A great chair is often made of a “softwood” that is in fact quite durable and weather resistant, like beech or teak. However, a great Model UN conference chair is made up of much more than that. This article will quickly cover the five of the most important things that make a great chair.
Knowledge of parliamentary procedure
Paramount to being a great chair is simply a good knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Now, this isn’t to say that a great chair needs to have a massive textbook knowledge of every tiny loophole and trick within parliamentary procedure. This means that a typical chair should be able to move through debate, unmoderated caucuses, and voting procedure with no problems. If chairs are trained correctly, parliamentary procedure should not be a difficult task to master. Training chairs for conference is extremely important. Conference secretariat can also improve chairs by maintaining communications with chairs over instant messaging to quickly answer any questions that may arise during committee. Feedback from head delegates is also important in addressing common parliamentary mistakes that chairs may be making and adjusting during conference time. Ideally, this feedback will translate into alterations and improvements for next year’s conference. Chairs themselves can read up on the training materials provided on our website here to prep for their conference role.
While maintaining proper parliamentary procedure is important, chairs should be aware that there are times when suspending the rules of procedure or expediting committee through a “chair’s discretion” act is necessary. Generally, once or twice per conference (and most often in crisis committees) there comes a point during committee or a timed crisis that committee could be best streamlined by making temporary adjustments in procedure. However, it is up to the chair to determine when this is appropriate. Flexibility demonstrates that chairs have a good knowledge of parliamentary procedure, but also a good knowledge of the flow of committee and when to override parliamentary procedure.
A positive, friendly attitude
The best chair I ever had was a first time chair, who embodied all of these points but especially this one. The first time I staffed a conference, I thought that because I was on a dais I had to be serious and help run the room strictly. However, that is not the case. The more I have gained experience as a delegate, the more I have realized that I genuinely enjoy my time in committees where the chair is also having a good time. A good chair shouldn’t be afraid to smile, be friendly, and laugh. While that sounds cheesy, it’s true. Especially at the collegiate level, it’s fun to be able to joke with your chair or have a great conversation with them and other delegates at socials. In committee, chairs who are positive and understanding are enjoyable to be in the room with. It is always appreciated when chairs genuinely attempt to connect with the room they are in.
While this may apply more to a chair who is working with a high school conference, I still have seen collegiate rooms run amok because the chair doesn’t have control. This is not saying that chairs need to rule with an iron fist–that typically backfires and results in the room losing respect. Generally, losing control happens in a room where the chair is indecisive and often does not have a great grasp on parliamentary procedure. It is completely possible to be a personable, friendly chair while still maintaining control over a room. What needs to be maintained is respect. Delegates respect a chair who knows their parliamentary procedure and gets along with the committee. Being indecisive is a pitfall that some chairs end up in if they are not experienced in parliamentary procedure. Delegates can sense this and will often end up debating with the chair themselves over procedure to sway the chair’s decision. Ultimately, decisions for committee procedure are left to the chair and the chair should effectively wield this power. Chairs should be decisive, but appropriate in their use of “chair’s discretion”.
An active in-room delegate
This is not to say that there can’t be great conference staff that doesn’t travel with the competitive team. However, overwhelmingly, great chairs are often in the role of delegate themselves. While chairs that don’t travel can be and have been fantastic, the more a delegate gains experience on the circuit, the more they can take their experiences and translate them into how they chair. I often learn and grow as a delegate and a conference staff member by learning from and emulating effective delegates and chairs. Learn what works elsewhere and use it to grow your conference, your chairing abilities, and yourself as a delegate. Often, the best chairs are the ones who understand what it’s like to be a delegate in a poorly run room and who strive to provide the best chairing to their committee.