5 brilliant tips for surviving a UN Conference

Miriam Freudenberg is Restless Development’s Advocacy & Networks Coordinator. Providing a unique insight into the reality behind to glamour, Miriam shares some lessons learned and advice on networking and lobbying in an international context.

How do you successfully network? Yes, you always need to have your business cards with you, you need to know your advocacy message by heart and you need to map whom to target.
If you’re interested in advocacy you might already know that (if not, click here). But what do you really need to survive a week long advocacy marathon at, say, the United Nations in New York?

First of all, if your expectations are to look like this:

ban ki moon for blog
Let go of them and get comfortable with looking like this:

Lloyd defeated
Thanks to my MGCY colleague for letting me use this photo 😉

Here are my five tips  based on Restless Development’s  Agenda 2030 advocacy work at the UN:

    If you’re a lone wolf and value your alone time, you might feel that networking at a conference is excruciating. You will have to walk up and talk to ambassadors, ministers, diplomats and complete strangers (who are likely one of the former!). A friendly smile and initial small talk are your keys to liaising with the decision-makers you want to influence. Approach and be approachable!

You always wanted to go on that month-long hiking trip? A conference might be the perfect opportunity to collect those needed extra hours. In their final stage, Agenda 2030 negotiations started at 10 in the morning, lasted for several hours, broke off to redraft the negotiation paper, resumed with a delay of several hours (during which you wait on the edge of your seat) and went on until 4.30 am in the morning. At the UN headquarters, the air conditioning is off at night and the translators had gone home at 6pm, resulting in a conference room resembling a sweltering tower of Babel.

Always wanted to get that funky haircut or never knew when to wear that lime green tie? A conference might be the time to sport it. Standing out (because you look friendly and interesting) and being memorable (because your advocacy message is strong. And because that lime green tie is just fab!) is what you want to achieve. In all seriousness, though you’re still in a very professional environment, a little splash for craziness goes a long, long way.

You really don’t like this government’s stance on migration? You get very annoyed by people being pro/anti-abortion? Now’s not the time to be a hardliner. After all, diplomacy and tolerance is what keeps the UN (and the world, really) going. If you don’t like an opinion, try to convince with facts and appease with a smile. The UN, and negotiations in general, are no place for verbal attacks. Live and let live, lobby and let lobby!

Let go of insisting that you’ll need at least 8 hours of sleep in order to function. Big conferences won’t spare you. The only thing you can do is prepare: Go into hibernation mode during the week leading up to the conference and pre-sleep as much as you can. Every hour will count, promised.


You’ll come out of the conference exhausted, ready to sleep for the next week and utterly drained. But also knowing that you’re much more outgoing, adaptable and enduring than you’d have thought.

And, most importantly: You know that you got it all right if you also had a lot of fun and made great new friends!

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5 brilliant tips for surviving a UN Conference

by wearerestless Reading time: 2 min