When the world experienced a pivot away from onsite events essentially overnight, event organizers were tasked with a dilemma: either cancel their events entirely or figure out how to make them happen virtually. Anyone planning an online event in 2020 learned (quickly) that a successful virtual event is not limited to a webinar service, and too often the terms are used interchangeably.
Webinars may beat video conferencing platforms for a large-scale event, but even the best webinar platforms are missing the features and plugins needed for a truly engaging virtual experience.
When selecting your webinar hosting platform, you need to consider a wide range of features to set yourself up for success. These include multiple modes of high-quality live video, face-to-face video interaction and networking, and customizable branding and booths that all go beyond your typical webinar software.
If you’re researching whether you should host a webinar versus a virtual event, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ll highlight what makes a top-notch virtual event platform different from a webinar software, and why online events don’t have to be webinars.
How Do You Know If Webinars Are Right for You?
Attendees watch a presenter deliver a keynote, lead a panel conversation, or moderate an online fireside chat. The host has 100% control over the event, and other than a potential Q&A session, the attendees and presenter don’t interact much.
But how do you know if you should use a webinar software, a video conferencing tool, or a virtual event platform?
Let’s take a look.
Webinars vs. Video Conferencing
Video conferencing, video calls, and hangouts are truly best suited for smaller groups to interact. Unlike a video conference platform, webinar software gives complete control over the event to the presenter, and the attendees simply observe. Live webinars agendas typically include a simple formatted presentation followed by a Q&A.
If you want to attract a large virtual audience with hundreds or thousands of people, you definitely need a bigger virtual venue than a simple web conferencing tool or meeting platform.
Larger live gatherings hosted online require a virtual event platform like RingCentral Events that can host thousands of attendees.
One benefit of live webinars is that they are well-suited for on-demand replay (often offered by automated webinars). This footage is evergreen because there is no synchronous audience interaction. You can offer an on-demand webinar for months or years, increasing its return on investment.
However, on-demand recordings are not unique to webinar tools. Virtual event platforms like RingCentral Events also have on-demand footage for all sessions, available for immediate download after the event.
Webinars vs. Virtual Event Platforms
Virtual event platforms like RingCentral Events have more features, modularity, and flexibility than video conferencing or webinar software.
Some of RingCentral Events’ features include:
- A large-scale Stage for presenting to an audience up to 100,000.
- Moderated Sessions that allow interactive Q&A sessions. These sessions allow up to 20 on-camera attendees who can interact live, and the moderator can let participants on and off camera with one click.
Important Webinar Features that Virtual Event Platforms Also Have
When planning a virtual event, your first step might be searching for the right webinar solution. However, even the best webinar hosting platform or a free webinar may not have the key engagement or marketing features you need for your online event.
Virtual event platforms go far beyond even great webinar software, including:
100% Web-Based Platform
When attendees sign up for your virtual event, the last thing they want to do is download webinar software onto their computer in order to attend.
This is where a web-based solution is a must-have.
With a web-based platform, the attendees simply log in and watch the webinar through their preferred web browser. Many virtual event platforms like RingCentral Events hit this mark by allowing people to attend your online event with no downloads (both for desktop and mobile), making it easy for all attendees to log into an event and join the conversation.
Whether you’re a small business hosting a workshop or meeting, or a large company with a conference or sales kickoff, brand recognition is critical.
You want a digital platform that allows you to customize your event to fit your branding and will help build brand affinity and recognition. The ability to customize the registration forms, landing page, event venue, and livestreams to fit your brand makes your live event look and feel more professional.
RingCentral Events allows you to use your branded colors, giving your virtual event a custom look and feel, versus unbranded webinar software.
Like any event management platform, you’ll have access to a certain level of analytics with webinar software.
This typically includes how many attendees were at your event, any custom questions you collected when they registered, and any engagement during the event.
Virtual event platforms take it a step further because there are so many additional opportunities to engage.
This data is a powerful marketing tool that can generate lead pipeline and boost the opportunity for sponsorship in the future.
RingCentral Events offers a deep look at useful event statistics and comprehensive data, including:
- Attendee data
- Expo booth data including expo visitors and leads
- Ticket sales
- Average time spent in the event
- Total comments and chat transcripts
- Stage visitors
- Session visitors
- Networking participants
- Number of connections made
- Average user rating (NPS) and feedback
- Poll data
HD Video Streaming
Quality video streaming is a critical component of a satisfying virtual event. With reliable HD video and minimal lag, attendees feel more in touch with the presenter and avoid missing crucial details.
In today’s virtual world, high-quality HD video is a key feature in any online experience.
RingCentral Events provides a connection test preview mode pre-entry into any live video room. This helps accommodate potential bandwidth issues, so attendees can better experience multiple Stages, breakout rooms, and booths.
Using RingCentral Events’ screen share and Miro integration, presenters can open a virtual whiteboard while livestreaming. An online whiteboard allows the presenter to highlight important pieces of the conversation, make calculations, or draw out examples while livestreaming.
A whiteboard also helps create the in-person vibe that makes virtual events feel human. Check out how Miro leveraged whiteboards for their Distributed 2020 conference.
As a presenter in a virtual setting, it is often hard to gauge the reaction of an audience. Not so with @miroHQ Distributed 2020, where I was able to see the feedback in realtime! Awesome experience, and two more days remain: https://t.co/PvnYc1CW8C https://t.co/l65w7DGxDi pic.twitter.com/UFgXMdelza
— David O’Malley (@davidomalley) October 14, 2020
Why Virtual Events Deliver More Value Than Webinars
The most obvious difference between hosting webinars and creating an engaging virtual event is the attendee interactivity.
Both webinar hosting platforms and video conferencing tools have limitations, while a virtual event platform like RingCentral Events has almost limitless flexibility.
You have control over how you set up your virtual venue and the ways attendees can engage.
Here are few of the key advantages of a virtual event platform over webinars:
When virtual events incorporate a more interactive setting, attendees can truly participate in the event. This is not possible in the same way with the limitations of webinars or a crowded screen of people with video conferencing.
Interactivity significantly increases audience engagement, allowing attendees to feel involved with the event, versus feeling like the presenter is talking at them.
With its moderated sessions, RingCentral Events offers attendees the ability to chime in on speaker sessions and ask questions. It also helps maintain order by giving a moderator the ability to control who comes up to speak.
We are almost at the end of the Beyond a Webinar Tour! Be sure to tune in to today’s live session between 9:30am-10am EST where we’ll be diving into RingCentral Events, a platform that aims to create more engaging & connected virtual event experiences. pic.twitter.com/6xwwRnVZl8
— Georgie-Ann Getton-Mckoy (@gsdwithgeorgie) November 5, 2020
Ability to Hold Multiple Concurrent Sessions
A key feature of virtual event platforms like RingCentral Events is the ability to hold multiple sessions within the greater event.
These smaller sessions allow users to break out into roundtable-like conversations. Whether they’re in the form of a one-on-one online meeting, a workshop, or a full-scale presentation with hundreds of attendees, these sessions allow attendees to create their own conference schedule.
RingCentral Events’ virtual exhibitor hall offers attendees the ability to have private one-on-one chats and small-group sessions with event vendors at their digital booths. This gives your online event the feeling of an in-person conference.
Networking is one of the greatest advantages of using a virtual event platform over a webinar tool.
Whether discussing best practices for email marketing, conducting internal training sessions, or communicating while fully remote, attendees can mingle with one another and hold quick one-on-one meetings. And at the end of an interaction, attendees will get each other’s contact information in a direct download (including social media details) to take their conversation offline.
ACTEM20/20 Vision a virtual conference adventure October 20 and 21, 2020. We are using the RingCentral Events platform and we know you will love it. We chose the platform because of the networking capabilities all attendees will have available to them.
— ACTEM (@ACTEM) August 13, 2020
RingCentral Events offers its Networking area that allows attendees to connect and meet in a FaceTime-like session. RingCentral Events’ Networking feature is unique in that it creates the connection for you in a speed-networking style. Plus, attendees can exchange contact information if they decide to follow up after the event.
More Granular Data
Lead generation is a critical part of most virtual events, and while webinar software allows you to source leads via the registration page, that’s it.
You get a much more specific and granular view into data from online events platforms, showing you where and with whom attendees are engaging. This behavioral data is critical for lead scoring and following up with smart context.
RingCentral Events integrates with leading CRMs to seamlessly enrich lead data with event usage data.
Interactive Reception Area
When attendees arrive early for an event hosted on a webinar tool or video conferencing platform, they’re often greeted by muted attendees with cameras off and a featureless waiting room.
With a virtual event, you can build out a robust reception area that lays out the event schedule, even highlighting sponsors.
Attendees can jump into networking right away.
RingCentral Events gives you the flexibility to offer your attendees direct access to the various parts of your online event and the opportunity to explore just like a virtual venue.
The Best Tool for You
When seeking the best platform to host your next online event, using a webinar tool isn’t the only solution. RingCentral Events not only has features matching those of the best webinar softwares, but also offers additional top-notch features for online events.
Key features include:
- Flexibility to host a large number of attendees
- Private and public livestreams
- One-on-one chat capability
- Custom branding for the webcast, registration page, and more
- An interactive reception area
- The ability for users to network
- Virtual booths in the expo
- An in-depth registration page
- Event and webinar recording for on-demand replaying
- Event analytics you can use as a marketing tool
RingCentral Events has plenty of features that make it a strong contender as you consider hosting a virtual webinar or online event.
Originally published Sep 01, 2022, updated Oct 27, 2023