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Here’s the thing about Model UN that no one tells you when you first start– it’s not really about raw talent. For much of my early years participating in Model UN (i.e., my freshman and beginning of my sophomore years of high school), I blanked at every single conference I attended. I did everything that I was taught– I spoke as much as I could, contributed to the draft resolution, and even got on the author’s panel for my contributions– but it never quite seemed to be enough come awards decisions.

So what changed?

Here are the three most important things that took me from forgettable delegate to a consistent Best Delegate on both the high school and collegiate circuits:

#1. Start Thinking Of Model UN As The “Long Game”

So, granted, I cannot say everyone you will compete with during your time in Model UN will all be influential people within your professional life or the public sphere, but know that there is a statistically relevant population. At these academic conferences, the people you meet all have the same overarching professional drive unmatched in any other activity. That said, one of the biggest mistakes one can make is allowing these people to be passersby.

Now, my advice here isn’t to flag down everyone you meet and become best friends with them with the hope that you’ll one day receive something in return for being nice to them at a Model UN conference. Instead, be kind to those around you and treat everyone as you would like to be treated. This seemingly elementary lesson goes a long way in Model UN, considering a large portion of competitive delegates are ready to do almost anything to take home a gavel at the end of the weekend. Lose the sleight of hand tricks to throw your fellow delegates off balance and replace them with action driven by compassion and diplomacy. Try to walk away from each conference you attend with at least one friend– bonus points if the person wasn’t the bloc leader or your lieutenant. You never know who these people will turn out to be years down the line, so do yourself a favor now and in the future, and play the long game with them.

#2. Lean Into A Defining Characteristic And Run With It

A hypothetical situation is the best catalyst to explain this. Imagine a large General Assembly committee like DISEC or SOCHUM at a large conference like NAIMUN or HMUN. In a non-pandemic Model UN conference setting, there are easily hundreds of people in that room with you, so of course, your face time is limited from the get-go. That presents the apparent dilemma–“How do I put myself in the position to win an award if hundreds of people are directly competing with me for that very award?” Well, that question becomes even more difficult when you factor in the idea that many people will be at similar skill levels and a high level of competition– making it even more challenging to stand out on merit alone.

So, the solution here is to use your assets to your example. By no means is this my way of telling you to dress differently or to change how you wear your hair, but I can confidently say that embracing ideas like that has definitely changed my committee performance. Using a personal example, I like to wear large statement earrings that match the colors of what I’m wearing in committee that day to draw more attention upwards when speaking in front of the committee. These earrings work because my hair is short, so they’re always visible. They are usually a conversation starter because they’re almost always color-coordinated to what I wear that day. While it sounds like a small detail, these small conversations about the elements that make you noticeable put you in a better position to work with more people throughout the conference. They are also a good indication that the dais is also picking up the very details picked up by fellow delegates.

So, for example, shaking up the colors in your Western Business Attire wardrobe and adding patterns or bright colors are great tools in reminding fellow delegates and the dais where you are in the room and ensuring placard-face recognition. These don’t have to be significant adjustments in your style, and honestly, they shouldn’t, but the goal here is two-pronged– stand out positively and speed up the country-face recognition process.

#3. Remember The Subjectivity Of The Activity

It is incredibly easy to lose sight of the idea that Model UN is quite literally political L.A.R.P.-ing throughout anywhere between a day and four days for the possibility to walk away with a wooden gavel that will sit on a shelf and collect dust for our very own satisfaction’s sake. The activity is less glamorous when framed in that light, sure, but essential in the greater context of mental health and burnout.

Many people I am friends with have experienced burnout and Model UN-related fatigue, including myself. Those feelings are amplified when you’re in a multiple conference slump with less-than-helpful feedback from your chairs and no idea how to pivot and improve from the weekend past.

Awards decisions are difficult when they don’t go your way. Still, it’s important to remember that there is no exact science to award decisions, hence why they are so different from chair to chair and conference to conference. After hearing what we believe is a ludicrous award or event set of awards, we have all been in that post-awards dramatic mood. Trust me– I’ve been there many times. But these awards are decided on a high school or college student’s opinion of how you represented your country during the conference, not you as a person. Keep this in mind when asking for feedback and reflecting on your conference experience so you can better learn and grow from the collective experience.

Model UN isn’t an exact science, no, but learning the more significant social dynamics and ins-and-outs of the activity have played a prominent role in the absolute consistency in the latter part of a close to ten-year Model UN career. Success comes in due time with patience and a sense of self. Keep working hard and get as much practice and experience as you can– I can assure you it will all pay off in the long run!

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