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Dos and Don’ts of a Model UN Opening Speech

Written by Michael Dianetti

April 17, 2018

Dos and Don’ts of a Model UN Opening Speech

Roll Call has been taken, decorum set, placards distributed, seats taken, debate open – it’s time for your first speech. The opening speech is often regarded as one of the most important parts of a Model United Conference. If it’s good it sets you apart. If it’s bad it seals your fate before the first unmod even begins. In some cases this assumption can be correct; however, it is important to remember that the opening speech is a maximum one minute of the conference that will be buried by two dozen hours more of committee. Nevertheless, an opening speech can be a powerful tool for an aspiring delegate to immediately set themselves apart and take control of committee. Below are our tips on how to deliver that perfect opening speech and start on the path to the gavel.

Break the Cadence

At the beginning of your MUN career, you may have been told to begin your opening speech or every speech, with the phrase  “Fellow Delegates, Honorable Chair…..” If you’ve been doing this, I’m here to tell you that it’s wrong. Please stop. Whether your committee has forty people or four-hundred, a boring introduction is the easiest way to put your ”fellow delegates” to sleep and erase yourself from the memory of your “honorable chair.” Opening speeches are all about breaking the mold and standing out. Don’t be the person that gives the same rise and fall speech that follows the same structure, and uses the same words.

Catch Everyone’s Attention

You might be wondering, “If I don’t start my speech with ‘fellow delegates, Honorable chair’ how do I start my speech?’ Easy answer. There is a multitude of ways to open your speech memorable. Many delegates go with a statistic, others use quotes, but the best opening speeches do something a little different. In a huge General Assembly, the same amount of people are going to use quotes and statistics as those who say “Fellow Delegates, Honorable Chair.” Before long every “hook” is lost among the excess of numbers and references to famous humanitarians and leaders. To be different, you have to be a little theatrical, a little sarcastic, and extremely bold. My personal favorite opener involves clapping my hands for ten seconds before explaining what my clapping represents. For example, I might clap and then say “Every time I clap my hands a Syrian refugee is denied refuge because of the isolationist policy of many members of the international community.” A delegate I know begins every opening speech by asking her committee to look at their watches and cleverly telling them that “It’s time for a change.” While these methods may seem a little excessive and silly, they are exactly what is needed to catch the attention of any delegates who have zoned out to the monotony of opening speeches and keep them engaged for the rest of your speech.

Avoid Filler Words and Jargon

“Comprehensive” “Multifaceted” “Three-Pronged” “Quasi” ”Collaborative” You may recognize these as some of the most common Model UN “filler” words that almost every delegate has used at some time in their MUN career. I can’t recount how many times I have heard a delegate give a minute-long speech that effectively accomplishes nothing because all they said was a mixed-up jumble of these words. The use of filler words is the easiest way to disengage from your audience and bury your speech among the hundreds of others that will be given during the conference. The goal of any speech is to set yourself apart from the rest of committee, prove that you are a better orator, and dispense your ideas in a clear and unique manner.

Speak Loud, Clear, and Slow

When you’re giving your opening speech it’s easy to become overwhelmed with nerves and anxiety. If you forget everything else remember that when giving your speech speak loud, clear, and slow. You want everyone in the room to be able to hear and understand what you are saying. You could have the most eloquent beautiful speech but if you botch the delivery it will mean nothing. Conversely, you can have a sub-par speech that becomes invaluable if you deliver it correctly.

Don’t Read

More than eighty percent of your committee will be reading carefully written opening speeches from a piece of paper. This can be intimidating, they know exactly what they are going to say, they have pre-prepared analogies and similes, and if you don’t have the same it may feel as if you are at a disadvantage. You aren’t. On a broad scale, these pre-prepared, written down speeches will all be grouped together in the minds of your committee members, while, if you give a more impromptu speech that addresses committee in a more personal and tangible manner you will stand out among the other delegates.

End Strong

Even experienced delegates often forget the last, and most important, part of an opening speech – the ending.  A speech that brings attention to a problem or employs attention-grabbing techniques will always fall short if they don’t have an ending that rounds everything out. In the last line, call committee to do something, make a bold statement, share your plan. The last line is going to be what’s left in the ends of your “Fellow Delegates and Honorable Chair” long after your speech.

Up Your MUN Game this Summer
The Ad Hoc Academy at Johns Hopkins University will give students plenty of opportunities to practice their speaking skills while taking advantage of professional coaching and guidance. Compete in six simulations in six days for over $6,000 in prizes.

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