Speech delivery is the single most important way to distinguish yourself as a competitive delegate to fellow committee members as well as the chair simultaneously. When it comes to speeches in Model UN, a balance of substantivity and delivery is critical to the effectiveness of your address. Overly theatrical speeches with strong delivery, but weak or non-existent content, will grab the attention of the committee room, but will not sway the tide of debate. On the other hand, speeches packed with strong points and highly technical information, but delivered poorly, will equally fail to sway the tide of debate because nobody will pay attention or be able to extract the relevant information.
This is to say that any speech without both substantivity and strong delivery will ultimately be useless to the committee.
Improving the substantivity of a speech is all about reforming your research process such that you have relevant and interesting points to make. Delivery, however, is a much easier fix to make. The volume, cadence, and pace of your voice should vary depending on the subject of the speech. Body language, on the other hand, should always emulate the same thing: confidence, and presence.
Presence: the energy you give off while standing in front of the audience; the way you occupy the front stage.
The goal is always to demonstrate utmost confidence in yourself. Broken down, this lies in your posture, your hand gestures, your eye contact, and your nervous ticks or filler words.
Strong posture is the first step to improving your body language when delivering a speech. The way you stand dictates your capacity to project your voice, and the committee’s ability to see you. It should not be casual. Maintaining strong posture for the entire duration of the speech, you must be deliberate and intentional with how you start.
The single most crucial tip is this: when you arrive at the front of the room to deliver your speech, do NOT start speaking until your body is entirely still.
Plant your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor, take a deep breath, and lift your head such that you can properly survey the room and make eye contact with committee members during your speech. Doing this will not only help you establish your stance, but can help clear any pre-speech nerves that you might have. Once you have set up this initial posture, stick with it; if you choose to pace around and occupy more space–which can be a great way to assert some dominance and stand out from more rigid speakers–do so with specific intention, not nervous pacing.
All in all, refrain from any mindless movements: everything you do while in front of that audience must be with deliberate intent or with a desired effect.
Small hand movements and gestures can be a great tool to emphasize different words and ideas in speeches IF used properly. When using hand movements, remember that modesty is key. Make sure they are controlled, but not overly-coordinated: overly-dramatic movements can divert your audience’s attention towards your hands and away from the content of your speech. Hand gestures should be supplemental to the verbal content of the speech. Gesturing can help clarify ideas, categorize and break down a lengthy speech, and emphasize the most important takeaways.
Should you decide to use hand gestures during a speech, do so deliberately, and visibly. Making small hand gestures with your hands still down at your sides will display as nervous fidgeting. So, as always, be intentional: make the decision to use gestures, and be brave with it. Lift your hands to mid-torso or shoulder level, and make your hand movements visible to the committee. Again, there should always be a desired effect with every movement.
Eye contact is the most underrated aspect of public speaking, because it allows each audience member to feel as though they are being directly addressed. This allusion will help your points hit home with more audience members, as well as heighten their engagement with the speech. As a result, the effectiveness of your speech will skyrocket, and your ideas will be far more likely to be taken into account.
When making eye contact, focus on one individual for a few short seconds at a time, and in that instantaneous moment, act as if you are talking specifically to them. Do NOT sustain eye contact with one delegate for more than a few seconds, because at that point, you risk making them uncomfortable. After a brief moment of eye contact with one committee member, move over to another person, and continue this pattern throughout the entirety of the speech. Should you dart your eyes around the room too rapidly, you will fail to connect with any one individual, and the desired effect will not be achieved.
Nervous Ticks & Filler Words
Novice public speakers classically use something called filler words as a crutch to get through a speech delivery. They perform a similar detrimental function as nervous ticks like swaying hands, shifting weight, kicking feet, running hands through hair, hands in pockets, playing with a pen or notebook, or any other unconscious pattern of movement which is a means of expressing nervousness.
Filler words: small words that contribute no meaning to the content of the speech, but merely take up space to avoid awkward silence.
Silence, however, is a powerful tool when delivering a speech, because it grabs the audience’s attention. Silence is not something to shy away from, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel in the moment.
Common filler words or phrases include:
- “you know”
At All-American, we teach our students to avoid filler words like the plague. Nervous movements and filler words take away significantly from a speech because they distract the audience. Beyond that distraction though, filler words and anxious ticks make the speaker appear less serious: juvenile, poorly-researched, unprofessional. They will get in the way of your attempt to be taken seriously as a leader and competitor in committee.
Eliminating these habits will take time and diligence. If you bring notes with you, try writing your most common filler words at the top of the page: this will provide a reminder to avoid these words during the speech.
Above all else, though, is that you must become comfortable with silence and stillness in front of an audience. Try taking deep breaths in between sentences in the middle of your speech: challenge yourself to allow for a second of silence, and refrain from filling that gap with an anxious tick or filler word. It takes time, but improvement in this specific area of public speaking will take your performance as a delegate to a whole new level.
Model UN is an activity built around speech and debate, so strong speech delivery is essential to any delegate’s capacity for success. If body language and the physicality of speech delivery seems like a game of minuscule details, that is because it is. That being said, the tiniest shifts and reforms to delivery of a speech can radically transform it’s effectiveness and impact on the committee. Dedicate some time and thought to improving your standards of body language while speaking publicly in Model UN, and your ability to stand out as a serious competitor and leader in committee will only move up.
Related Article: 4 Ways to Reinvent Your Model UN Speaking Style
Related Article: How to Get Over a Fear of Public Speaking Using Model UN