates the unpleasant, frantic ripping of pieces of refill and illegible handwriting that can occur in the rush to get on the speakers’ list.
Moreover, this is when your allies can come in handy. Under the Rules of Procedure, there can be a ‘yield chain’ of up to three speakers. Generally, as long as the delegate is on the speakers’ list, you can yield the floor to them. This can allow you to have three subsequent speeches of a similar stance, meaning you will be able to send a clear message to those in your committee. And while you do this, remember to never use personal pronouns, otherwise the Chair may pull you up on this, and that will just disrupt your train of thought.
After all this, I must admit that there is no substitute for practical experience, but I promise you will get the feel for Model UN very quickly. Every conference you will go to you will improve your skills and confidence, as well as your general knowledge. With a bit of effort, Model United Nations can become one of the most positive parts of your time as a secondary school student- and beyond.
USEFUL TIP #9: There are so many opportunities out there, so do not hesitate to get involved.
To conclude, honourable delegates, be fierce, but diplomatic, and you will still be in the running to make a difference!