Are you hosting an online meeting or a webinar?

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I like to say that each online event is a unique and beautiful snowflake. While it’s a bit cheeky, it’s true. Your purpose and expectations combined with your presenters, content and engagement make for a nuanced experience. While most webinars and meetings do have a very similar overall form, there is an amazing opportunity here to do something different and – hopefully – inspiring. Yes, actually inspiring because the events I’m talking about inspire action on the part of the attendee or participant.

But still, the distinction between a meeting and a webinar can be a bit elusive at times. Typically, a meeting is smaller in size and has greater potential for high levels of interaction (i.e. classroom or conference room) and webinars are great for larger audiences and events that are open to the public (i.e. lecture hall or auditorium). Use the following tips on privacy, engagement and purpose to help you decide which you want to host and why.

Privacy

This an easy question to answer which is why I like to start here. Privacy will continue to be a huge part of discussions around online experiences. Let’s answer the following questions together:

That ought to clear up the matter for most of us, but please also consider the following points on the desired level of engagement and the purpose of your events.

Engagement

Engagement matters; which is why we see so many articles, posts books on this topic alone. If you want your event participants to walk away feeling like they’ve learned something new or are better informed, engagement is the road that gets them all the way there. Regardless of how compelling your presentation is, engaging in some level of interaction with your audience is a key element. So the question stands, what level of engagement are you hoping for?

Meetings, by definition provide a more accessible platform for events that aim for a high level of engagement. Meeting participants (depending on the platform) can speak on audio, share their screen and webcam and participate in other interactive features like hand raising, polls and quizzes or on-screen annotation with whiteboards. Meeting interaction is really only limited by the features of the platform that you choose and your technical expertise in navigating the tools successfully. Participants in a meeting would ideally be acquainted with one another or have consented to participate in a meeting that is open to the public.

Webinars also offer great tools for interaction and engagement, but attendees in a webinar do not typically interact with one another. While some platforms do allow for public chatting or Q&A, I’d recommend caution in opening up tools like this to a large audience which may allow attendees to see the names of others (going back to privacy) and could become a distraction pulling attention away from the presentation taking place. Using polls, hand raising and Q&A, you can offer a more engaging webinar with consistent interaction points and a great chance to gather crucial data.

Whether you decide to host a meeting or webinar, keep engagement top of mind. Engagement tactics and interaction points are most effective when they are frequent and varied. Launching a poll every five minutes because you think you’re supposed to is not engaging. Polls must be relevant to the topic and offer actionable data. A quick show of raised hands is a great way to check in qualitatively. Asking participants to type into chat or Q&A is a marvelous way to better understand your audience: “tell us what you think about this information in the chat/Q&A panel.” These brief stopping points also provide your participants with a chance to reset and be ready to absorb more information which improves retention of knowledge.

Purpose

Finally, take some time to explore the purpose of your event. If you are still unsure whether a meeting or webinar is right for you, consider the following: do you want to speak to your audience or speak with them? If your event purpose is to primarily share information out to your audience and does not require the audience to speak back to you, a webinar is the right choice.

I wish you the best success with your events and hope that this article is useful to you as you plan. As always, please reach out if we can help and let’s do something great together!