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Virtual Conference? Webinar? Online Event? Town Hall? How to Tell Them All Apart

Rachel Maltese
Updated April 23 2020
difference between virtual conferences webinars and town hall webcasts
Rachel Maltese
Updated April 23 2020

Many businesses, schools, and other institutions are currently looking to move in-person events to virtual settings in order to help combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). For those new to virtual events, choosing the right solution type is essential to getting the necessary results.

 

So, what’s out there and what’s right for you and your organization? Let’s take a look at the defining features of meetings, webinars, town halls, and virtual classrooms.

Understanding the Difference between Different Types of Virtual Events

Virtual Meetings/Video Conferences

Virtual meetings (or video conferences) are exactly what they sound like. A meeting for a relatively small group of people who will all be doing some interaction during the session. These small-group events are meant for day-to-day collaboration and replace in person face-to-face collaboration with a remote version of the same.

 

Is there a difference between a virtual meeting and a video conference? People often lump them together. But while video conferences just need two people talking by video, virtual meetings usually have significantly more in the way of features, including sharing screens, documents, other videos, whiteboards, notes, and more. It’s the difference between running into someone in the hallway and sitting down in a conference room for a meeting people prepared for.

 

Making virtual meetings effective means thinking about them in terms of purpose and scale. Once a meeting has an assigned goal, it’s much easier to select features that enhance the virtual experience. Meetings focused on brainstorming may, for example, be different than meetings with customers. Some meetings may benefit from virtual white boards. Others may require focusing on a presentation prepared in advance. In either case, virtual meetings focus on situations where everyone has the same permissions, allowing them not just to listen in, but to speak up and participate.

Webinars

Webinars are the next step up from virtual meetings. These events are for larger groups, where most of the participants are listening, but not speaking. That said, webinars do allow for controlled Q&A activities with tools that provide the meeting host with more control and the ability to define different roles (e.g., participants vs. speakers). Webinars are often used for marketing presentations or internal meetings addressing significant segments of a company. In an educational setting, they are ideal for admissions information sessions and student orientation events.

Town Halls

Once an event outgrows the webinar format, it becomes a Town hall. A Town hall event is a webcasting event scaled up for an unlimited number of participants. These events have a one-to-many broadcasting-style format and can be used for all-hands meetings at a company, to address a student body distributed over multiple campuses, and for presentations from high-profile guest speakers.

 

In Town halls, there are usually a small handful of presenters serving a large audience with information through video and slides. There’s still a degree of interactivity, though, through polls, Q&A, and interactive players. Because these events have such large audiences, network optimization that allows tens or hundreds of thousands of simultaneous viewers to have a smooth, streamlined experience is essential. Additionally, some organizations use White Glove services, end-to-end multi-camera HD production and streaming management so they can stay focused on the content. In extreme times like now with the Coronavirus, some webcasting tools enable speakers to launch a full-blown town hall webcast directly from their personal device.

Virtual Classrooms

Educators have their own specific problems, and while virtual meeting solutions are being used by many, they don’t supply the specific support really needed in education. By looking at a virtual classroom as a meeting with a specific purpose, virtual classrooms have evolved to have features that reflect – and enhance – the in-person educational experience. These include tools for collaborative learning that are not found in the traditional classroom experience like breakout rooms for small group discussions, shared notes tools, in-class quizzes, and the ability to prepare the virtual room with supporting content and features in advance. Additionally, virtual classrooms like Kaltura’s have LTI integration and can be embedded directly into the LMS to make sure they are a part of long-term, ongoing education efforts.

Which One Do I Need?

Each of these categories blends into each other, and you can often use the tools for one to do another. However, if you keep in mind your fundamental goal for your session, you should be able to choose the video tool that makes most sense for your event.

 

Happy broadcasting!

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