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What Is a Webinar? How Are They Evolving? (UPDATED FOR 2020)

July 2 2020 / by Karen Mares

Filed under: webinars, virtual events

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What do you imagine when you hear the word “webinar?” It feels 2009-ish, right? Technically, it’s a blend of two words: web + seminar. Webinars have come a long way since their official debut as a means of delivering information to a specific audience via the internet. Where are we today, and what does the future hold as we expand our ideas of what virtual events can be? Let’s get a glimpse into what’s possible with webinars and online events.

Merriam-Webster defines a webinar as "a live online educational presentation during which participating viewers can submit questions and comments."  

Web conferencing began in the 1990s when the power and possibilities of the internet were just taking hold. Offering real-time interaction with participants from all over the world, this first-of-its-kind internet broadcast was the beginning of a new way to communicate, teach, and interact. Eventually, the term "webinar" came to describe a live seminar, workshop, or conference delivered online with audio-visual tools, audience engagement, and participation.

🎸 Fun Fact: The first live-streamed rock concert occurred in 1993 when the band Severe Tire Damage took to the stage and internet simultaneously. Peak grunge era. 

Truth be told, we don't love the term webinar, primarily because it conjures images of boring, "death by PowerPoint" online presentations that sound as appealing as a long walk in a hot desert without water. Webinars still have a place in the digital events world — they haven't disappeared by any means — but in the decades since the inception of online content delivery, advances in technology have turned the medium into a much more comprehensive and less passive experience for attendees, propelling us beyond the humble webinar and into a world of virtual events.

COVID-19 and the Rise of Virtual Events 

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to work from home, suddenly the virtual event landscape exploded. Event managers re-evaluated which events translate to a digital space, and which ones needed to be canceled, postponed, or reimagined. The pandemic pushed us to the tipping point: virtual events are here to stay, and they’re only going to get more immersive and experiential as the delivery technology improves and producers become even more creative about how to deliver amazing virtual experiences.

Faced with the question "how do I rescue this event and still meet my goals?", event managers and producers are finding innovative ways to make their events exciting, bringing elements of in-person gatherings into the digital realm to create more opportunities for attendees to dive deep into what these events have to offer. The humble webinar has morphed into a digital experience, adding elements like video and animation, digital whiteboards, virtual backgrounds, virtual escape rooms (which sound amazing), app integration, and even augmented reality (AR). 

What's Trending

Companies both large and small have announced plans to host their events online, including Adobe, Apple, and even Burning Man. Microsoft has said they will not host in-person events until 2021, and Salesforce has even taken the step of moving all events online for the foreseeable future. Event professionals are quickly discovering the benefits of taking their events online in time and cost savings, reach, flexibility, lead capture, feedback, and even logistics. Trends in the virtual event space include:

Livestreams

Giving attendees a feeling of being in "the room where it happens" (yes, a Hamilton reference) is something a livestream can do for you, and it's been shown time and again to be an engagement magnet. A great potential addition to a multi-day event, a livestream of keynote speakers, or conference entertainment performances can be accomplished by flipping the switch and letting it roll.

Company Events

Screenshot: EventBuilder's 4th anniversary virtual celebration.

Whether it's an all-hands meeting or a virtual happy hour, companies are moving their employee gatherings to a virtual environment and engaging them with trivia games, virtual backgrounds, and more.


Virtual Networking

One of the essential pieces of an in-person, multi-day conference is networking. Savvy event professionals are creating opportunities for virtual expos, summits, and niche topic webinars — they are still a thing, we promise! — with "speed networking," virtual break-out sessions, and career fairs.

Fine-tuned Data Gathering

Virtual events provide unique opportunities to gather relevant information about attendees throughout your event's lifecycle, helping event pros capture and nurture leads, create hyper-personal virtual event experiences, and shape future event programming.  

 

Here to Stay

Webinars aren't going away any time soon, but they have become a part of the bigger world of virtual events. The possibilities are seemingly endless for access, experiences, cost-effectiveness, and more. At EventBuilder, we offer professional event management services to take the tech off your shoulders and focus on creating and delivering great content. Contact us to learn how we can help.

Topics: webinars, virtual events

Karen Mares

About Karen Mares

Karen is an Event Producer and the Content Creator here at EventBuilder. She's also a wife, mom, singer, and history nerd.

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