Like many buzzwords in any industry, the terms “webinar” and “webcast” are thrown around pretty freely in the workplace without most people actually realizing what either is or the difference between them. That being said, there are a number of very important differences and the way that they are used can determine which is better for any given situation. Using the right tool for the right job is vital to making sure that you see the results that you want.
At their most fundamental level, the difference between a webcast and a webinar is whether or not it has been prerecorded. A webcast is something that was recorded in advance and is now being broadcast over the internet to a number of people. A webinar, on the other hand, is done live and is interactive with whoever happens to be there at the time. While it may involve prerecorded elements, there is somebody physically controlling the presentation and responding to attendees at various points. There are, of course, benefits and drawbacks to each.
Webcasts are generally not intended for internal use, they are instead focused on speaking to potential customers or clients about the product or service offered by the company. These can be special documentaries on what the business does or how it does it, they can be promotional videos, they can be TED talks given by the CEO. The point is that they are usually meant for people who aren’t on the inside. Part of the reason why webcasts are so effective at reaching new clients is that the production value can be much higher on something like this. The fact of recording it in advance means that you have plenty of time to polish it, take new shots, make sure that any pre-written lines are learned and delivered properly, and spend as much time in post production as you need to get it right. These types of web based presentations can look any way you want them to. Webcasts also have the advantage of being viewable at any time. Since you don’t have to have somebody there to respond to the audience live, they can be watched whenever by any number of people without having to worry about getting everyone online at once and usually on the phone as well for audio.
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If webcasts are for communicating with customers, webinars are for communicating with the industry. This is how you can teach dozens of people around the world the same thing at the same time, and be able to help them if they have questions or concerns. Obviously, the biggest advantage of a webinar is that they are interactive. When people sign on to one, they have the chance not only to watch things on the screen and be lectured at, they can “raise their hand” to ask a question, they can send messages to the presenter to clarify things, and they can collaborate with others who are there. This also opens up a lot of possibilities for the presenter who can now alter their presentation on the fly if they have to and even use standard public speaking techniques — like asking the audience questions and getting them to respond to keep their attention — in order to engage the people watching. Webinars are a great format for smaller groups, usually 500 people or less, so that you can teach them in a way that is more reminiscent of classic teaching. Another great use of the webinar format is for intra-company conferences. Things like planning meetings, budget discussions, and even just state of the company addresses can benefit highly from using the webinar format. This gives bosses a chance to really talk with their employees without making everybody leave their desks and finding a conference room, and it gives departments an easy way to work with one another, even if they are miles away from one another. While these two type of web broadcast are very different, they both do serve the purpose of communicating information quickly and easily over the web. Knowing the difference will help you choose the solution that meets your specific needs.