In today’s saturated market places, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd and to get your message out. Whether it’s promoting a new product, pitching an idea to prospective investors, training staff or teaching groups of students, webinars offer an affordable way to speak with thousands of people at once. This buying guide will explain the ins and outs of webinars, how they might be beneficial to you and what to look out for when deciding which service to go for. We’ve reviewed an array of the top webinar services available on the internet, from the biggest names on the block to lesser-known options, each of which has something different to offer.
What is a “webinar”?
Simply put, a webinar is an online seminar. They allow you to host a virtual room (or rooms) in which people can attend, listen to, and offer feedback on what you have to say. As the host you will control who is allowed to attend and what they can see and/or hear. It’s an engaging and affordable way of informing people of new information, but there are also options as to how interactive you make your webinar, meaning that you can encourage conversations and collaborative work if you so choose.
Size and functionality are what normally distinguish webinars from web meeting or web conference services: webinars tend to have more attendees (often up to several thousand people) and focus more on presentation (with white boards, etc.) rather than collaboration. If you are more interested in small group collaboration, then please see our Web Conferencing category for reviews of the best web conferencing services. We rate each webinar service based on some key criteria, which we shall now explain.
When you’re hosting a webinar you are able to use a variety of tools to help you present your information. The most basic webinar will allow you to broadcast an audio stream of your voice, so the attendees can listen to what you have to say. Most systems will allow you to “share” your desktop, which is just a way of saying that whatever appears on your computer screen will also appear on the screens of your audience members. This will allow you to open up documents, graphs and so on, and discuss them in detail for all participants to see and hear.
More advanced systems will allow you to upload files for everyone to download and examine, whilst others even allow you to edit them in real-time. Imagine, for example, that you have a graph of sales, and want to highlight areas where there were dips, and then annotate the graph with the possible reasons why those dips occurred. Well, that’s very easily done with the right tools.
Some webinar services also allow you to include videos from the internet, or even a live video stream so that attendees can see what you’re doing. This is a great tool to take advantage of if you want to show how a product works, or if you are giving live demonstrations, and it also adds to the overall personal feel of a webinar. There are plenty of tools to choose from, so read our reviews carefully to see whether or not you think they will benefit you.
Given that webinars take place online you’ll want to make sure that everyone will be able to follow what is being said, without the risk of bad or faulty transmissions. We test the webinar services and research what other people have said about them to make sure that you can rely on the broadcasting capabilities of each service. This might also include security options, such as encrypting, which work to secure the webinar from outsiders.
You might think of these as “non-presentation tools” which benefit your webinar experience. For example, some webinar service providers offer customising options for invitations, the user-interface and registration rooms. Essentially these allow you to “brand” your webinar with custom colours and logos, which is a good way to develop and maintain your brand image. Another option might be mobile applications and telephone links, which provide attendees with another means to access the webinar if they’re not able to get to a computer. A more complete list of features is provided with each review.
Ease of use / navigation
Hosting a webinar isn’t always easy. There are a variety of controls to consider, and you also have to present information whilst you manage whatever buttons you’re clicking. The best services offer a system which is simple to use, whilst also providing practical solutions to processes such as file sharing. Ideally you want to use a system that will let you move smoothly between presentation points, without the hassle of complicated controls. Some services allow you to have multiple people hosting a webinar, which means you can have someone in the background working the controls (sharing files, pulling up graphs and videos and so on) whilst you talk.
Ease of joining / registration
Usually this takes into account how easy it is for you, as the customer, to register with the system. However, given that webinars host so many people in their audience, it also takes into account how easy it is for audience members to register to the events you’ve invited them to. Some of the best systems require no downloads for audience members, allowing them to easily and quickly join a webinar session. Meanwhile, some webinar services suggest that it’s better for audience members to update their plug-ins to get the most out of their experience and to prevent any technical issues whilst the webinar is in session.
This is more important than you might first imagine. As we’ve said, webinars aren’t always easy to work out, and if something goes wrong during the broadcast then it can really impact on the effect of your webinar. Good customer support could make all the difference. Look out for sites which offer live chat support and a decent FAQ. Also, video tutorials can be invaluable. Some services even offer a live demonstration of their product, which can help as it’s a visual process that can guide you through some of the more complicated elements of their service.
Value for Money
The cost of webinar services differs quite a lot. Some offer free versions, whilst others seem to have very high monthly costs. The range of packages available and the flexibility of contracts is something you might want to consider, particularly if you are not sure how many people will attend each of your webinars. You may want to change your package part way through the year, so it’s worth checking if this is an option.
Most services we have reviewed will offer a monthly and yearly contract, so there should be some flexibility here. Whilst one service might be much more expensive than another it doesn’t mean it will get a lower “value for money score”. This is calculated based on how good the service is, as well as how much the site charges.
The Bottom Line
We hope that this buying guide has explained the most important factors you need to consider and that this will help you to make the best decision to suit your needs. Have a good read of our reviews. We’ve written them to try and clarify the differences between each service and to help you make the decision as to which service might be the best one for you!