Virtual Events vs. Webinars: Differences, benefits, and why you should choose events

Event Anywhere Team
Updated on

At the start of the pandemic, in-person events were canceled, throwing virtual events and webinars into the fore. This brought with it many challenges, with many organizations hosting such events for the first time.

The ease and accessibility of hosting virtual events has led organizations who would have never considered events as part of their marketing mix in the past to consider running them. This trend looks set to continue into 2021 and even post-pandemic.

If your organization is one of these – contemplating hosting your first online event – the first question that will undoubtedly come up is whether to go for a fully-fledged virtual event or a more traditional webinar.

This brings us to the topic of our post – what are the differences between these two distinct online event formats, the benefits that they offer, and which makes the most sense for you and your organization.

What is a webinar?

As the name suggests, a webinar is simply a web-based seminar, enabling one or more speakers to present to a listening audience.

They tend to consist of an expert running through a set of slides, with many attendees tuned in who usually can’t be seen or heard. The format is pretty much a one-way street, lacking in real audience engagement and interaction.

This format is perfect if you’re talking to a particular topic or giving product demos to groups of prospective customers for around an hour or less. The idea is to sit back and listen, followed by a brief Q&A allowing the audience to fire a few questions.

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event attempts to bring everything you’d expect at an in-person event into a web-based format. The result is a multi-dimensional virtual event space that enables engagement and interaction, emulating the experience you would expect in real-life.

Main stage, expo hall, networking, fireside chats, and break-out sessions – they’re all here. The only real difference is that they’re virtual, removing the physical bottlenecks you would otherwise be limited by at an in-person event.

The format offers a lot of flexibility to organizers and attendees alike. People are free to create their own schedules, choosing to attend sessions that are of most interest and value to them instead of being stuck on a single-track, consuming the same content as everyone else like is the case in a webinar.

Virtual Events vs. Webinars: What are the key differences?

For anyone new to events, the online events space can be daunting. With all the names, terminology, and different platforms throw around, it can be challenging to determine what exactly it is that you need to deliver virtual events aligned with business goals.

To make matters worse – and as we enter its second here – the uncertainty around the pandemic is still here and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. This can make determining what you need from an events platform and how you’ll utilize it over the coming weeks and months all the more difficult.

In this post, we’ll speak to the primary differences and benefits of opting to host a virtual event over a traditional webinar, helping you to determine which type of online event is right for you and your business.

1. Better attendee experience and engagement

The main drawback of a webinar is that it offers the same experience for every attendee, whereas virtual events enabled attendees to create their own, unique experiences. Attendees at a virtual event can dip in and out of content that’s of interest to them, resulting in better attendee engagement, experience, and value.

This is where virtual events shine, offering multiple tracks for attendees to go down, putting a wealth, diverse range of high-quality content at their fingertips to pick and choose from. In addition to tracks, a virtual event offers various formats – from keynotes and sessions to break-out meetings and networking – providing a multitude of ways to engage with and connect with your content and other attendees.

In short, a virtual event offers a much more interactive setting, allowing attendees to truly participate in your event, unlike the limited, one-way format of a webinar. This interactivity will leave attendees feeling more engaged, making them more likely to attend your next event, as well as share the positive experience they had with like-minded colleagues and friends, helping to amplify your reach.  

2. Host concurrent, multi-track sessions

Webinars are traditionally used to deliver seminars, interviews, and product demos, on a single-track – meaning that all attendees have access to the same content, with limited to no opportunity for alternative sessions to co-occur.

In contrast, a virtual event can be compromised of any content – whether this is keynotes, educational sessions, or promotional content from sponsors and exhibitors, in whatever form they’re published. This offers far more flexibility than a webinar, enabling you to host sessions and multi-track content, letting attendees choose in what and how they wish to participate to derive the most value from your event.

Many virtual event platforms – Event Anywhere included – are “evergreen”, meaning that they remain open to users the event as officially ended. This creates a post-event community that can be leveraged to create value for your organization, sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees, long into the future. 

3. Make meaningful connections with networking

Networking is another feature of virtual event platforms that give them a distinct one-up over webinars, enabling meaningful interaction and connection between organizers, sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees.

Whether discussing the event and its content, sharing information and first-hand experiences, or opportunities for potential collaboration and partnerships – networking can add a lot of value to your event. Whether this is on a one-to-one basis, using mingle functionality, or as break-out sessions or side-meetings during your event is entirely up to the attendees, enabling organic, authentic connection.

And just like in real life, after an interaction, attendees can share or download each other’s contact information, enabling them to continue conversations offline after the event.

4. Measure more, generating better insights and metrics

With a webinar, the data you can gather and measure is limited – offering very little in the way of insight – for organizers and attendees alike. With a virtual event, you’re able to capture much more data, making it easier to determine your event’s success and how to rework and improve ahead of your next one.

One of the critical components of any event is lead generation. While webinar solutions offer information typical of a registration page, they don’t provide much more. With a virtual event, you can measure and track attendee behavioral data, helping to build a profile for each prospect – something that is critical for pre-qualifying and scoring leads.

Everything from profile views, sessions attended, content downloads, and user interactions can be captured, providing valuable insights that will help you more effectively plan content and choose speakers to maximize future events’ success.

Why choose virtual events? And are they right for your organization?

Webinars are still incredibly popular – and they’ll continue to play an important role in online events – but that said, there are a wide range of benefits to be hand by making the switch from webinars to virtual events.

You’ll be able to engage attendees better, capture more data giving better insights, and have the flexibility to offer a vast range of different content formats, helping you to reach a wider audience. And you’ll also be able to benefit long after your event has ended, with users being able to access content and engage with each other through the platform post-event. 

The most significant difference between these types of online events is the interactivity they offer attendees. And while both have their limitations, a virtual event platform provides everything a webinar platform does and more – offering near-limitless flexibility.

Final thoughts

In short – there isn’t really any downside to opting for a virtual event platform over one built solely for webinars.

Virtual event platforms offer all the same core functionality needed to run webinars, with much more in the way of a fully-fledged solution for events – making them a savvier investment.

While you may not utilize the platform’s full capabilities at first, you’ll have it ready when your organization needs it, helping to future proof your event marketing strategy as it develops. 

Next steps

Event Anywhere is an all-in-one virtual events platform that makes online events more personal.

It has all the features and functionality needed to make your future events a success, offering an end-to-end solution that makes organizing and running virtual events a breeze.

Planning a virtual event right now? Speak with our virtual event consultants who are on-hand to help get you started with Event Anywhere.

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