Model UN is meant to be fun and enriching. Enriching how? Personally, I’ll never get tired of droning on about the way it forces you to open yourself to new realities and new points of view. It’s like a dose of unadulterated empathy straight to the brain. But there are also other more practical benefits. Namely, Model UN, along with debating tournaments, are probably the best way of improving your public speaking skills. There is always a couple of very brave people that go to models although they have stage fright and spend most of the model trying to ramp up the courage to raise their placards. And when they finally participate, raising with trembling hands and stammering voices, I think it is beautiful. At that point they are transcending a simulation of the United Nations to tap into their better selves, in an open attempt to overcome their fears and improve as a person, which ultimately is what Model UN is all about.
Nonetheless, although catharsis is all very well and fine, there are things you can do to prepare for public speaking at a MUN -note I don’t say “first MUN”; stage fright can take a long time to shake off.
In this article I would like to present some of the techniques, very easy games, you can practice with your friends, or with your MUN/debate organization. Alternatively, if you are chairing a committee of beginners, you might want to do some of these in session zero, to get people started. Some of these I’ve taken part in myself, while my friends at debate societies have also given me some ideas.
1. I couldn’t disagree more: Being snappy comes handy during conferences, as often you won’t have time to prepare a very well-thought-out response. In this game you get in a circle and delegate A has to make a statement (which can be controversial, comic, obvious or whatever courses through his or her mind at that point). Delegate B has to refute that point in a sentence, starting with “I couldn’t disagree more”, and then make another statement, for delegate C to refute. The goal of the game is to go as fast as possible, and when someone takes too long, he or she is out. I guarantee you, nobody will be as mean in actual models. Another good point of this game is that it forces you to listen carefully to what other are saying, which is something sadly lacking in some conferences.
2. Boat debate: Pick 5 or 6 people and have each one assume the identity of a historical or famous person (think Marie Curie, Fidel Castro, Kim Kardashian or Cleopatra). Then, inform them that the boat is rapidly sinking and that one of them has to jump into the icy waters that surround them. Each of the passengers gets a minute to explain to the audience why they deserve to stay on the boat, and then it is voted. The last person left on the boat wins. This activity will probably come to mind as you are trying to explain a room full of unimpressed audiences why a no-flight zone is better than an armed intervention. Also, maybe don’t pick Leonardo Di Caprio.
3. The Point of Information game: Although this one might be more oriented towards those in a debate tournament, it can also come in very handy when you are trying to defend your draft resolution, or even simply your position. A person gets assigned a controversial topic, which he or she has to defend with clear reasons and examples. The other members of the group shall stand up and say “point of information”, which should be limited to a minute or a minute and a half. The speaker does not have to accept all of them, but if he or she does, he or she will have to answer whilst continuing their speech. This might seem easy, but depending on the point it is devilishly hard to give a satisfactory answer without losing track of your own line of argumentation.
4. Just a minute: The moderator chooses a topic that needs no previous preparation. When the first person starts speaking about the topic, start a stopwatch. If any of the other delegates feels like the first speaker is straying from the point or repeating things, he or she should challenge the speaker by raising their hand and explaining their objection. If the challenge is accepted, the challenger will take over the speaker, as the stopwatch is set to zero. The speaker that manages to get to zero without being interrupted by a successful challenge is the winner.
5. Mock MUN: And then of course you have the most typical one, organizing a mock debate about what’s better, Microsoft or Apple, New York or London, etc. Alternatively, if you want to make it a tad more challenging, invent your own foreign policy situation. Cases on point: Morocco invades Italy and takes over the Vatican. Taiwan annexes mainland China. Ridiculous situations often help taking the edge off and alleviating the pressure that is associated with public speaking.
There are dozens of games like these. Nonetheless, as I have written before, the best way of becoming a good MUNer is practice in as many real-life conferences as possible. Being nervous is unavoidable, but the way you tackle that nervousness is entirely up to you. Remember that no one is there to make fun of you. Model UN is one of the most supportive communities, filled with like-minded people in environments where you can get started practicing public speaking and fast-thinking. As a parting word of advice, as they say, just keep practicing. It is the only way, to keep getting better.