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Sep 30, 2023 Joshua Jones

Should you host a Webinar or Live Stream?

Should you host a Webinar or Live Stream?

Deciding whether a Webinar or Live Stream is best for your content and virtual event is easy when you understand the merits of each. Let’s compare a number of factors to highlight the strengths of webinars and live streaming to help you decide.

TL;DR: Webinars are typically used for topic-driven presentations and conversations that emphasize audience engagement and event analytics and build community by meeting community needs while Live Streams are more traditionally unscripted and designed to appeal to broad audiences; building community by generating influence through likes and shares.

Where did Webinars and Live Streaming come from?

Historians will surely debate the particular origins of each, but looking at the needs that inspired the technology will offer some context for the current state of Webinars and Live Streams as they affect your virtual event goals.

Webinar services are the technology evolution of an old-school conference call with screen sharing (or a distributed PDF) dating back to the late 1990s with video-enabled webinars coming much later near 2010.

Developed primarily to serve business needs, webinars are often topic based, informative, or offer a clear benefit to the audience. Webinar platforms are built to collect and report on actionable event data.

There are numerous, well-known webinar platforms to choose from and even more niche providers that offer a wide range of tools generally emphasizing audience engagement and event marketing. Of course, these features can come with a significant financial investment while few budget-friendly options are available. 

Live Streaming is a more recently evolved technology utilizing webcams and screen capture features. Popularized in the early 2010s by video game and social media streamers using rapidly advancing technology, live streaming quickly became a community building tool for individuals and brands to entertain and share their stories and activities with their fans.

Because of its roots in social media, views, comments, reactions and shares continue to be the measure of success for a live stream. Live streaming, in practice, was also largely developed within a DIY culture with dozens of free and fee-based platforms available to capture and distribute the live streaming feed, offering an affordable and rather accessible opportunity for users. 

When should I host a Webinar vs. Live Stream? 

There are a number of crucial differences between webinars and live streaming. The best option for you will depend on the specific goals and expectations that you have for your virtual event. Factors worth considering when deciding to host a webinar or a live stream may include:

  • Platforms and Providers: One of the greatest distinctions between webinars and live streaming is the technology. 

Webinar services generally provide an all-in-one audio, video, screen share and audience engagement solution with some augmenting these services with ticketing, email and social media campaigns. Pricing varies widely based on feature sets and audience size which makes choosing the right platform for your event expectations an important consideration.

Webinar software does not require a degree in computing to manage and an individual can easily organize and manage a small webinar with 50 or more participants while larger, more complex events will require a small team to be successful.

Live Streaming relies less on a single provider technology as multiple software and hardware solutions are involved back from your streaming destination (i.e. social media or website), streaming service, video switching and plugins.

Streaming can be done simply from a smartphone or webcam-enabled computer without technical knowledge, at little to no cost by an individual or scaled up considerably by a technically savvy team in a high production value setting similar to a TV broadcast. 

  • Audience Size: Webinar services typically have a limited potential audience size and different pricing levels for larger capacity and participants must receive a link to join. Webinar services also tend to have registration and security options to prevent unwanted guests.

    Live Streaming allows for larger audiences based on the destination of the stream. Streaming audience capacity may be virtually unlimited with the potential to go viral if they are publicly accessible. Gating access to live streams and adding security will require additional thought for streamers.
  • Presenters and Guests: Webinar platforms generally have what is called a panelist or presenter role making it easy to invite speakers to join the webinar. Live streaming services often have features allowing you to bring on additional feeds to your stream, but this may require technical attention to positioning and screen layout.
  • Audience Engagement: Webinar services have numerous built-in engagement tools like chat, Q&A and polling within their platforms to facilitate varied audience engagement and will offer reports on this interaction. Some users look to 3rd-party tools to provide a more customized engagement experience.

    Live streaming has traditionally relied on comment and reaction tools for audience engagement familiar to its social media roots but additional (read: 3rd-party) tools may be implemented. However, audience engagement is not limited to live interaction.
  • Content Format: Webinars are typically structured with a clear agenda and pre-planned content featuring individual speakers or panels. Live streams, on the other hand, are often more spontaneous, allowing hosts to talk to their viewers more casually. 
  • Purpose and goals: Webinars are often used to deliver a specific message or educate viewers on a particular topic, while live streams are more often used to share real-time events or experiences.
  • Community Building: While both webinars and live streams are great community building tools, they tend to serve different functions. Live streaming is often used to entertain or inform, generate brand awareness and may be considered more passive engagement.

    Webinars often use registration and promotion campaigns for more touches with your audience and capture much more data and insight which creates lead generation opportunities. 
  • Data: Webinar services, as mentioned above, collect a lot of data. This is often presented in a CSV file but some platforms offer tables and graphs for you or integrate with your CRM and Marketing workflows.

    Live streaming, again, is a bit more DIY with users watching for likes and shares and digging into Google Analytics. In both cases, collating data from multiple platforms can be a challenge that may lead to missed opportunities to capitalize on this data.  

In general, webinars are the best option if you want to deliver a focused, structured presentation to a smaller audience that you have invited, while live streams are better for sharing real-time events or experiences with a larger, potentially-unlimited audience. Ultimately, the best option for you will depend on your specific goals and needs.

Let us help you figure out whether a webinar or a live stream is best for your event. The EventSpace team is here to help!

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Published by Joshua Jones September 30, 2023
Joshua Jones