Guest Article by Evan Willams
Bio: My name is Evan Williams and I’ve been competing in Model UN for four years. I’m currently a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA, and I serve as the Undersecretary General for TJMUN. Outside of MUN, I enjoy playing the saxophone and being on the lacrosse team at my school
Every year hundreds of High Schools and Universities host Model UN conferences for their local high schoolers to compete in. Some conferences, like UPenn’s Ivy League Model United Nations Conference (ILMUNC) are renowned for being the most competitive in America. With over four thousand delegates in attendance and thirty five years of experience under their belt, UPenn has conference planning down to a formula. Other conferences, like the local ones you may see being hosted by high schools, are much smaller and have much more relaxed attitudes, but still provide fierce competition and high quality committees for all of the delegates. Whether you’re running a conference with 5,000 delegates or 100 delegates, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
Over the past four years of my High School Model UN career I’ve had the opportunity to staff at a number of different conferences in the Northern Virginia area. The conference hosted by my school, TechMUN, hosted almost 1,000 delegates in 2019 along with a variety of middle school and high school committees. I was both the Director of Finances and a Crisis Director for a JCC-Specialized committee at TechMUN last year. Running conferences of this magnitude takes time, commitment, and most importantly organization. I also had the opportunity to serve on the secretariat for a conference in their first iteration: ACLMUN I hosted by the Academies of Loudoun. Only about 80 delegates attended this conference with a lot less staff than what was required from TechMUN. Unsurprisingly, running the two conferences are very different experiences.
In order to pull off a conference like TechMUN (or bigger) it’s crucial to have a secretariat and sponsor that is willing to work night and day for the success of the event. If you’re managing to get anywhere above 700 signups, your conference is probably well established in your local circuit. There’s a reputation that must be upheld with each passing year. The planning process for an event like this needs to start at least five months in advance, and every member of secretariat should have a clear picture of their tasks throughout the overall preparation period.
When I was on TechMUN’s secretariat, I realized how important it was to be organized in the months leading up to the event. Your staff should have centralized ways of communicating with each other before and during the conference. My school uses Facebook groups and Facebook messenger in order to communicate with each other. We also use Google Drive to document all of our materials. The secretariat really needs to take the lead on the organization aspect. Weekly check-ins with staffers to make sure that background guides are written on time and materials are prepared for conference weekend are absolutely crucial. Furthermore, it’s important that all of your staffers are trained properly! Nothing ruins conference weekend more than incompetent staff running the committees. While not every page or crisis staffer needs to be a seasoned delegate, chairs and crisis directors should absolutely have substantial conference experience.
On ACLMUN’s secretariat, the problems are a bit smaller in that there’s more leeway with how things are run when there aren’t as many delegates and staffers. That being said, if you want your conference to grow, you need to establish a precedent of professionalism and quality on the circuit. My advice would be to start small! If you think that the maximum number of delegates you could sustain with your club is 150, maybe limit your conference size to 100-120 delegates so that you can focus on making each committee as best as it can be. Outreach is going to be key for these types of conferences. Getting delegates to compete at a brand new conference may seem like a challenge, but trust me, high schoolers are always looking for chances to compete! If you put in the time to build the conference from the ground up correctly without taking any shortcuts, chances are it will grow to be very successful within a few years.
The Northern Virginia circuit may be different than the rest of America, or the world for that matter, but the principles of running a good Model UN conference are universal. Regardless of what kind of conference you’re running, always make sure to have a dedicated secretariat, trained staffers, and a concrete line of communication between everyone participating at the event. Whether this is your school’s first conference or fiftieth conference, good luck to all!