Mastering the Point of Information

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire

Model UN is different from other extracurriculars for many reasons, one of which is the back and forth discussion between delegates. Points of Information take place during the General Speaker's List, Moderated Caucuses or during Points of Information (POI). The POI’s are especially important because POI time is specifically designated to publicly ask a question with an audience of all the delegates present expecting the answer.

Questions and answers are asked and answered throughout a Model UN simulation all the time. However, the questions asked during speeches can be easier to evade or rephrase. Answering good questions can also be difficult when you need to cover other content in your speech or a significant amount of time has passed. Whether for clarification, or cross examination, the Point of Information is the best place for Model United Nations delegates to engage on issues in public forum.

However, the platform POI’s provide is often wasted by ill prepared questions, multiple questions or drawn out monologues which aren’t even questions. This guide will give the tips and guidelines to craft short and share questions that are open to minimal interpretation and give the tool to effectively deliver them. The road to Mastering POI’s starts here!

Types of questions

The first step to masters how to ask questions is knowing that there are different types of questions with different goals. When listening to other speeches, you can realize what type of question you want to ask. There are 4 types of questions, which divide into subtypes.

Questions to Clarify / Collect Data

When do we use it?

We generally use clarification and data collection questions in the beginning, when we create the world in which the Model UN simulation takes place.

Examples of Clarification Questions

Can you please explain how your policy is going to work?
What do you think causes Dengue outbreaks to happen?
What would be an example of measures to ensure the protection of female civilians in conflict areas?

Examples of Questions to Collect Data / get more information

How much would a month of cleaning space debris cost?
Can you tell us which organizations you would work with to increase the education in refugee camps?

Questions to Challenge

Questions to challenge are usually used to help start, energize debate by showing the weaknesses in the other blocks position or to get commitments from them that can be later used.

A Question to Challenge, for example, can be used when a Model UN delegate gives a speech about the harms of nuclear weapons without a clear statement whether they are going to sanction countries who violate the ban.
Most types of Points of Information should be open questions, to get the most information possible. However, when using Questions to Challenge you will often want to get a commitment, rather than information, which is why for these types there is also a place for Yes or No questions.

Questions to Get Commitment / Create Clash

These questions are meant to get the other side to take a stand. Whether they are purposely vague, or simply not sure how to pick a side in the discussion.These questions help create more concrete positions, from which to advance the discussion.

Examples of Questions to Get Commitment / Create Clash

If the Security Council and NATO decided to invade would you still remain neutral?
If you were required to take zero refugees would you still be against open borders?
What would you need to see to make you happy?
Please elaborate on a time your policy worked?

Questions to Show Contradiction

These types of questions usually compare between the material of a delegates speech and other data you find but can also be between a delegates earlier and later statements. This can be used to show that a country not reliable, or to try and influence them to switch sides.

Examples of Questions to Show Contradiction

How can you say you support equal rights for all when in 2016 your country extended a ban on gay marriage? Why do you say your country embraces green energy when your policy for the past five years has been neglecting the promise to develop wind power as well as commissioning 5 new coal power plants?"

Questions To Put Words In Their Mouth

This type of POI can be used in three cases. It can be used to (1) paraphrase what another country said to make it fit the opposite side of the debate, (2) rephrase what they say to get their side to commit to something, or (3) give their side a case when they said nothing at all.In the third case, when the other delegates speak vaguely and say nothing at all, your block can take it on themselves to build the other sides case for them and feed it back to them in speeches and Points of Information. In Model UN committees with beginners and experiences delegates, questions like these can often make a bad debate a good one and create a better experience for all.

Examples of Words in the Mouth Questions

You are probably going to answer “we need nuclear weapons to protect ourselves” but I have to ask, why are you investing in nuclear weapons with no natural enemies in the region? Your country has resisted aid since 2009, but has accepted the IMF conditions since 2014. You haven’t had a revolution since and your people seem happy. As this is the case, would you not support other countries in a similar state going through the same process as you? (This question is to a delegate who has no information and it exists to give facts rather than really ask for information)

Questions to Support

POIs to support have one purpose. Just like Questions to Challenge are aimed at the opposing blocks Questions to Support are meant to help our allies look better. They can be used to give an ally another opportunity to emphasize a strong point or help an ally fill a gap in their case that they forgot in their speech.
Questions to Support are useful throughout the simulation, but especially important during a panel of authors where they are needed to fill the airwaves and keep negative questions from being the only ones asked on their resolution. In such cases, when the undecided delegates hear only negative questions, they may feel there is no support for the document.

Words from the Masters

POI’s are an opportunity for the one answering the question to get more speaking time. Questions need to be short and answers are usually longer. For good Model UNers, a POI is an opportunity to speak for more time and is often fully utilized. For this reason, strategically, we should also ask our allies questions, specifically questions that make them look good and give them more speaking time.

Questions to Emphasize a Strong Point

When your ally gives a strong point, which you feel could persuade more delegates if given more time, you need to find a Point of Information which would give them thirty, or more, seconds to keep developing their case. These type of questions can help tilt the balance within the room and can also make your fellow delegate, and block, look good.

 Examples of Questions that Emphasize a Strong Point

Can you further explain how this policy will reduce youth unemployment by at least twenty percent?
Can you elaborate further on the long term revolutionary benefits of your policy?

Questions to Plug a Hole

Sometimes our ally missed important points and it is best to give them a POI to fill the gap in their speech, rather than let opposing blocks use it in their speeches later on. Your ally will, hopefully, recognize that you are asking for this purpose and take the opportunity to fill in the part they forgot.

Examples of Questions that Plug a Hole

While the benefits of naturalizing the immigrants seems significant, what is your plan to appease the local population?
We understand that involving the private sector is critical, but what assurances would you give to incentivize them to take an active part?

Questions to Make em Look Good

Sometimes your block has the majority and is costing towards a majority in the resolution. Even in such cases, upsets are possible, and it is best to play it safe and keep your blocks policies at the forefront and on people's minds. This type of POI is typically most relevant towards the end of the simulation and can be used to booth make your allies look good and also keep your agenda items at the forefront of what the committee is thinking about.

Examples of questions to Make em Look Good

Will your food plan really reduce hunger in Niger by thirty percent?
Can you repeat the main examples that support why your plan will be successful?

Questions to Waste Time

Sometimes opposing blocks are not focused. Sometimes they are speaking exactly to the point. For your block to regroup is it sometimes useful to ask questions which take focus away from a sensitive point for you and your allies. Questions to Waste Time are not inherently useless but do refocus the discussion from where we do not want the focus to be.

Here are some examples of types of time wasting questions

Paraphrasing what they said in way they need to untangle
Repeat something that was already said
Ask detailed questions about irrelevant examples or topics
Ask about something to do with their country that isn’t as important to debate
What if questions about hypothetical scenarios

Examples of Questions to Waste Time

You said earlier that “the time for naval warfare is over”. Given that the Falkland war would never have been won by the United Kingdom in 1982, how can you say that?
Can you repeat your detailed example on how crop yields will increase?
Can you tell us about the 2014 economic reform plan and why that justifies your support for your blocks policy?

Other types of POI'S

When there is a Point of Information, a Yield to Questions, or another opportunity to speak, there are two more elements that can be added to any of the Model UN Points of Information above, to achieve a second goal, along with the one you are aiming for by asking the question.

Questions to Insert Information

All questions have room to insert a fact or two. Strategically inserting facts can put more information into the debate, or remind the delegates about some specific information. This should not come at the expense of the effectiveness of the question, but can be useful for less critical POI’s, such as Questions to Waste Time or Questions to Clarify

Questions to Involve Others

Name dropping during speeches is useful to get other delegates attention. This is just as true with POI’s. However, sometimes using another delegates name in the POI can also get them involved in the discussion.

For example: “Belize and I wish to ask about the questions of naturalization, what is your plan to appease the local population?”

Another method is to use one delegates words in a POI to another, such as “China, India pointed out how labor laws would benefit the market. What is your response to her comment?”

12 Actionable Tips For Asking Great POI’s

Know your purpose

Each question has a goal. Know what fact, opinion or statement you are trying to get and tailor your question accordingly.

Write out your questions

Don’t reply on memory. Sometimes the exact wording is needed to achieve your goal and you don’t want to say “ummm” or pause for thinking.Before your meeting, outline your information goals and a sequence of related questions to help you follow the conversation and cue your notes.

Avoid long intros

Sometimes we feel the need to give all sorts of preambulatory statements to your questions, or worse, to hide an entire speech in our questions. Avoid this. If we do not ask short and sharp questions it reflects poorly on us. After you write out your question, cutout what is not essential. If you can get to the point quickly not only will everyone appreciate it but you will be more likely to get the answer you want.

Keep your questions open

Avoid yes or no questions, unless you are:
- Looking to hear a yes or no
- Looking to get the speaker to openly avoid giving a yes or no answer
For all the rest keep in mind that open ended questions invite the respondent to speak, and give you much more information. Questions like “What do you like best about Bolivia's policy?” is going to generate much more valuable information than “Do you like Bolivia's policy?”Another option is asking a question in the declarative format, for example “Can you tell me about your plans for the water shortage”. Some delegates who aren’t good at answering open questions respond better to direct orders.

Speak in a way the listeners will understand

When we hear other delegates read speeches which sound like essays, with complex words and long sentences, we zone out. Sometimes a paper that would get an A+ would still bore us if read out loud. Remember that the other delegates understanding you is of key importance with all speeches, but especially with POI’s, which need to be short and clear.

Keep the language neutral

Asking leading questions, such as “How does you country feel about the achievement of months of cooperation and compromise, the Sustainable Development Goals?” is unproductive.
Questions that are really statements of assumptions put in the form of a question can be aggressive, which often leads to hostility.
For example, the intent of a question like “Why doesn’t your country improve the infrastructure?
"isn’t to acquire a better understanding of a situation and, unless it’s used as a Question to Challenge, is actually making a statement about your point of view and will not bring a cooperative result. For this reason, open and neutral language is needed so the other delegate has an opportunity to provide you with information to further your understanding and possibly give you leverage for future negotiating.

Follow general questions with specific ones

If your conference allows follow up questions it is sometimes better to set up your second question with your first. Only do this if you know that you will likely get a follow up, as otherwise you are throwing away your more important question for a less important one. Another option, if you are working well with your block, is to give the opening question and someone else giving the follow up (or vice versa).

One Question - Only

Only ask one question each POI. Do not double up and ask two or more. Along with the risk of sounding unclear, you give the respondent the ability to choose between the questions. Ideally, we want all answers to help our side whether they are answered poorly or well. For this reason we want them as open to as little interpretation as possible. To do this craft short questions with the goal of requesting a single answer. If you really need an answer to two different question, ask two different questions or get someone else in your block to ask the second one.

Only ask essential questions

If you don’t care about the information, don’t ask the question. Unless the goal is to waste the respondents time make sure that your questions are in an order of importance to what you want to hear. IF you have a few put them in order and choose them as if you only got to ask one.

Don’t interrupt

Once you have asked the question let the other delegate answer it to the fullest. Interruptions reflect poorly on us while being respectful shows professionalism and usually registers well with our chairs and our peers.

Use references as you need

Use something in the answer to frame your next question. Even if this takes you off your planned path for a while, it shows that you’re listening, not just hammering through your agenda, and it ensures that the conversation flows naturally.

Intonation

Emphasize the important part. Raise volume, slow down, pause, breath, look at the other delegates, let your words sink in. When answering a question, how you did it can be almost as important as what you say. Those who practice public speaking should not forget the rules of public speaking when answering a Point of Information. While it is shorter and faster than a speech, POI’s often have more listeners and, at crunch time, a good answer can sometimes go further than a good speech.

How answer questions 

Now that we understand the different types of POI’s, let us learn about how to answer them. The first step to answering questions is to accept that not every answer will be perfect. As we have seen, a good question will often have a goal, and we need to do our best to answer it. As Model UNers, we learn to think on our feet and not accepting POI’s can be both cowardly and costly. As such, when answering a question we should:

1) Answer the actual question - Failing to answer will be noticed and remembered. Unless there is a better reason to completely avid answer, at least a partial answer should be enough to not be seen as someone who does not know the answer of cannot defend their policy.
2) Answer as quickly and completely as needed - While you are answering the question it is about “them” and not about “you”. To move on the taking advantage of the new speakers time you have, try to get the them part finished as quickly as you can. That goes without say that you should only do this if you completely finished answering the question. Hard questions should get more time, as answering them will will serve you better than a partial answer.
3) Bring the focus back to you - Once answered, spend the rest of the time developing your case, repeating your important points. If this is answering a Question to Support, your answer should already be about your block from the moment the question is asked. If it is a Question to Challenge, it is likely that your case will need strengthening. If it is a Question to Waste Time, saying the question is irrelevant, or giving a token answer is enough before going back to what is important. In all cases, the important part of making sure that your ideas are the ones fresh on everyone's mind when your answer is done.
4. Minimally engage with parts that don’t strengthen your case or refute the other side - Be strategic. Sometimes a delegate can ask you multiple questions in one POI (though if they did they did not read this article). In those cases you can choose where to focus and where to engage. Remember that the answer time is yours and use it as you feel best.

6 Types of Answers

While not always applicable, the following list can be mixed and matched to provide the best possible answer to a good POI. Also, while a direct and honest answer is usually best, there are some cases where other types of answer would be more effective.

A Direct Answer – Generally the best type of answer is to actually answer the question. There will usually be nothing to hide and giving a straightforward answer will leave the least room for critique and misinterpretation. A direct and factual answer is especially good for Questions to Clarify and Questions to Support but can be used for all types of questions when relevant. This does not mean your answer cannot be strategic or that you must confess your motives. It simply means that actually answering the question will usually serve you better than an attempt at diversion.

Calling Out of Context – Especially for Questions to Waste Time, calling out the question on irrelevance can be a legitimate tactic. However, sometimes it is just as effective to pretend the question was better than it was. In such cases, it is suggested to reword it, answer it quickly and bring the focus back to you.

Partial Answer – Especially when asked two or more questions, sometimes choosing the most convenient one and answering that can be most effective.

Stalling – Sometimes the question you are asked required research, or more time to put together a position. In these cases, giving an unclear answer, or answer with a question, might be the best option to collect one's thoughts and give a better answer later.

Avoiding the Answer – Politicians are especially associated with this trait. When asked a ‘difficult question’ which has an answer that would be negative, avoidance can be a useful tact. This can be done by asking a different question within the speech and answering it. Another option is to draw attention to a positive aspect of the topic. Convincing Model UNers using this method rarely works but if the real answer is incriminating this may be the better option.

Refusing to Answer – When all else fails, sometimes you may have to simply refuse to answer. This is extremely rare at a MUN conference but sometimes the best option may by simply saying, ‘I am not answering’.

Conclusion

As we can see, the art of questions and answers at a Model United Nations conference is not simple. However, it is critical and can take up a significant amount of speaking time. Practice makes perfect and knowing what you are doing makes practice easier and more effective. POI’s are not different from speeches, in that they are an important part of the formal public debate. They are also a tool to get in extra time when your speech is further down the speakers list, as well as a way to throw a bone to your block. American Novelist Thomas Berger said “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge”. Play with asking and answering POI’s. Try out the different types with friends, and society members, to get the hang of it. Even a slight improvement will bring further effectiveness not only in Model UN but also in school university and everywhere else someone might ask questions.

Glossary Of Terms

Open Questions: Allow for a longer response than yes/no or fact requesting questions and therefore, potentially, more creativity and information.
Closed Questions: Invite a short focused answer, often easy to answer as the choice of answers is limited. They can be very useful when getting the other side to establish a position or fact-finding.
Factual Questions: Questions which require specific information. Usually who, what, when, where. Often Yes / No.
Choice Question: Do you want this or that?Inductive: Discovery of a general principle from a collection of specific facts.
Deductive: Logical operation in which the worth of a generalization is tested with specific issues.
Funnelling: Asking a series of questions that become more / less restrictive at each step, starting with an open question and concluding with closed questions or vice-versa.
Divergent Questions: What might happen if.
Higher Order Questions: Need to choose the order of importance
Mood Questions: Questions which elicit expressions of values, attitudes or feelings. Such questions are “How do you feel about that?" and "Why is that important to you?"
Situational questions: what would you do when?
Embedded questions: questions not asked outright but nested within another sentence / question.
Recall and Process Questions: Questions can be categorised by whether they require one to ‘recall’, asking that something be remembered, or ‘process’,requiring some deeper thought analysis.Leading / ‘Loaded’ Questions: A Loaded question points the respondent’s answer, usually subtly, in a certain direction.
Rhetorical Questions: Questions used to get the audience to think and do not require an answer.