Welcome to the Facilitation Forum.

Ask Questions, Get Answers, and join in peer to peer Conversations about Meeting Challenges. (Some of you may just want to hover… that’s okay too.) Terrence Metz will be your moderator, but we fully expect you to talk amongst yourselves.

Join us by clicking REGISTER under the FORUM tab above. Instructions and Rules can be found HERE. Or find out more on our ABOUT page. Have further questions? Feel free to contact us HERE

Virtual Participant Communication Problem  



Hi, I just recently joined the forum and haven't seen this topic addressed. I run a monthly meeting for my company where three of the members are virtual participants from outside the country.

The problem I have is that one of these virtual participants is very difficult to understand, due to his accent. It's frustrating for all of us, especially myself as the leader. He seems to think it's because he's a virtual participant, but we have no problem either communicating or hearing the other virtual participants. How can I handle this situation tactfully? And has anyone else dealt with this issue before?  Thanks


Thanks Pari,

Keep in mind that everyone has an accent compared to someone else in the meeting.  Whether virtual or face-to-face (but especially virtual where we frequently lose the ability to "read lips"), we have learned there are three behaviors participants ought embrace to sound clear to everyone else.  We frequently use the Ground Rule "Speak Clearly" and explain HOW to speak clearly with these three suggestions:

  1. Slow down the rate of speech
  2. Project louder
  3. Fully enunciate the consonants or explosive parts of English language, especially the interior consonants.

To avoid embarrassing your participant, consider the following:

  • Begin using these Ground Rules that apply to everyone.
  • Try to apply them to someone else during the meeting before you remind the person you referenced.  This, to avoid pointing them out.
  • Speak with them privately with the message that some folks reported back to you that they were having a difficult time understanding you, felt your message was important, and hoped that you would speak clearer so as not to be missed.
  • Get the individual who is dialect challenged to understand and agree that when they forget the three rules above, you are supposed to remind them gently, for their benefit.

Let us know your results . . . and perhaps others will chime in as well with their suggestions.

Wow, thank you! The use of ground rules is especially helpful. I can't imagine better suggestions. Can't wait to share this with my manager.


Consider around four Ground Rules for every meeting (eg, "Be Here Now") and then add no more than two to four additional based on specific meeting challenges such as "Speak Clearly."


This problem comes up with most global teams and the best solution I have seen is to use a new tool called GoWall to hold your meetings on a cloud based forum where people provide their input by creating "virtual post-it notes"  Check it out and you can probably get a free trial of the application.  It works great and gets around the language barrier because most non english speaking people can write much better than they can speak the language. 

 I will definitely check out GoWall. It's great to have some tools and some ground rules. Thanks everyone!


Thanks Mr. Morgan.  Find it difficult responding to an acclaimed HBR author by their first name.

Without personal testimony, have heard from others about the efficacy of GoWall.  While no doubt other options exist, your suggestion remains highly valid --- especially when all participants are virtual.  

When half of the group is face-to-face and the other half is virtual, I'm less enamored with the reliance on writing rather than speaking.  Yet again, your logic about English being easier to write than speak resounds clearly.  We're so myopic in the USA and liberally use the term ESL standing for English as a Second Language when in fact for many multi-nationals, English is their third, fourth, or fifth language --- not necessarily the second language.

For some other considerations when facilitating Europeans and Asians, look at this article for additional tips.