Ask any delegate about the skills that they would like to improve through Model United Nations (MUN) and, chances are, most would mention “debating skills.”
But before we go into detail on how to master the art of debate, let us begin by asking ourselves the following question, what is debating?
Debating is the skill developed when two (or more) parties orally engage with each other’s ideas, arguments, and policies on a particular issue, aiming to convince others to favor their respective views, find a compromise, or build an environment that supports coexistence. In a Model United Nations setting, successful debating implies delivering calculated speeches during formal meetings, making statements in informal sessions, and deliberating on opposing views.
As the typical debate enthusiast knows, the following three main pillars must be followed to make a proper debate: content preparation, presentation style, and strategic planning. Skilled debaters tend to develop their own debating style and strategy depending on their position, opponent(s), and sought end result, through experience and observation.
Nonetheless, as debaters, we should not content ourselves with being familiar with the pillars above – and trying to crack their code over long periods of time. Instead, let us explore how to use said pillars to jumpstart our debating skills from good to great.
Following is a sneak peek of 16 secrets to mastering debate from the 25 we teach at the United Ambassadors MUN Academy:
1. Know your stance
This is a crucial part of content preparation. Every delegate in a Model UN committee has a stance towards an issue, whether this is in favor, against or neutral. Knowing your represented country’s views will help you embody the ambassador delegates aim to become through MUN, and will determine your approach to the issue under debate.
2. Come prepared
This is an enormously overlooked piece of advice, despite making the difference between a successful debate and a mediocre one. Regardless of one’s stance, when preparing content for speeches and negotiations, it is essential to anticipate possible points of contention that might lead to debate and to think of arguments both for and against it. Being prepared to attack conflicting ideas and defend your country’s weaknesses will provide you with a head start even before debate begins.
3. Always respect your opponent
Disrespecting your opponent not only implies disregarding one of MUN’s fundamental values – diplomacy – but also the loss of professionalism in your strategy; your arguments would seem to be insufficient to win the debate, steering you into attacking others out of sheer desperation.
4. The best defense is a good offense
Being the first to attack antagonistic positions not only prevents you from being at the bull’s eye of the debate from the outset, but this compelling strategy also buys you valuable time to keep developing your argument while your counterparty remains in the defensive.
5. The best debater is the best listener
When you are not making a statement in committee, do not just tune out other delegates; instead, listen actively to their statements. Use them to find common ground, scan for loopholes and contradictions in their speeches, and exploit your counterparty’s words against them – they will be your most valuable resource in the debate. As Arthur Miller put it, your opponent “can quicker get back a million dollars that was stolen than a word [they] gave away.”
6. Agree first, then refute
This technique adds validity to your statements. By having listened to other delegates, then agreeing on what your country does not oppose, and later taking advantage of the attention gained by agreeing to refute others’ arguments, yours will be much more convincing. Use the content of other delegates to your advantage.
7. Transform a perceived weakness into a strength
More often than not, arguments in MUN will have a flipside to them. Therefore, flip over any attacks against your country’s delegation; this immediately invalidates the argument. Take former United States president Ronald Reagan as an example: during the 1984 presidential debate, he was attacked for his old age. He responded, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” As such, he invalidated any further attacks on his age.
8. Grasp others’ attention
From a blunt perspective, an argument that is not listened to is no better than no argument at all. Thus, gaining an audience’s rapt attention is essential to a successful debate. How to guarantee this? By stressing keywords in your speech, pausing after mentioning key points to allow them to sink in, modifying your tone of voice to emphasize impacting statements or facts, and utilizing body language to accompany your words.Also, , its needs, desires, and perspectives on the issue at hand, and ensure that the style used to present your argument is appropriate to it. For further tips on public speaking, click here.
9. Use facts as the backbone of your argument
If you think that facts lose importance in MUN due to the current political climate, think again. The work of the United Nations and its Member States continues to be driven by the data they collect, so facts must be a key weapon in your debating arsenal. Use them to attack conflicting ideas, and defend your own. Boost your confidence and show committee that you did your research. However, bear in mind that they must be used sparingly, as your primary purpose will be to convince others, rather than lecture them on your knowledge.
10. Play on the emotional side
An overwhelming number of MUN delegates tend to merely mention numerical statistics in the hope that these will aid them in gaining support for their arguments. Nevertheless, they overlook the fact that the United Nations discusses the issues in its agenda because they affect human lives, either directly or indirectly. So humanize what affects human beings!
11. Exploit fallacies
As a last resort, fallacies may be employed during debate to weaken an uncomfortable argument against your position. These include red herring, straw man, slippery slope, and ad hominem, which constitute a subtle yet irrelevant response to an opposing argument, an exaggeration or trivialization of a point, an exploitation of the use of cause and effect to ridicule it, and a personal attack that invalidates it, respectively. As a word of advice, these must be utilized cautiously and subtly; if they disrespect your opponent, then please avoid them - diplomacy always goes first.
Additionally, avoid the following:
1. Losing composure
Prevent yourself from showing this sign of insecurity and defeat; keep in mind that a weak debater will make a weak case.
2. Losing faith in yourself
Perhaps one of the most prominent reasons why delegates fail to convince others is because they lose confidence in themselves and stop pushing for their arguments. Remember that it is the mindset with which you approach the debate that determines your success in it.
3. Using absolutes
That’s right. Never say ‘always’ and never say 'never.' Generalizations weaken the validity of your points.
4. Escaping from the argument
Every delegate will have a part to play in discussions, so embrace that role, rather than believing that it does not involve you. Running away from a particular confrontation is a sign of losing the argument.
Finally, it is crucial to:
Believe in what you are saying
This may be the most critical piece of advice that is seldom mentioned to MUN delegates. While there is no textbook way to believe in your ideas, you must be convinced that your argument has merit, even if you disagree entirely with it. Do not expect others to believe you if you do not believe in what you are saying.
Take it Further
For extensive training on debating in MUN, apply to attend the United Ambassadors MUN Academy! Delve even deeper into the world of MUN in California or Dubai in 2018. Applications for Dubai 2018 are already open. Put your debating skills to the test at our cutting-edge international conferences in Geneva and New York City!