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Giving good speeches is a key skill at a Model UN. Speeches are the most important way of convincing members of your committee to support your points of view and proposed solutions. Those who speak frequently and articulately are most likely to steer the course of discussions in their favour.
Feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and healthy. It shows you care about doing well. But too much nervousness can work against you. The most important thing is to seek and grab opportunities for speaking. Remember that practice makes perfect, and this experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.
You must also be aware that at different times during a Model UN simulation you will be expected to make different types of speeches:
Making an opening speech
As the committee begins, you will normally be asked to make an opening speech. These speeches generally provide broad overviews of your country’s views on the topic. You should cite national policy and highlight the facets of the problem you feel are most important.
This can be a great way to win over other delegates right at the outset of the conference. A simple, well prepared and well delivered speech will mark you out as a delegation of importance. You should represent your country accurately, but in a good light, seeking to earn the respect of other countries.
Other delegates will be outlining their national policy as well, so it is important to listen attentively and recognise countries that may agree or disagree with your position.
Open by using the full name of your country. If possible, use your assigned country's official language, e.g. La Republique Française (Republic of France) or Reino de España (Kingdom of Spain).
If the speech is to be delivered as part of an opening ceremony or General Assembly, you should keep it general, highlighting the most important problems that your country faces, particularly those being discussed during committees at the conference.
If your speech is to your committee on a specific topic chosen for discussion, you should spend most of your time talking about how your country is affected by the topic, what your country sees as its biggest concerns with the issue area and suggesting some solutions to the problem (only suggest solutions which would benefit your country, of course!).
The following speech frame will help you to write your speech.
Describe your country
Location, poor or rich, special concerns or circumstances (e.g. ongoing civil war, drought, member of the EU)
Something unique about your country
Include one or two interesting facts about your country, things that make it unique
What problems are faced by your people?
Hunger, clean water, disease, global warming, refugees, aggressive neighbours, conflicts, terrorism
What help, if any, do you need from the rest of the world?
Aid, trade, support, expertise, advice, removal of debt
Why is this topic important to your country?
Destabilises region, is a cause of poverty, kills lots of people in your country, violates principles that your country thinks are important
What do you think should be the first step to solving the problem presented by the topic?
Choose something that addresses the reasons why this topic is important to your country
What solutions can you propose?
Making a substantive speech
After the first hour or two, you should begin to make more substantive speeches, focussing on specific ways in which to handle a problem. Remarks at this time should also be geared toward formulating working papers, or informal documents that suggest solutions to the problem.
The following pattern is a good guideline for making a brief but persuasive speech.
- If possible start your speech from a point of agreement. Try to find an angle with which everybody in the room will agree. ‘We all believe that the sovereignty of states must be respected….’
- Then move towards the point of disagreement. ‘However, if countries fail to protect their own populations then their sovereignty is void. Sovereignty brings with it responsibility, and if countries fail to live up to that responsibility, then the international community has the right to intervene….’
- To finish, request a clear-cut action. ‘Let us pass a resolution that will allow such intervention and commit the international community to preventing massive human rights violations wherever and whenever they may occur.’
Once working papers have been approved and can be discussed, tailor your speech to discussing the merits of the various documents before the committee. Also, look to suggest revisions or wording for draft resolutions, writing a resolution which should be created at this time.
Once draft resolutions are approved and handed out, focus your formal remarks on individual resolutions, supporting those you feel are appropriate and explaining why you may disagree with others. At this time, delegates may be creating amendments to draft resolutions, so your speeches should also cover any specific clauses you feel should be inserted into the draft resolutions on the floor.
As the committee moves closer to voting procedure, use your speaking time to explain why you are supporting one or more draft resolutions and why the committee should vote with you.
Finally, remember that when you are in formal debate (using the speakers list) if you finish before your time is up, you can yield the remainder of your time to another delegate or to points of information (questions from other delegates on what you have just said). Opening yourself to questions is a very effective way of dealing with other delegates’ concerns, but can be tricky as you have to think on the spot.
Handling points of information
Many Model UN conferences permit other delegates to raise points of information, or pose questions to a speaker, if time permits. This is often used when speakers are discussing working papers and resolutions. Normally this will be to clarify a specific area of your stated policy so you can anticipate some question topics, but it is unlikely that you can ever be prepared for every question.
First of all, you can avoid being asked many difficult questions by identifying issues that may bring about confusion among your fellow delegates early in the committee session. More than likely, if other delegates do not understand some aspect of debate, it will come up later as a question.
When you are asked a question, just as in your speeches, try to keep your answers clear and concise. A straight answer is always best, although you may need to be more diplomatic in your tone on more sensitive issues.
If you can’t immediately answer a question, instead of saying ‘I don’t know’, which will impress no-one, it is always appropriate to state that whilst you cannot answer right now (‘I am afraid that I do not have the full facts to hand’), you will do your best find out and follow up with an answer during caucus. If the question is something of significance to the entire body, you may want to announce that answer (if you have found it) during your next speech.
Finally, remember to remain courteous, no matter how heated the exchange. Points of information usually start with: ‘Does the honourable delegate not agree…?’. You could in turn begin by answering ‘Argentina thanks the honourable delegate from Switzerland for their question, and we wholeheartedly agree/ but we fundamentally disagree…’. This also buys you a few extra seconds to consider your answer.
How to deliver a speech
Above all, speeches should be clear and concise. You should know exactly what key points you want to make as, if you're not familiar with those points, your nervousness will increase.
You must decide what style of speech will help you most in remembering these key points. Speeches can be written, improvised or delivered from memory. As speeches at a Model UN are never very long (even opening speeches are normally limited to two minutes), improvised speeches are normally best, as these can be delivered in a more natural and engaging style. But if you are not that confident, write out the entire speech – although this will normally sound more manufactured and contrived, it is better to make your points coherently than to stumble and fail to make them at all.
Styles of delivery
Written speeches often result in clear, concise statements and offer security for speakers worried about forgetting key points or stumbling through their delivery. On the other hand, written remarks can easily seem rigid or sound scripted to an audience. Relying on written speeches throughout a committee session also means that valuable debate time may be lost as a delegate spends their time writing their next set of remarks.
A written speech should be typed (or neatly printed, if written during a committee session) in a large font and double-spaced. This will help the speaker read the statement without getting lost. Delegates may also wish to mark (by bolding or underlining) certain words to help remind them to emphasise key points, or even pause, take a breath and slow down.
Of course, speaking time can vary during a Model UN committee session and it is often difficult to write prepared speeches to fit these changing lengths of time. If you are using written speeches, it is often useful to prepare remarks for two minutes and then highlight statements that are essential for your argument. If the speaking time turns out to be less than two minutes, you can cut back your speech by focusing only on the points you have highlighted.
One tendency of speakers using written remarks is to place the piece of paper with their notes directly in front of their face, inhibiting eye contact and decreasing their speaking volume. All written items should be printed on either a half-sheet of paper or note cards and held at either the waist or elbow level.
Improvised speeches sound more natural than written remarks and often keep the audience’s attention better – listeners feel that they are being spoken with instead of being read to. However, when improvising remarks, speakers may ramble or miss important points that should have been said. Practice can prepare a speaker to avoid these mistakes.
When making improvised speeches, it is often helpful to use bullet points to organise your thoughts. These talking points can be written on an index card along with several facts that could be integrated into the speech to provide emphasis or justification for an argument. In addition, it is useful to memorise ‘sound bites’, or include them on another index card for easy reference.
Of the various speaking techniques, memorisation is the most difficult and the most likely to fail in stressful situations. Although delegates are encouraged to memorise a few facts, figures and key statements, memorising an entire speech is not recommended. Speakers who have committed a two-minute statement to memory may not be able to recover if the dais interrupts them or if a delegate in the audience attempts to ask a question. Generally, it is better for students to spend their time researching a topic rather than memorising a speech.
When it comes to the speech itself, here are some tips for making effective, memorable speeches.
Before the speech
Know the audience. Before the session even begins, get to know as many of the delegates in your committee as possible. It's easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of total strangers.
Visualise yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear, and assured. When you visualise yourself as successful, you will be successful.
Realise that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and entertaining. They don't want you to fail.
If you must go to a dais or podium to speak, rise slowly when your name is called out and walk normally (not casually or lazily) up to the dais. Confidently climb up, look at the people all around, smile, and take your stance.
During the speech
What (not) to say
Don't apologise. If you mention your nervousness or apologise for any problems you think you have with your speech, you may be calling the audience's attention to something they hadn't noticed.
Concentrate on the message, not the medium. Focus on your message and your audience. If you don’t worry about your delivery you will be less nervous and will speak more naturally.
Use appropriate language. Use language that is comfortable for you and the audience. Use words which are natural to you, and phrases which are understood by all. Avoid bookish language, or technical jargon.
How to say it
Always stand when speaking. It helps to project your voice and makes you more visible to the whole committee.
Use hand gestures. Gestures add effect to your speech and help to emphasise certain points. But be careful not to overdo this – if you are waving your arms around like a windmill it will distract from what you are saying.
Look up and make eye contact. Even if you have a prepared speech, make sure that you don’t just stare down at your speech without ever looking up – you will not effectively engage your audience, and people will struggle to hear you. Look up and around the room as you deliver sentences, and look into the eyes of people. Move your eyes in slow smooth cycles to cover the entire audience, especially corners. It catches attention and creates rapport – if you can make every member of an audience feel like you’re talking directly to them, they will listen and you will get your message across in a powerful way.
Modulate your voice. Bring variations by changing loudness and tone as per the mood of your words and theme of your speech.
Speak articulately, enunciate clearly and have enough volume to fill a room. Many speakers talk too quietly and too fast. Speak up and slow down so that your points can be remembered.
Use humour for an extra flourish. Judicious use of humour can make a good speech great. In your opening speech jokes can be prepared well in advance, but humour in session is far more spontaneous and many brilliant speakers have trouble with using humour. Quite simply, some people have a gift for it and some people do not.
It is not a fundamental part of speech giving, and first and foremost you should always concentrate on getting your key points across. But if you are quick witted and can deliver a joke well, humour can be a sparkling extra touch.
In most Model UNs, you are discussing very serious world issues, so you must be very careful about how and when you use humour. You should also beware of becoming type-cast. If you only give humorous speeches you may be classed as a committee clown and other delegates may have trouble taking you seriously.
However, humour can make a speech unforgettable. Amid the endless speeches at a Model UN, humorous ones often stand out. The challenge is to use humour in such a way that, if your audience remembers your humour, they will also remember your message. An excellent example of this is Prime Minister’s Questions in the UK parliament. The jokes are often satirical, lampooning the opposing viewpoint in a humorous way, whilst making a serious point.
‘Asking an international bureaucracy to slim down its staff is like asking an alcoholic to blow up a distillery.’
‘To accuse that NGO of purposefully derailing this process would be to confuse strategy for lethargy.’
We must always be careful when using statistics as the way they are presented can sometimes twist the truth. In the 1980s Leonid Brezhnev lost a race to Ronald Reagan. Soviet media reported that "Comrade Brezhnev came second, while President Reagan finished second to last."
Model UN quirks
Be courteous at all times. Treat all staff and delegates with respect. Begin and end your speeches courteously, with phrases like: Mr/Madam President; distinguished delegates; Honourable Chair; fellow delegates.
Speak in the third person. Never use ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’ or ‘she’. In Model UNs, you are not individuals but the representative of a country. Refer to yourself by your country name and others as ‘honourable’ or ‘distinguished’ delegates. So instead of saying ‘I completely disagree with her opinion’ you should say ‘Cameroon completely disagrees with the opinion of the honourable delegate from the United Kingdom.’
Create consensus by using ‘we’. In a Model UN session, your goal is to come to a compromise as a group, so try to use ‘we’ to forge common agreement and bring people on board with your arguments. Use phrases such as: ‘We know’, ‘We are’, ‘We should’, ‘We wish’ etc.
Be constructive. It is very easy to be critical and destructive of others’ ideas and proposals, but you must also be constructive, offering alternative arguments and ways forward.
One human story can be more powerful than hundreds of arguments, facts and figures.