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Differences Between Virtual Events & Webinars | Which to Use?

Find out the key differences between virtual events and webinars. We’ll help you choose which format best suits you.
Abel Grunfeld
Head of Marketing
Last Updated:
March 24, 2024
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

In a rapidly digitizing world, online communications are booming, offering plenty of opportunity for new creators to get on board. But should you host a virtual event or a webinar?

These two marketing methods are not one and the same. For many people, choosing the right option can feel like a challenge. To ensure you’re giving your digital communications the best chance at success, you need to understand the differences between webinars and virtual events. This can help you decide which is the best fit for your needs.

Where to get started? Read on for a full gude on virtual events vs webinars. We’ll look at their differences and similarities, then help you decide which is best for you.

Need webinar tips or virtual event ideas? Keep reading! But first, let’s investigate the differences between these two concepts and explore the benefits of each.

Webinar vs virtual events: definition

It’s easy to assume that webinars and virtual events are variations of the same marketing tools, but this just isn’t the case.

In reality, webinars and virtual events are distinct communication constructs, each providing its own unique benefits and pitfalls. Knowing how to define both methods is essential if you want to understand how you can use digital connectivity to drive your growth.

What is a webinar?

A webinar is an interactive online event, allowing participants to connect virtually from anywhere in the world. Essentially, a webinar is a digitalized seminar event, usually designed to provide audiences with new skills.

Webinars usually take on more of a how-to or tutorial format around a specific topic relevant to their audience. They’ll often include extra features, such as screen-shared videos and presentations that aim to teach and engage your viewers.

Since webinars tend to address an audience’s specific problems, they can be powerful for conversion!

The latest research shows that webinars can support an average conversion rate of 55%. In fact, almost three-quarters of B2B marketers cite webinars as the best tool for lead generation.

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event is an online experience, helping you communicate directly with a global audience as part of a conference, keynote, workshop, or something else entirely. Virtual events tend to be broad in scope and can communicate in uniquely tailored ways.

When hosting a virtual event, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce a wide range of topics, with many virtual events spanning several sessions and even covering several days. You can even include special guest speakers to engage your audience!

Virtual events offer a wide range of benefits in a modern marketing landscape. Many organizers believe that virtual events deliver new opportunities and better return on investment compared to in-person alternatives. The results are so successful that in the next two years, 90% of event organizers plan to make all large events hybrid or virtual.

If you want to build your professional network and generate warm leads en masse, virtual events can be a powerful tool. Some hosts even produce series or recurring events that give attendees the chance to participate in a growing online community again and again.

Similarities between virtual events and webinars

Still struggling to understand what distinguishes a virtual event from a webinar? You’re not alone! These two modes have a few close similarities that can lead to confusion. These similarities include:

Live online communication

Both virtual events and webinars act as a hub for meaningful online communication, relying on video and audio-sharing tools. In both settings, hosts connect directly and engage with audiences in real-time. This can help you articulate big ideas and respond to participant interests on the spot. Ultimately, connecting in this way can be an important factor in driving ongoing marketing success.

Professional applicatons

Increasingly, experienced marketers are turning to a mix of webinars and virtual events to target consumers impactfully. Both communication styles can be used for advertising purposes, but the potential doesn’t end there. Often, webinars and virtual events can also be used for industry conferences and professional development. It all depends on the kind of event you want to produce in line with your communication goals.

Low-cost start-up options

Today, 80% of virtual events are accessible without a financial cost, and webinars offer similar benefits. For creators and attendees alike, these online communication options can provide great connections with minimal investment. This allows you to get started in a new form of content production without breaking the bank before you’ve tested the waters.

Scope for community building

Both webinars and virtual events deliver great scope for building your community. This is especially, sinceyou aren’t bound by in-person limitations such as travel requirements and other costs.

Whether you want to build your customer base or connect with more people in your industry, you can rely on either event type. Focusing on engagement and interactivity, these methodologies allow you to take control of your online relationships.

Virtual remote software use

Whether you’re hosting a virtual event or a webinar, you’ll need to choose a high-quality remote software platform. Both event styles may require chat functions, recording tools, and even screen-sharing capabilities. The good news is that software options like Riverside offer studio-quality supports suitable for webinars and virtual events alike. This means you can produce both in one convenient location!

We’ve got full guides on virtual event software and webinar platforms if you’d like to learn more.

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Differences between virtual events and webinars

Despite the many similarities between webinars and virtual events, there are also a few key differences you should be aware of. Differences include:

Length of production

There’s no set rule that governs the length of your webinar or virtual event. However, there are expectations surrounding each communication style.

Webinars offer a more concise look at a specific topic or idea. The cover one idea in depth with a narrow yet streamlined focus.

Virtual events, on the other hand, can be just as extensive as an in-person workshop or conference. This means they can span over separate sessions over several days or even a week.

Opportunities for networking

Both webinars and virtual events can provide opportunities for connection, but the way you connect won’t be the same across the two mediums.

Webinars allow you, as a host, to connect, engage, and interact with your audience in real time. However, there may be less space for your audience members to interact with one another.

Virtual events are much more likely to include breakout sessions and similar features that give attendees time to network with one another.

Topic suitability and coverage

What you discuss in your virtual event or webinar is up to you, but it’s worth considering that each medium offers unique strengths for topic coverage.

A webinar is often a great place to address specific ideas or concerns. You might host a Q&A session or provide a succinct walkthrough of a new product or service. Here, a narrow focus is essential.

With virtual events, it’s more common to address a wide range of subtopics within a niche or industry. You may have time for special guest speakers and audience participation, as well as more in-depth topic discussions.

Technical requirements

When you’re producing digital content, it’s always important to think about the technical requirements you’ll need to work with.

Webinars may require only a simple setup, making this a great pathway for beginner software users. You can rely on basic tools to create an effective production..

Virtual events can be trickier. You may need to rely on more sophisticate software tools and access a broader range of technological features.

Brand awareness building

While webinars and virtual events can both boost brand awareness, they differ in their approach.

Most of the time, webinars stick to the specifics. This might mean that you focus on a niche part of your brand’s story or identity, relevant to a particular topic or product.

Virtual events center your brand much more. With more time to work with, these events can help you articulate key values and messages as relates to your brand at large.

Data gathering capacity

Virtual events and webinars both deliver valuable data insights, but they don’t perform these functions in the same way.

Webinars usually offer sweeping group data that helps you understand audience demographics broadly. This can be great for understanding group behavior in support of campaigns.

Virtual events provide more individualized data values. You can assess each attendee’s ideas, contributions, and interactions on a case-by-case basis more suited to specific lead response than mass marketing activities.

Virtual events vs webinars: Which should you choose?

When choosing between a virtual event or webinar, your decision needs to be informed by your specific goals and requirements. This will vary depending on who you are, what you need, and where your brand is right now.

If you’re struggling to make the right selection for your content, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

What are your goals for digital communication?

Understand your target audience and what they need. If you want to build your community and nurture existing relationships, a virtual event is likely the best choice. If you want to generate new leads by delivering educational guides, try a webinar!

How much content do you need to cover?

If you have plenty of time to spare, a virtual event can help you cover content in depth over a period of several days and multiple sessions. If you’re running low on time or only want to cover specific concepts, webinars are the way to go.

How do you want to connect with your audience?

If you’re searching for new networking opportunities via virtual breakout sessions and network-oriented discussions, virtual events offer the perfect solution. If you want to engage a large audience with lecture-style communication, webinars can be a valuable pathway.

Do you want to repurpose event content?

If you’re hosting a live broadcast event with limited plans for repurposing, a virtual event could suit your requirements. If you want to save recordings of your content and share them later via social media, a webinar could be the right choice.

FAQs on virtual events and webinars

Still unsure about the differences between virtual events and webinars? Still struggling to decide which choice is right for you? Here are our answers to a few frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between a webcast and a webinar?

Webcasts and webinars are often confused. The key difference is characterized by engagement. Webinars tend to be highly participatory events, offering many chances for audiences to ask questions and interact. Webcasts, conversely, usually involve more one-sided communication as the host presents and audiences listen. Often, the key difference between these two forms lies in the topics they cover.

Final thoughts: Virtual events and webinars

As you work to grow your brand and boost your impact, understanding how to use a wide range of communication tools is critical. This can empower you to explore new marketing channels and reach a broader, more engaged consumer base.

Are you ready to produce your first webinar or virtual event? Don’t compromise on quality! Launch your digital experience today with Riverside hosting and recording technology.

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