What Is the Difference Between a Webinar and a Video Conference?

Rachel Maltese
Updated February 28 2021
Difference between webinar and video conference
Rachel Maltese
Updated February 28 2021

Virtual events like online meetings, webinars, and video conferences have been growing in popularity for years. Holding events like this online has enabled globally distributed teams to work together more closely without expensive travel and allowed companies to reach their customers and stakeholders wherever they may be. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in these ways of meeting online has only grown. And while vaccination means the world is on a path to a new and better normal, the many benefits of webinars and video conferences mean they are sure to continue to be popular.

But what is the difference between a webinar and a video conference? Which one best suits which purposes? And what do you need to host these types of events?


Webinar vs. Video Conference

Both webinars and video conferences are designed to connect people – no matter where they may be located – digitally. But webinars and video conferences have different formats, and these formats also impact the purposes of these types of virtual events.


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What’s a Webinar?

As the name – which is a portmanteau of web and seminar — suggests, webinars are live events that take place online and are designed to provide information to attendees. The format is often focused on lectures and other presentations delivered in a one-to-many format. A webinar may also include screen sharing and demonstrations and may have more than one key presenter. During the presentation part of the webinar, moderation features are often in place to keep attendees focused on the central content. Later in the event, this moderation can be used to foster discussions and well-organized Q&A sessions with attendees that happen in real-time.

Despite this presence of interactive features, audience members in a webinar generally have the option to be passive viewers and do not generally need to have a microphone or video camera to attend and receive the necessary information.

Additionally, while webinars are often promoted as live events, webinars have value beyond their initial delivery. They can easily be recorded as they are presented and later made available by video-on-demand (VOD). This can give attendees the opportunity to refer back to presented material and allow those who could not attend in real time to still derive benefit from the presented materials. For some organizations, a recorded webinar made available via VoD can also represent an additional income stream.


What’s a Video Conference?

Video conferences share a lot of similarities with webinars in that they take place in real-time, over the internet, and involve lots of content. However, video conferences are not, as webinars generally are, one-to-many information experiences. Video conferences are focused on collective information sharing and there is a less distinct division between presenter and audience. Ultimately, video conferences generally involve a series of presentations, creating a collaborative situation where most or all audience members are also, at some point, presenters.

Because of this, video conferences generally require all participants to attend from a computer that can run the video conferencing software and have access to a microphone and video camera. While this may sound complex or expensive, it’s not. Today, most desktop computers and mobile devices already have most of the tools needed to participate in video conferencing. With easy-to-use software supporting the event, participating doesn’t usually require significant new investments in technology or time.


What Do Webinars and Video Conferences Have In Common?

While video conferencing events are generally more interactive, they too can be made available as recorded VoD content after the live event. As with webinars, this may be useful for attendees to refer back to or represent a potential income stream for your organization.

Other commonalities between webinars and video conferencing include those related to access. Both webinars and video conferences can be public events that anyone can attend or private events that are restricted to your organization, invited guest-list, and/or those who register in advance.


What Are the Other Differences Between Webinars and Video Conferences?

As mentioned earlier, format tends to drive purpose. And one of the easiest ways to understand the difference between a webinar and a video conference is what they are used for.

Some common applications of webinars include corporate training, sales presentations, university recruitment, and information sessions, and messages from organizational leadership.

Some common applications for video conferences include departmental meetings, peer-to-peer education, branding exercises, and other corporate activities that require a collaborative approach, and organizational cross-training.


Webinars vs. Video Conferences: Which One is Better?

The short answer is neither! What matters is which one is better for your organization and its particular needs at any given time. In today’s virtual event environment, the tools your organization selects to bring your stakeholders together – even if they are far apart! – can and should be able to support both webinars and video conferences.

Because of this, you’ll want to be sure to look for tools that have the following features:

  1. Strong Moderation – Strong and flexible moderation tools are a key part of keeping both webinars and virtual conferences organized. They can also help shape an event into more of a webinar or video conference scenario.


  1. Ability to Record and Distribute Events Later – Getting the most out of both webinars and video conferences means being able to repurpose the event once the live presentation is over.


  1. Easy to Use Tools for Both Presenters and Participants – Just because webinars and video conferencing are exciting technologies, doesn’t mean they need to be hard to use. Make sure you look for solutions that won’t require extra effort from your audience and can help presenters deliver engaging content that combines presentation materials, video, and interactivity.


  1. Analytics – To understand how your webinars and video conferences perform, choosing a platform that can give you finely sliced insights regarding user attention and participation is essential. Good analytics can help you pinpoint where participants need more information and help you develop better presentations and event structures in the future.


  1. Interactive Features – Keeping participants engaged during a webinar or while a different participant is presenting is key. Interactive features like quizzes and polls are a great way to keep users engaged without disrupting the flow of a presenter.


  1. Collaborative Features – While break-out rooms and similar tools might not be the right fit for every webinar, they can be essential to video conferences. Make sure that discussion and brainstorming tools, including chat rooms and virtual whiteboards, are available when offering video conference events.
Webinar Guide

Webinars and video conferences are two of the best ways to engage your stakeholders and help absorb key information more quickly. Learn more about setting up a webinar.

Read Our Ultimate Guide