Livestreams, Video Conferencing, and Webinars: Choosing the Right Platform For Your Virtual Event

Bringing people together can spark radical new ideas and exciting connections, whether in person or online. With more attention on virtual events than ever before, the world wide web is your oyster when it comes to connecting and engaging audiences. 

As an event host, understanding and selecting the right style of virtual event is the first step to making your gathering successful. 

Here we will look at three common types of virtual events: what they are, how they’re used, and what tools to use to bring your event to life. 

3 types of virtual event formats

To start off, let’s define the three types of virtual event formats covered in this post. 

  • Livestream: the broadcasting of live video to an audience over the internet

  • Video conference: two-(or more)-way call during which multiple participants at different locations interact. 

  • Webinar: a presentation held online and in real time between multiple remote participants

On the surface, it may seem like these formats are largely the same. They all entail a video component on the internet, right? 

While these formats do have a shared main feature, it’s worth understanding the distinctions between a livestream, video conference, and webinar in order to choose the software or platform that will best support the demands of your gathering. 

At the end of the day, nobody wants a technical decision to derail the success of their virtual event. And with so many options available out there, it can be hard to know which tool to choose. With the information below, you’ll be well equipped to select the right platform for your event. 

Next, let’s dig deeper into the nuances of livestreaming, video conferencing, and webinars — and the best tools for each format. 

1. Livestreams

You can find livestreaming everywhere these days. In the simplest terms, livestreams are just live video feeds online. As the name suggests, livestreams are shared in real time, although it’s also common to see pre-recorded livestreams — meaning they were recorded during the time of their original broadcast and then made available for later viewing. 

Just about anyone with a device and an internet connection can set up a livestream these days; most social media platforms include some kind of livestreaming feature. So you’ll see everyone from ordinary individuals to celebrities to universities to established companies utilizing the format. 

Unlike some other virtual event formats, livestreaming is generally used for events without a strong interactive component. Rather, livestreaming is ideal if you’re putting on more of a one-way broadcast: a presenter delivering something to an audience. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any interaction at all — in fact, most livestreaming occurs on social media where engagement is king. Livestream platforms frequently include a chat or comment feature for audience members to react to what they’re experiencing or ask questions. But the key point here is that livestreaming is not intended for events where interaction is central to the programming. (Interactive sessions more often fall into the category of video conferencing, which we’ll cover later on.) 

Event formats that work well as livestreams: 

  • Lectures

  • Concerts

  • Panel discussions where panelists are all in one room

The video below is a livestreamed portion of an event that took place at CIC Boston. You can see how the livestream would have allowed people unable to join in person to tune in — and it remains as a useful piece of content months or years after the event itself.

Benefits of livestreaming

How do you know if livestreaming is right for your virtual event? 

One consideration is that livestreams are easier for small teams to manage than some other formats, because livestreams require less management of attendees. For example, you don’t have to worry about muting or un-muting participants in a livestream; attendees are viewers rather than active participants with capabilities like those of a presenter. And, livestream platforms keep attention on the event content itself, as they don’t show attendees’ faces. 

Livestreams are also a great choice if you have a really large audience. Most livestream platforms don’t cap the number of participants who can join, and attendees can come and go freely. 

Many livestream platforms will save your broadcast to your account page, either automatically or through an opt-in feature. This is great because even if someone cannot attend during broadcast time, they can still experience your content later on. Event attendees can also return to the content or share it with others. In this way, a virtual event serves a dual function as both an event and a piece of digital content that you can use in future communications or brand promotion. When selecting a platform, we suggest poking around the settings to see if and how a livestream will be stored for later viewing, depending on your preferences. 

Recommended livestream platforms: 

2. Video conferencing

Many virtual events fall into the category of video conferencing, an online gathering with multiple presenters or participants interacting from different locations. In contrast to livestreams, video conferencing generally entails interactive components as part of the event content. 

Think of video conferencing like an online meeting. Depending on the nature of the event, the audience could be private (e.g. a meeting among staff dispersed across company locations) or public (e.g. a workshop led by presenters with an open audience that registered to attend). 

Event formats that work well with video conferencing

  • Q&A sessions

  • Fireside chats

  • Interviews

  • Roundtables

  • Workshops

  • Pitch events

  • Networking events

The following video is an example of event conducted through video conferencing, specifically discussing how to pivot from in-person to virtual events and the right tools to use.

Benefits of video conferencing

Being able to interact with your guests throughout the event is one of the best ways to engage and provide value to attendees, as well as keep their focus. If you want to tailor your event to participants’ interests, or your goal is to build a community with your audience, video conferencing is a great option to consider. 

Like livestreams, video conferences may also be recorded and delivered to interested audiences after the fact. That means you can use video conferencing as a branding opportunity or a future communication or promotion tool. 

Some video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, include the capability to distribute attendees between multiple virtual “rooms.” This allows you to break up a big group into smaller groups for discussions, and also regroup everyone afterwards. You’ll find this particularly useful for networking sessions, online classes, or orientations with a desired icebreaker component. Just as an in-person event might include both large group and small group activities, so can virtual events accommodate multiple group configurations. 


Recommended video conferencing platforms

3. Webinars

Did you know that “webinar” is shorthand for “web-based seminar”? True to the name, webinars are seminars or presentations delivered online. Webinars are an amazing tool for sharing knowledge, and nowadays, curious individuals can find webinars on a whole host of topics online, often for free or at a low cost. 

In some cases, attendees tune into webinars and simply view the content. In other cases, webinars include more interactive components such as live chat or Q&As. How you want to utilize the format depends on your goals with the event. Are you aimed at teaching? Building community? Promoting your brand? No matter what, your top priority should always be to deliver a useful, memorable experience. Otherwise why would someone want to come to your event, let alone come back in the future? But it’s worth thinking through your objectives and the long-term outcomes you hope to see as a result of delivering a webinar. This will help determine the right structure of your event. 

Event formats that work well as webinars

  • Seminars

  • Presentations

  • Lectures

  • Panel discussions where panelists are in different locations

Benefits of webinars

You can get creative with webinars. Even if you’re delivering a one-person lecture, you can use interactive features of webinar platforms to engage your audience with more than just your voice and face. Webinars often utilize slideshows with visuals to animate the verbal component. This is especially helpful when you’re delivering information because your audience will inevitably include individuals with different learning styles. 

Some interactive features of webinar platforms include live chat, polling, virtual whiteboards, and screen sharing. You can see this in the webinar below.

Adding in these interactive features throughout the event can allow you to gather metrics and will keep your virtual audience engaged by giving them a dynamic experience. This is a good option if your event has multiple components — for example, a presentation followed by networking. You want to keep people involved all the way through your program, and giving your audience ways to be engaged beyond passively viewing is a strategic way to do that. 

Due to these advanced offerings, webinar-specific platforms often require paid subscriptions to their services. However, it is also possible to use a regular video conferencing platform for your webinar. Just look over the technical capabilities of your service of choice in advance to make sure that your event structure is tailored accordingly. 

Recommended webinar platforms

Getting ready for your virtual event

At this point we have discussed the unique characteristics of livestreaming, video conferencing, and webinars, their uses, and some of the most reliable platforms for format.

As you’re planning your event, remember that the central goal is always to create fantastic opportunities for people to learn and connect. The right platform for your virtual event is the one that best supports the content of your gathering. Depending on your event, there might be multiple platforms that are well-suited for your purposes. Don’t be afraid to experiment (you might even want to survey participants about your event, including questions about how well the platform worked for them). But even as you’re researching your options or trying new tools, remember your greater purpose in hosting a virtual event. 

Once you’ve chosen a format and platform for your event, check out our tips on how to avoid tech troubles and keep your virtual gathering flowing seamlessly!

Looking for support in planning a virtual event? CIC Events provides event space, equipment, and expertise to make your gathering a success.