But No, Seriously: What’s the Difference Between Web Conferencing and Webinar Software?

November 13th, 2019

How do web conferences differ from webinars? Let me count the ways. First, I’ll start with the happy group of coworkers pictured above in our featured image. Unless they really are the bestest of buds, chances are they’re simply participating in a web conference together. Probably with another coworker who is working remotely.

In my experience, web conferences are usually collaborative online meetings with colleagues and other key stakeholders in a shared project, oftentimes including folks outside my organization. On the other hand, webinars are typically experienced with me sitting at my desk, eating a bagel while watching someone way more knowledgeable on a subject teach me something while they’re thousands of miles away. Sometimes, I have had coworkers join me in watching a webinar, but we’re typically viewing it in a conference room on a larger screen, not around someone’s laptop.

More than a meeting, more than a conference

Think about it this way: are your attendees actually participants or are they viewers? Participants are active, engaged online meeting attendees who want to share their thoughts, views, and ideas in real-time. They’ll want to be able to share their screen, write on e-whiteboards, and upload content to other attendees.

Viewers on the other hand, just want to sit back and relax. Take notes, and maybe participate in a Q&A session at the end of the meeting. They’re typically not there to co-lead or teach. They’re more so learners and observers.

Most web conferencing software vendors on the market make this realm of decision-making easy for you. While web conferencing software at its most expansive will support up to 1,000 participants, webinar software will typically give potential buyers the option of having up to 100 (interactive) participants with upwards of up to 10,000 view-only attendees.

Web conferencing software is best if you want to be able to have everyone in your organization be active participants in an online meeting. It’s a great option for international businesses with employees all over the world who regularly host all-hands meetings. Enterprises will be in the business of hosting large online meetings on a regular basis as working from home becomes more popular amongst workforces, but leading software has you covered there.

If you’re in the e-learning business, sales, customer success, or in any field where you need to share information with a large number of people outside of your organization on a regular basis, you will want to take advantage of the massive audience hosting capabilities of webinars. Popular use cases for webinars are for online training initiatives for software companies to improve the experience of existing users, or for sales and marketing departments to host information sessions on new and emerging product offerings to interested buyers.

Once more, with feeling

Okay, so I know I’ve been accused of being long-winded and I know I’ve been accused of over-stirring my champurrado (it’s fun, okay…). That said, it’s super important to be mindful of the differences between web conferencing and webinars. You don’t wanna be That Guy that signs your company up for a webinar software subscription when you only needed a web conferencing software license for 10 people. Yes, they will remind you of all the Taco Tuesdays you could have had with that extra money. I refuse to let you be the person who ruined Taco Tuesdays.

The biggest difference between webinar and web conferencing software is size. Webinar software is best for larger group meetings or online events with large audiences of hundreds or sometimes thousands of participants. Owing to this, webinars are typically much more structured and may require more extensive scheduling features than standard web conferencing solutions provide. Namely, competitive webinar software will provide tools for promoting and sharing the webinar details to a wider audience.

Knowing whether you need one or the other is key in navigating this space. However, thinking about your intended use cases and mode of execution will help guide you to a decision. Webinars help facilitate large, online meetings for corporations, featuring custom branding and sophisticated presentation tools. Web conferencing platforms shine brightest when used for sharing ideas and making decisions between remote stakeholders.

¿Por qué no los dos?

I’m all for having a one-stop-shop, or in the case of web conferences and webinars, a one-stop-vendor for both tools. It is not uncommon for web conferencing software vendors to also provide upgrades that support webinars. In this case, users can take advantage of working with one vendor and enjoy the flexibility and customization that comes with utilizing a webinar tool or a web conferencing tool within the same infrastructure.

The good news for you is that we’re like, kind of mind-readers, and already wrote a post all about online video solutions that have you covered for both web conferences and webinars. Thank you for inspiring us, and we hope you find our tips and reviews helpful in deciding what works best for you and your organization.