MUN Delegates Decorum – Protocol in MUN

A guide to manners and protocol inside and outside the MUN committee room.

As Colin Firth so brilliantly reminded us in the movie “Kingsman”, Manners Maketh Man. Manners, protocol and decorum in everyday society are arguably one of the core aspects of our lives and what distinguishes us from beasts. It is what your parents and grandparents have expected from you when sitting at the table, it is what is expected from you at school, at work, and it is what will be expected from you in a committee room.

Introduction: ”Decorum, delegates!”

Decorum, delegates!” is an injunction that you will be hearing time and time again during your career in Model United Nations.

What is MUN Decorum?
Decorum is a Latin word that, in this context, refers to a set of rules that regulates the behavior of delegates during both formal and informal interactions, like it would regulate your behavior in civil society. These social norms, which are often implicit and learned from a young age – there is no written Codex with social commandments like “Thou shalt not put your feet on the table”. However, in Model UN, the decorum is actually laid out in the Rules of Procedure.

The use of and obedience to rigorous decorum is generally agreed to be the specificity of Model United Nations, compared to other debating clubs. Although other clubs and think tanks have a set of rules to ensure the debate remains civil, they are generally polite behaviors that you would expect from well-taught adults and are just enforced more rigorously. Decorum in Model United Nations, however, is not as easy to grasp and thus some specificities will be addressed in this article.

As MUN models real debates taking place in the United Nations, it came to earn a reputation of being overly civil, slow, and to rebuke quite a number or beginners. In reality, these rules were mostly created to make sure delegates debating crucial issues that may have a global impact remain courteous, in control of their emotions and productive. It is an essential part of debating Model UN, and this training will hold a copious layer of significance for those of you wishing to pursue careers in international diplomacy later in your lives. Besides, it is really not that complicated.

Indeed, decorum can be easily modeled as an algorithm or a competence tree, with some general rules that are permanent throughout the debate, and specific ramifications triggering or triggered by an event in the debate. This article will aim to provide you with clear and specific guidance with decorum and protocol rules, so you can showcase your amazing debating skills, wrapped in delightful, brilliant civility.

General Recommendations & Decorum Rules

While most Decorum rules are modeled after basic recommendations of civility, past a certain age your guardians will cease to enforce them upon you, and yet your chairs will require you to obey by them at all times inside and outside of the committee sessions in order to continue allowing you to participate in the debate. Some chairs are more or less tolerant on how Rules of Procedures are to be interpreted, but no chair in their right mind will ever tolerate infringement on protocol or disrespect in general.

While opening the door for someone or pulling their chairs are obviously not prerequisites, here is a small list of rules to follow at all times:

  1. Do not interrupt.
    Anyone. Ever. Not only is it extremely rude, but it can completely mess with the argument one of your fellow delegates was trying to make and severely undermine the flow of the debate in committee sessions. Moreover, the United Nations is based off the fundamental principle that all countries are equal in their right to be represented, and no matter how powerful you are in the room, your opinion does not matter more than anybody else’s and the chairs will maybe try to balance out the room by encouraging shy delegates to speak. Interrupting another delegate or the chair is the best way to get yourself isolated from the debate.
  2. Stand up when you address the room.
    Now this rule especially applies to the committee room, but if you plan on making a speech or are addressing a group of people who are standing up, stand up too. If you have crutches or are a wheelchair user, you are evidently exempt from this rule. While you stand up unless called to the front of the room by your chairs, stay in your assigned place.
  3. Be on time.
    We know it is a running joke in MUN conferences that you are expected to arrive late the night after the social, and that the punishments for arriving late are often funny, but you will always be expected to be on time. If you’ve had an exceedingly pleasant night, make sleeping arrangements with someone who may live close by. You could interrupt or compromise the good flow of the debate if you arrive late, and some chairs even choose not to grant awards to late delegates. It might not be worth the laugh.
  4.  Meet your deadlines.
    Being on time is not limited to the committee room. Out of respect for the staff, the chairs and your peers, make sure you respect the deadlines given to you for all the various steps of your application.
  5. Say ‘Honourable chairs’, ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’.
    While the first one is more specifically directed towards your behavior in the committee room, it is capital that you always use these polite formulas.
  6. Mind your language.
    Do not swear, and be advised against borderline rude words. Always maintain a very high standard of language and vocabulary at all times. If English is not your first language, do not worry. Many other delegates are in the same situations, and using simple, concise sentences are usually a lot more efficient in captivating the room’s attention anyway.
  7. Relax! Smile,
    Let your arms move around you freely (although mind your neighbors, nobody wants to be elbowed in the face), make eye contact with your peers or chairs when addressing them… be who you would be in any other normal conversation.
  8. Dress to impress.
    If you want outfit inspiration, you can check out other resources on how to dress up when attending a conference, but the rule is more or less always the same. Business dress code for everyone. Although suits are recommended, a skirt, kilt, or a form of traditional formal wear can be tolerated, to the discretion of the Secretariat.

In Session Decorum

  1. Wear something comfortable.
    Most socials, especially on the first night, will be a formal event of some sort. Follow the dress code, but do not forget that you will probably be standing up for hours. Whether or not you want to dress modestly is entirely your choice, but don’t trip on ridiculously high heels or long gowns, and avoid overly intricate suits or fabrics. On the other nights, the Secretariat might organize a more relaxed and informal social, such as a gathering at a club or bar. The same recommendation applies to this situation as well.
  2. Don’t drink too much.
    Let’s get real for a moment, shall we? Most delegates are young adults, attending a university with a prominent drinking culture, it is likely that some of them will be consuming alcohol, and if you make the choice to join them, good for you as long as you are age-appropriate. However, while getting a bit tipsy might be fun if you do drink, make sure you restrain your consumption. You don’t want to put yourself in danger or annoy your peers by needing to be dragged home or even taken to the hospital.
  3. Absolutely no peer pressure.
    In MUN like in any social interaction between young adults and/or teenagers, it is tempting to want to follow the crowd of cool kids and mimic their behavior. However, and this is a very important recommendation to remember, do not do anything you are not comfortable with and do not pressure your peers to do so either. This applies to eating, drinking, flirting, dancing, anything that one of your friends might feel awkward about. Model UN is about learning and having fun, so don’t ruin your night or someone else’s for a cool factor that will ultimately not last more than 15 minutes. Reputations are built in the committee room, so who cares?
  4. Clean up after yourself.
    Especially at formal dinners.
  5. Do not arrive early.
    You might walk in on the hosts still trying to bring the final touches to their events and interrupt them in doing so. However, do not arrive half an hour late either. Arriving 15 minutes after the recommended hour of arrival is best. If there is a show of some sort, however, arrive a little before the starting time of the event.