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General Assembly Public Speaking and Debate in Model United Nations

An Introduction to General Assembly

Before diving into the specific procedures and techniques used in General Assembly committees of Model United Nations, let’s start by discussing what the General Assembly is in the first place.

In the United Nations, the General Assembly refers to one of the international organization’s six primary organs (branches). Within the General Assembly, there are six main committees:

  • First Committee: Disarmament and International Security
  • Second Committee: Economic and Financial Matters
  • Third Committee: Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Matters (often called SOCHUM)
  • Fourth Committee: Special Political and Decolonization Matters (often called SPECPOL)
  • Fifth Committee: Administrative and Budgetary Matters
  • Sixth Committee: Legal Matters

These main committees are the only real-world United Nations bodies considered part of the General Assembly. However, in Model United Nations, we sometimes call other committees simulating an international organization with a real-world topic as a General Assembly as well!

Understanding the distinction between the Model UN and the real-world definition of General Assembly is essential. Suppose a committee in a Model United Nations conference is labeled as General Assembly. In that case, it simply means that that particular committee will follow standard parliamentary procedure and not involve using crisis notes or ‘back room.’ The six United Nations official General Assembly committees often pop up on the Model UN scene. Still, other common committees referred to as General Assemblies are organizations like the World Health Organization or the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Opening Speech

In General Assembly committees, you will be given one or more set topics to debate during the conference. If there is more than one topic, you might spend the beginning of committee debating which topic should be discussed first.

Opening speeches are your opportunity to make a solid first impression and set the tone for your performance during the rest of the conference, so it’s essential to make it count!

Opening speeches will typically be between 1 minute and 1 minute and 30 seconds long and should present your country’s leading position on the topic being discussed (or which topic it sees as a priority). Other delegates will use your opening speech to determine if they want to work with you, so it’s important to clearly state your country’s stance and the ideas it has to ultimately reach a solution. 

Not only that, but your opening speech is your opportunity to show the entire room what type of delegate you are, so you must be not only informative but also confident at the same time.

Your Turn on the Speakers’ List

So you raised your placard to be on the speaker’s list, and your country is finally called… What now?

Well, first, let’s break down the two types of speaker’s lists and what they mean:

The Primary Speaker’s List is used to debate which topic the agenda should be set to, meaning which topic should be discussed first. During the Primary Speaker’s List, delegates will commonly talk about which topic is more pressing, more high stakes, or more relevant.

The Secondary Speaker’s List is only used once the agenda has been officially set through a vote. During this time, delegates have the freedom to speak about anything as long as it is related to the topic on the agenda. During this time, delegates will often discuss their country’s priorities regarding the issue or particular solutions they hope to work on.

The Speaker’s List is your time to propel committee in favor of your country’s goals and desires, so make sure to bring up your most important points during your speaking time. The Speaker’s List is a critical tool for bringing up ideas and topics that may not be widely known or super popular with the other delegates in the room with the intent of creating a group of delegates to work on a resolution paper with.

When it is your turn on the Speaker’s List, stand up, speak with confidence and clarity, and use strong and persuasive information and ideas to convey your points and convince others to join you and want to work with you. Though you should generally try to use up all of your speaking time, if there is any time remaining, you can give it up or give it to someone else. You can do this by saying you want to yield your time to the chair or another delegate.

Raising Motions and Points

Throughout the conference, you and your fellow delegates will be responsible for deciding how debate proceeds by making different points and motions.

Points are shorter and more direct statements or questions that do not call for any sort of debate. The most common points are:

  • Point of order: used to call out an error made in the committee’s procedure. Points of order should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary so you do not offend the chair.
  • Point of inquiry: this is the formal and proper way to ask a question in parliamentary procedure. Points of inquiry are usually questions relating to how a particular procedure works or matters relating to the conference (i.e., how much time is left in that session). Points of inquiry cannot be posed to other delegates, only the chair.
  • Point of personal privilege: Have to use the bathroom or can’t hear the speaker? Use one of these if you have a personal need to address.
  • Point of information: this is often used when a delegate has a piece of information they feel is necessary to reveal to committee in the context of a prior speech or other aspects of debate. These points should also be used sparingly and only if the information is so important that it would change the way committee operates.

Motions are a tool used by delegates to guide the direction of committee. They are super versatile and can be used to start formal or informal debate, go into voting procedures, open and close debate, and even sometimes change or suspend the rules.

To make a point or motion, wait until the chair asks. Usually, they will say something along the lines of “does anyone have any points or motions?”. Then raise your placard and state your point or motion in the third person once called on. This means that instead of saying “I move for…”, you would say “[country name] moves for…”. 

Through this process, you must remain very professional and civil. Wait your turn, and do not interrupt while someone else is speaking. The only thing that the rules allow to be an interruption is a point of personal privilege in the event of an emergency.

Now let’s say you have a specific topic in mind you want to hear discussed. It would probably be ideal to make a motion for a moderated caucus, which is formal and moderated debate, hence the name. Moderated caucus motions require three parts:

  • Overall length
  • Speaking time, or how long each delegate will have to speak
  • Topic 

An example of a proper moderated caucus (or simply, a mod) motion would be:

“Canada moves for a 9-minute moderated caucus with a 45-second speaking time on the topic of conditions in refugee camps.”

In this example, the delegate asks for 9 minutes of formal debate, where each delegate has 45 seconds to talk. If passed, the delegates will have to stay on the topic of the conditions in refugee camps during their speeches. When the delegate makes this motion, and the chair accepts it, it is considered to be “on the floor”.

The chair will collect a certain number of motions at their discretion and then hold them all to a mandatory vote, where a simple majority (50% + 1) must vote in favor to pass it. Procedurally, motions are voted on in order “from most disruptive to least disruptive”. According to the rules, unstructured debate (called unmoderated caucuses) are considered more disruptive than structured debate (moderated caucuses).  If there are only motions for moderated caucuses on the floor, the more total speakers it has, the more disruptive it is.  For example, a 5-minute mod with a 30-second speaking time with ten total speakers is more disruptive than a 6-minute mod with a 45-second speaking time with eight total speakers.

Planning for Moderated Caucuses

Congratulations, your moderated caucus motion passed! But what now?

When your motion passes, you can choose if you want to be the first or last speaker for it. The strategy on whether to pick first or last depends a lot on what you want to say and your particular speaking style, so use your discretion. Generally, first speeches are good for setting the tone for the moderated caucus and leading the generation of ideas. Last speeches are good for creating drama or if you plan on sparking controversy in your speech.

So you’ve picked when you want to speak, but how do you prepare for it?

When it comes to preparing versus winging it for moderated caucus speeches, there’s definitely a happy medium. Of course, winging it and not having a plan is usually not a good idea, but having your entire speech fully written out isn’t good either. The most effective way to have a strong and well-thought-out speech that still feels natural is to jot down a few quick bullet points you want to incorporate during your speaking time. That way, you stay on topic and get across everything you need, but your speech feels organic and not scripted.

Another tip is to make sure you’re adaptive to other speeches. If you don’t end up speaking first, you should listen carefully to what other delegates are saying and make sure not to repeat their exact points so you don’t look unoriginal. Instead, be responsive to other speeches while still being unique in yours.

Speech Construction

Successful speeches are never only informative. They’re also captivating and interesting to listen to. Ensure that you provide both informational points and attention grabbers to make speeches more engaging. One of the most straightforward models to construct a well-rounded speech is remembering the acronym HIPA.

Hook: something striking or intriguing to capture the attention of the other delegates

Information: concrete data or other information about the particular topic

Position: how does your country feel about this?

Action: what do you want to do next?

This model of speech construction starts by bringing listeners in and then continues by laying a foundation for a particular position, stating the position, and then giving delegates an action plan that they can work on with you. 

It’s also important to keep time constraints in mind when constructing a speech. You must ensure you have enough time to get your points fully across without overwhelming listeners but still fill up your time wisely. Cut and adjust your speech accordingly.

While this outline is certainly not the be-all-end-all of Model UN speech formation, it can be a helpful tool to think about to organize your thoughts and create a more intentional and easy-to-understand speech.

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