After speaking at multiple webinars where I’ve been asked, “Why aren’t you using Hubb to host this session?” I feel it’s time to make the difference between a webinar and a virtual event crystal clear. And I get why people are confused, because there’s been little to no consistency on the definition of a virtual event. It has become an umbrella term for any gathering of people online. Brands will advertise their upcoming webinar as a virtual event and end up disappointing their audience with another one-way zoom session. This also leads people to think that a webinar is the pinnacle of a virtual event, and they are shocked when they see the experiential design of what Hubb can do to bring true human connection to a virtual event.
So, what are webinars?
The term webinar comes from a combination of the words “web” and “seminar.” Typically, a webinar is a video workshop, lecture, or presentation hosted online using webinar software, such as Zoom, GoToWebinar, Blue Jeans, etc. Often business-related, these sessions can be used to share knowledge, ideas, and updates with people around the world. Generally, webinars are not a paid experience and are free and open to the public.
Webinars are excellent for a deep dive into a specific topic. You can get into the weeds with detailed information because you’re only asking your audience for at most 60 minutes of focused time. Because of this, they are also a great way to demonstrate thought leadership and build trust among your audience.
Webinars are also a good way to generate raw leads for your sales pipeline. And these leads are generally high quality, because they are showing a genuine interest in what you have to offer and devoting their time and effort to attend your webinar. By inviting a guest speaker, it’s easy to quickly expand your audience.
But there are clear limits to what a webinar can do. Like a seminar, they have one-way communication, with the audience only able to ask questions and post in the chat. This makes them highly dependent on an engaging speaker to make them interesting. And we have all sat through our fair share of zoom snore-fests with boring, monotonous speakers. Not to mention, peer to peer engagement and networking within your audience is practically non-existent. Finally, there is very little data available about your audience other than if they joined live, if they asked a question, and how long they stayed in the webinar.
Think of a webinar as one of those 60-minute breakouts we’ve done since the start of time in live events. A webinar is like a single session in a virtual event. It can be fun, fairly engaging, and educational, but is only a part of the greater experience.
Then what the heck are virtual events?
A virtual event is basically your in-person event, with its breakouts, keynotes, happy hours, networking and more, brought online. They provide an experience over a full day or multiple days often with lots of concurrent sessions so your audience can choose their own adventure. They offer the ability to connect with other attendees in small group discussions, meet with experts on key topics and create human connection. A virtual event is held for a variety of reasons including networking, education, business development, client training, tradeshows, career fairs, product launches, and more.
Serendipitous human connections give events their magic, and virtual events are full of opportunities for people to connect. Attendees can meet outside of the sessions in meetings, virtual happy hours, brainstorms, expert meetings and a whole bunch of other formats. There is a real opportunity for networking and creating new connections.
Virtual events also feature lots of sponsorship opportunities. Whether it’s sponsored sessions, exhibition booths, or even sponsored swag boxes, virtual events are full of new and creative ways to create sponsor value. In fact, we created a guide with 30 strategies to drive sponsor value at your virtual event.
This all goes to show that there is a lot of value in attending a virtual event outside of just education. Because of this, attendees are willing to devote potentially several days of their time and their money to register.
What sets the two apart?
The main thing that sets a virtual event apart from a webinar is the scope of the experience. Repeat with me—a webinar is like a single session in a virtual event. You watch a speaker present for 30 minutes to an hour, and then you are done. But with a virtual event, you will attend a keynote and then jump right into a breakout session, or maybe you need a mental pause, so you jump into a yoga session. So not only does your experience continue after the speaker waves goodbye, but you have choices on what to attend next. A good virtual event will give attendees a variety of experiences in a way that makes them feel present at the event.
That feeling of presence at virtual events is also driven by all the networking opportunities. Unlike a webinar where engagement is limited to a chat, virtual events allow attendees to find and meet with one another outside of a breakout. And it’s not limited to peer-peer meetings, attendees can meet with experts or your exhibitors if they want to get really deep in the weeds on a specific topic. And let’s not forget that virtual events can host all different sorts of engaging session formats, like brainstorms, fireside chats, and group games.
Webinars also are extremely limited in their sponsorship opportunities. At most they may have branding on the deck and a representative as one of the speakers. And because of that one-way communication, it’s difficult for sponsors to meaningfully connect with interested attendees. Virtual events, though, are full of creative ways to get sponsors the leads they crave. You can create different tiers of sponsorship, each with different opportunities to get in front of your attendees. And if you didn’t click the link above, go check out our sponsorship guide.
Virtual Events give you incredibly large amounts of valuable data. The beauty of a virtual event is that you can track nearly everything. You can use that data to provide your partners with valuable information, as well as use it to be agile and improve your event—both in real-time and for future events. Valuable data that helps your sales team includes things like—what topics your customers are most interested in, what meetings they requested and what expert(s)they met with. Powerful stuff to move your sales pipeline forward.
Let’s not forget that the data can also be used to serve up Netflix-style recommendations to your attendees to give them a personalized experience, unlike a webinar which dishes out a one-size fits all experience. Just take a look at the side-by-side comparison below.
If there’s one thing we want you to take away from this, it’s that a webinar is not a virtual event. By calling webinars virtual events, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the experiential design we are so great at creating or the human connection that has kept live events at the forefront of every marketing portfolio.
Founder and CEO