Outlaw audiences and attendees

by | Jul 8, 2011 | Blog | 3 comments

Photo: Kevin Malkice

Employee audiences or employee stakeholders?

Meeting attendees or meeting participants?

Which do you prefer? And which do you use?

The phrases “employee audiences” and “meeting attendees” should be outlawed, especially when you’re implementing change.

Yet, habits can die hard, as one of my clients admits. (And I’ll confess I’m probably in her face about this, encouraging her to change.) So even though she recognizes the power of  the words “stakeholders” and “participants,” she still tends to use the old familiar phrases.

Here’s why you should work to eliminate “employee audience” and “meeting attendee” from your vocabulary.

Employees are not an audience, especially when viewed in light of the official dictionary definition of audience. Audiences traditionally are spectators at a public event. Or they’re a regular public that shows interest, support or enthusiasm.

In today’s environment, you may want your employees as well as your customers to “like” your company’s Facebook page, but you also want them to expand a lot more energy and effort than that.

By comparison, stakeholders have an “investment, share, or interest in something, as a business or industry,” according to the dictionary definition. Since many employees also are shareholders, the term stakeholders, which describes a deeper involvement and commitment than spectators, is a more appropriate descriptor.

Employees take part in conversations. They take actions. They follow through. They influence others. And because they are speaking and acting from a credible position, others can take notice and take action too.

Same thing with meeting attendees versus participants. Meeting attendees who don’t have any stake in the game are spectators. And as observers, they’re probably not going to give you their full attention. Their bodies may be in the room, but their minds aren’t. It’s too easy for them to start day dreaming, checking their email, or working on something else.

By contrast, meeting participants are fully present. They recognize that they may be called on, they know they’re going to be involved in some meaningful task during the course of the meeting, and they’ll be asked to do something afterward. Even in this case, you still run the risk of people glancing at their cell phones as many of us hate to delay digital gratification (See Can you delay gratification with your digital devices?) But people generally know the consequences—they could miss something that they’re actively engaged in and excited about.

Are you treating your employees like audience members or stakeholders? And what about your meetings? Are you making sure the attendees are true participants with an active role and follow-up actions?


  1. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    I agree. I think audience carries with it a mindset that they are there for you. This isn’t the definition, but I believe people see it as “my audience.”

    When I work with people on their communication strategies, I encourage replacing “audience” with “customer.” No, these aren’t the paying customers; they are your internal customers. When it is framed in this way, you think of communication in terms of “what helps the individual or group?” Regardless of what we WANT people to hear, communications is more effective when it helps to answer questions that the individual or group is looking for answers to. If you are answering questions that people don’t have, they may hear your words but they won’t hear your message.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Jamie, insightful observations as usual. Yes, “customer” is another effective term for “audience.” The customer-centric approach you take with your clients is helpful. We shouldn’t be shoveling out stuff that appeals to us; instead, we need to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, figure out what they want, and deliver that. People pay attention more, remember more, and are more inclined to act when they hear about things that are presented in ways that respond to their interests, wants, and communication preferences.

  3. Steve Hendon

    Liz – You always have an interesting perspective that gets me thinking. In this case, the suggested word choices can be so much more empowering and send a totally different message. Makes me think I need to focus a little more on word choice. Nice post.

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