Do You Need a Webinar, Webcast or Videoconference?

Last Updated Jun 17, 2011 11:36 AM EDT

You're going to talk to your team or your whole company with PowerPoint, video, maybe there's a handout. Should you use a webinar? Webcast? Virtual event? Or videconference? Choosing the right tool can be overwhelming.

First, there is no consistent language.

What is one person's "virtual event", might be someone else's webinar. Companies marketing these services use different terms, often just because they're eager to drive up their rankings in Google. Or maybe because no one organization oversees the naming of these tools.

What is a Webex?
Whatever the reason, you get some interesting contradictions. For example, web presentations are now known generically as "Webexes". Webex is the industry leader, to be sure (although the last competitive analysis I saw listed 127 webinar presentation platforms). But using WebEx to describe any web meeting or presentation is like using Kleenex to describe a tissue. While all Kleenexes are tissues, not all tissues are Kleenex. Same with web presentations. I'm sure Cisco's marketing department doesn't mind the confusion but there is a difference. Clear yet?

Okay, let's try to find some common language. Here are some of the most common terms and the differences between them:

  • Webinar- the earliest mention of this word is around 1994, and it comes from a combination of web (as in online through the computer) and seminar (it started as a lecture/training format). This means that a webinar is primarily an education tool (although they also serve a useful marketing purpose), and uses 2-way communication. In working with my clients it usually means that it is live, rather than recorded because that interaction is important. This includes functionality such as sharing of computer desktops, applications, PowerPoint, chat and polling to create interactivity and get audience feedback. There are plenty of smaller players like LiveConferencepro, Dimdim and more.
  • Webcast- a presentation delivered over the web that is more "broadcast" (one-way to the audience) than interactive. This difference from webinars matters because webcasts can be to larger audiences and can be recorded and replayed. Some tools like Nextwebinars actually encourage you to prerecord your presentations before sending them out into the world. These often contain the same basic functions as webinars but tend to be less interactive so rely less on audience feedback. Companies like Netbriefings and Telenect specialize in this, especially if you want to incorporate video into your presentation. Other lowtech options include Brighttalk and ReadyTalk.
  • Webmeetings (or web meetings, no one can really decide) are simply meetings held on the web using collaborative communication and 2-way audio (and sometimes video). They use webinar type technology but tend to be smaller, interactive and rely on two-way communication to be truly effective for brainstorming,sharing critical team information and training. These also include collaboration tools that capture notes, share documents and allow input from multiple people at the same time. You can certainly use the big players, WebEx, GoToMeeting, LiveMeeting, or you can use collaboration tools like Via3,
  • Videoconferencing- as the name implies, these tools rely on visual contact between the presenter and the audience. They can range from the high end,high-definition Cisco Telepresence and other tools to low-tech Skype, IMeet and others using simple webcams. These tools are best used for small meetings where looking each other in the eye is important.
  • Teleconferences- used to be known as conference calls. They are decidedly low-tech since it's just a telephone and the information is all audio. Visual references, documents etc need to be handled individually if everyone is to follow along. Sometimes, this is all you need.
  • Virtual conferencing: is becoming more and more common. If you haven't checked it out, you should, although it won't be right for everyone. This type of presentation, currently used mostly for large events because of its learning curve and up-front investment, combines elements of all of the other tools. Participants are given an avatar and can move throughout the room interacting by chat, voice, view recordings and live presentations. Protosphere, Digitell, On24 and Second Life are examples.
By defining our terms, we can choose the right tool for our teams. Do we need rich, multi-media communication? Does it need to integrate with our other communication tools or can it stand alone? Is it worth the cost and hassle? Are you andyour IT person talking about the same thing?

Making smart decisions about what we use , and how well, is part of our role as leaders in the modern workplace.

What do you use? How is it working for you?

Read more:

photo by flickr user See the Holyland CC 2.0