WIMUN Guide to Acing a Debate

The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) is a global nonprofit organization representing and coordinating a membership of over 100 national United Nations Associations.

At a Model UN conference, speechmaking and debating are two necessary skills to grant you success as a delegate, whether you’re used to a “Speakers’ List,” “Formal Session,” or some other form of speechmaking. Your first speech can be incredibly important in determining the reception of your policies and of you as a delegate as you start a conference.

When using UN4MUN procedure, your first speech is even more paramount; in seeking to be an accurate simulation of the United Nations, each delegate gets only one speech during formal session on each agenda item, followed by a maximum of one right of reply. Therefore, a strong first speech sets the tone for your work in committee. You can build an impressive, policy-oriented speech with three easy steps.

Start with an Attention-Grabbing Introduction

It’s an unfortunate reality that in many Model UN conferences (and, to be honest, the actual UN General Assembly Hall), there will be a considerable number of delegates who are disengaged and not paying very close attention. If you walk up to the front of the room and begin your speech in a monotone, quiet voice while not saying anything very interesting, these delegates are likely to continue not paying attention and miss out on the awesome policies that you want them to work with you on.

To assure that your message reaches as many attentive ears as possible, pull in the listeners and grab a hold of their attention. Walk confidently to the front of the room, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, and immediately engage your audience. As in with the large script on a billboard or the first words in a TV commercial, your goal at the beginning of your statements is to enrapture your audience, so that when you decide to tell them your policies, you can be sure that they're listening. Though there are many exciting ways to start off your dialogue, there are four easy ways to kick-start your speech and pull in the other delegates in the room:

Malala Yousafzai. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

  • Interesting Facts: Facts demonstrating how serious a global issue is or how it affects your country specifically can help engage the audience.
  • A Quote: Start with a quote from a well-known global figure. It can help the audience feel more connected to you through their connection to the person you’re quoting.
  • A Question: By starting your speech with a rhetorical question, you can assure that your listeners are really thinking about the issue and how it may affect them or otherpeople.
  • A Story or Anecdote: A more personal appeal in the form of a story or anecdote can carry with it some emotion and demonstrate the real human effect that global issues have on individuals, rather than just statistics about large groups of people in tragic situations.

Example:  “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” These words were spoken by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani andinternational activist fighting for global education and gender equality.

Make a Clear, Positive and Succinct Argument

During the introduction, your goal was to engage your audience and make sure that they were paying attention. Now that you’ve got their attention, it’s time to explain your policy and why you think that this is the best way for the international community to move forward.

It’s incredibly important during your arguments to keep in mind the objectives of the United Nations and UN4MUN procedure. Your opening speech is meant to tell the world what your country stands for and what policies you want. Speaking time is limited, so every second of your speech is precious. Because of this, it is important that you don’t waste your time directing combative comments at other countries and being negative. Make a very optimistic, positive speech, and clearly outline your policies and your reasons for them.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Credit: UN Photo/J Carrier

Arguments should be limited to just a few main points so that your speech can be as memorable as possible. Each point can be broken down into two main parts:

The Why: Speak briefly about the components of the problem that your plan will seek to address, and cite relevant information about how the issue affects your country specifically.

The What: Make a clear statement of your country’s suggested solution for the issue, and briefly explain actionable plans for what you want the international community to do.


The Why: Access to education is one of the most pressing global issues facing the international community today, and Colombia remains committed to providing that access to as many citizens as possible nationwide. One of the main obstacles to accomplishing the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education is the availability of qualified teaching professionals.

The What: To combat this issue, Colombia advocates for international cooperative agreements among countries with stronger education infrastructure to partner with countries in need of education support. These partnerships can be leveraged to promote the sharing of best practices and expertise to train educators in host countries and create long-term permanent systems, rather than the traditional method of simply flying in educators to train students temporarily.

Conclude with a Call to Action

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Credit: UN Photo/Erin Siegal

A memorable Model UN speech should persuade the audience, not just inform them of issues, so you need to finish with a call to action. With a call to action, you leave your audience with a task--why spend your time writing a speech about an issue if you’re not going to ask anybody to do anything about it?   

Simply put, a call to action asks your listeners to go forth and tackle this issue, whether through domestic policies or international cooperation. Be creative with this call to action, but also carve a clear path that leads your audience towards what they can do to help implement these policies as quickly as possible.

Example: We’d like to invite all of you to move forward with us to collaboratively generate new and effective measures to provide education to as many of the world’s youth as possible. We encourage all Member States to form these partnerships for domestic, industry-oriented education, and to provide the next generation of global youth the greatest degree of opportunity possible.

By delivering a well-practiced and well-structured speech with these three parts, you’ll signal to your audience how you want to move forward and set the standard for collaboration and problem-solving in your committee. At the end of your speech, simply thank the audience and take your seat; UN4MUN procedure doesn’t require you to yield your time!

Stay tuned for two more delegate advice articles in the lead-up to WIMUN!

Written By: Erik Leiden, WIMUN Undersecretary General of Communications


RELATED: WIMUN Guide to Writing an Awesome Resolution

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