What’s more important when you’re up at the podium making your speeches: what you say, or how you say it? I’ve met more than my fair share of delegates who think the key to success is simply volume; the louder you speak, the better you maintain the committee’s attention because no one can ignore you. This “bullhorn” method is the wrong approach because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter how loudly you speak if you have nothing of value to say.
Before any further analysis of the significance of content over volume, I have a couple of concessions to make. First, when you have something to say, and everyone else is talking over each other, a booming voice is effective — initially. In fact, I have walked up to the podium and used the bullhorn approach on more than one occasion, and I will still be that delegate when the circumstances warrant it. Let’s face it — being quiet as a mouse just isn’t going to get the job done. So, while I don’t agree that being the loudest in the room is necessarily the only or best way to grab the attention of delegates and the committee chairs, I know firsthand that being loud has its advantages. Second, in the twenty or so conferences I’ve attended, I have realized that changing the intonation of your voice to emphasize key points throughout your speech, even if it means being really loud at times, is an effective way to keep the committee’s attention and impress the chairs.
If being loud works, shouldn’t I be arguing for its use? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. I have met delegates who fall at both ends of the volume spectrum, from the utterly silent to the deafeningly loud, but most people fall somewhere in between. What I’ve observed is that the delegates who adopt a blanket bullhorn approach to make sure they get noticed aren’t always the delegates who end up being the best heard.
People quickly grow accustomed to loud delegates, and they start to tune them out.
Loud voices that were once quick to silence everyone else become white noise in the background. What grabs people’s attention- and more importantly keeps that level of attention-has more to do with what delegates are saying. Shouting and using boisterous statements won’t compensate for a poor speech.
If you want your speech to stand out, it has to stand out on the merits. It has to be good. You have to know the issue inside and out and have a well-developed plan to solve the issue. Once you know what you want to say, you need to figure out a way to explain your plan in a clear and concise manner, and you have to be creative in your delivery. When it finally comes time to deliver your speech, the volume has little to do with your overall success.
If I had to guess, I’d say 90% of all delegate speeches I’ve heard in committee start with phrases such as, “Fellow delegates,” “Fellow delegates and honorable chair,” “Thank you, fellow delegates and honorable chair,” “Delegates”…. You get where this is going. These openers are neither original nor engaging. Shouting, “My fellow delegates,” into a crowded room won’t make your speech any more interesting. After you hear these openers time and time again, the speeches begin to blend together, and any critical points following these generic introductions risk getting lost in the void because the other delegates and chairs already have tuned out. Anyone who has participated in a three-day conference has witnessed or experienced this unfortunate outcome. The solution? Don’t begin your speech the same way as countless others. Make your speech the outlier by mixing things up a little. Perhaps, start with a relevant, eye-opening statistic. For example, in a refugee committee, you might say, “Two-hundred-and-fifty — that’s the number of people forced to flee their homes every day, yet we sit here unable to do anything about this tragedy because we can’t agree on how to deliver them the most basic needs, such as food and water.” This is a powerful opening statement, and it likely will grab more attention.
Once you’ve captured the room’s attention, you need to keep that momentum going every single time you stand up at the podium. You need to impress other delegates and the chairs by spelling out your plan to reach your desired solution. Quickly state the problem and then dedicate the majority of your speech on how you propose to fix that problem. A good speech will help you advance your goals in a committee, like helping you form a block, arguing for your block, stating why your resolution is the most effective, etc. If you engage your audience, they will stay tuned in, and you won’t need to raise your voice. The opposite, however, is not true. The loudest voice in the room will not save a speech that lacks substantive content and fails to drive the committee closer to a resolution. For example, regardless of the volume of your voice, you will not win in committee if all you do is restate or reframe the issue. Doing so merely proves that you, like everyone else, have read the background guide.
To keep people’s attention, don’t waste time focusing on what everyone already knows. Spend your time at the podium wisely. Work towards your goals by focusing on how you plan to solve the issue at hand. Has your plan been used before? Better yet, has it ever worked? Break your plan up into digestible chunks, which can be explained in forty-five seconds or less, such as a three-stage recovery plan: the stabilization, urbanization, and industrialization of “Timbuktu.”
Furthermore, if you want your speeches to have a lasting impact, thereby advancing your goals and increasing your chances at an award, you should consider creating a short, catchy acronym. Using the example above, I’d coin the acronym “SUIT” for the name of my recovery plan. If my plan is practical and solid enough to gain popularity, other delegates will talk about the SUIT plan, and the chairs will remember it as my acronym — and more importantly, my plan. Suddenly, other delegates’ speeches are directing attention my way, via the SUIT plan. My solution gets more air time and more credibility without me even having to speak.
Finally, consider making targeted speeches that end with a “call to action.” A call to action is precisely what it sounds like: call on the committee to do whatever it is that advances your goal at the moment. If you want delegates to vote for your paper, start your speech by talking about the importance of passing a paper that solves the issue, explain why your paper best resolves the issue, and finally, urge the committee to vote in favor of your paper. Calls to action are not limited to voting. One call to action to consider using early on in committee when building a block is to ask delegates to send you a note if they’re interested in what you just said, and they really want to fix the issue at hand. If, through your speech, you successfully engaged delegates with the merits of your plan, you likely will gain block members through this call. If you relied on the volume of the delivery of your speech rather than its substantive value, you missed a golden opportunity at the podium, and you likely will have to spend more time haggling with delegates during an unmoderated caucus in a second attempt to accomplish what you should have during your speech.
Being the loudest speaker in the room should not be the goal during committee. The volume level should not be viewed as being directly correlated with award potential. Being able to talk over everyone else to grab the attention of the room will not save a delegate who cannot articulate a well-thought-out plan to solve an issue when he or she steps up to the podium. Focus on the merits of what you want to say to advance your goals during committee. That said, a booming voice does have its time and place during committee. Once you feel confident about your substantive plan of action, knowing when to artfully adjust your vocal tone and inflection for emphasis or to spark initial interest during a discussion can be a considerable asset to grab the committee’s attention. However, it is the substance of your words, rather than the sheer volume of your voice, that will determine how long you can keep their attention.
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